Saturday, May 07, 2005

Secular: The Sequel

This is a follow-up to the previous post further addressing MaxedOutMama's debate on the secular religion. boomr, another commenter on the thread, employs similar illogic:
I still think government should be secular. Secular in my definition means "not beholden to or constrained by a religious philosophy." Case in point: the debate over gay marriage. What NON-RELIGIOUS purpose is there for a ban on gay marriage? What is the spark for the sudden need to ban such marriages? The only answer I can devise is the belief in religious tenets banning homosexuality. There is simply no non-religious purpose to the law. Such a viewpoint should not control the government.
As Mama already noted, his contention is neither correct nor Constitutional. Indeed, boomr's question is slanted and borders on the offensive--because of its implicit (but unstated) assumptions:
  1. The motivations of political opponents remain relevant and suspect. I'm excluding both the criminal and questioning another's motives during debate. Another way of phrasing the latter qualification is that unanimity on any particular question is impossible. At some stage of deliberation, motivations become essentially irrelevant. At that point, the dialog should shift from "why do you say that; how can you prove that?" to the Constitutional process: by ballot of the people or their elected representatives.

  2. Neither religion nor faith are "acceptable" public policy rationales. This error is grounded in two further unvoiced assumptions:

    • The Constitution somehow prohibits decisions, actions, or policy choices based on faith; and

    • Religious doctrine definitionally is not reason and must be independently justified without reference to religion.

    The first assumption misreads the Constitution to shield against religion, as detailed below. It's also prohibited by precedent. See Employment Div., Ore. Dept. of Human Res. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 887 (1990) ("What principle of law or logic can be brought to bear to contradict a believer's assertion that a particular act is "central" to his personal faith?").

    The second notion is noxious, elitist and a violation of the First Amendment. See Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 307 (1940) ("The fundamental law declares the interest of the United States that the free exercise of religion be not prohibited and that freedom to communicate information and opinion be not abridged."). Both assumptions reflect the distortion of dingo: that secularism occupies the center of the number line, rather than well down one end or the other.

    Our decisions depend on our judgment. But our assessment is internal and thus invisible. doomr's support for gay marriage flows from his internal evaluation of gays, marriage, maybe a recent ACLU flyer, and probably a thousand other things opaque to the remainder of the electorate. Believers who oppose homosexual weddings also employ judgment. The fact that they consider faith, the Bible or a minister's counsel doesn't invalidate the conclusion. Simply put, religious motivations normally are neither relevant nor objectionable.
Conclusion: However perplexing to the a-religious, the opposite of "religion" isn't "reason." Both are valid inputs to voter judgment, and not contingent on any secular "test." In America, judgment is judged every November.

If not simple prejudice, dogmatic secularists claim they're spooked by some impending Theocracy. Yet, as Mama observes, the United Christian States of America never arrives. Instead, we're engaged in robust debate, including in the blogosphere.

Quit crying wolf. No one's been forcibly converted; indeed, the religion of America's founders is in steady decline. But America itself isn't. Religious freedom will prevail, preserved by the same Amendment that protects liberty in speech and press. This country's robust enough to handle civil debate in the marketplace of ideas without panic, as the Supreme Court predicted in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 310 (1940):
In the realm of religious faith, and in that of political belief, sharp differences arise. In both fields the tenets of one man may seem the rankest error to his neighbor. To persuade others to his own point of view, the pleader, as we know, at times, resorts to exaggeration, to vilification of men who have been, or are, prominent in church or state, and even to false statement. But the people of this nation have ordained in the light of history, that, in spite of the probability of excesses and abuses, these liberties are, in the long view, essential to enlightened opinion and right conduct on the part of the citizens of a democracy.
Despite the worry, the same confidence is warranted today.

1 comment:

MaxedOutMama said...

Cantwell is particularly appropriate because it involved a government official deciding what was and what was not a religion.

However I am not sure that those who share Boomr's view don't rest their theory upon what is socially acceptable rather than legally required. On that basis, if they win enough people to their worldview they will succeed because voters will feel it is inappropriate to vote based on any of their religious views. And for a majority of the electorate to practice self-censorship of their opinions would be totally constitutional.