Look at the picture included here. The picture is of a magnet that can be seen on cars all over the Fox Valley. Note the bold message. “RELIGIOUS LIBERTY” “LIVE IT! PROTECT IT!” Who wouldn’t want to promote a message like that? Not having religious liberty would mean you live in either a theocracy or a hard-line, totalitarian state. Neither option is attractive. I would gladly promote that message on my car. I often do promote the right to believe anything one feels compelled to ... be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, any of the myriad religions people might subscribe to, or no religion at all.
Now look a little closer at that magnet. Notice the Christian crosses portrayed at the top and bottom. There is even a cross replacing the torch in the hand of Lady Liberty herself. OK ... Now THAT makes me uncomfortable ... and rather sad. To me, involving Lady Liberty with a specific religion betrays a profound misunderstanding of what religious liberty is and how we come to have it ... and that misunderstanding seems both widespread and actively cultivated by some factions.
Let’s first look at the torch. According to the National Park Service website, the question of “What does the torch represent?” is answered with: “The torch is a symbol of enlightenment. The Statue's official name represents its most important symbol, ‘Liberty Enlightening the World.’ “ [emphasis mine] [ref]. According to Merriam-Webster, “[The] Enlightenment” is defined as: “a philosophic movement of the 18th century marked by a rejection of traditional social, religious, and political ideas and an emphasis on rationalism” [emphasis mine]
I recognize that my take on Lady Liberty may not be a convincing argument for those sporting these magnets. Many believe that the United States is, at its core, a “Christian Nation." I suggest that many confuse “Christian Tradition” with “Christian Founding”.
We are, in reality, a secular nation by design. If you are going to read one book on our Founding Fathers and religious liberty; pick up Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman [link] (it's also available through our local library system). In it, he profiles each founder with their own chapter and covers their stands on religion and how they felt it should be reflected in our founding documents. It is quite even-handed and also enlightening to “witness” the debates about what the relationship our new nation would have with Christianity. To be sure, there were very devout Christians in the ranks of our Founders, but Deists, agnostics and even [by today standards] non-theists [a.k.a. atheists ] were well represented. Waldman’s history also fascinates. We learn how many of the colonies effectively self-segregated into mini-theocracies with abysmal results with regard to religious liberty. Depending on where you lived in colonial times, you might not get more than a stern talking to if you murdered a “Papist” (a.k.a. Catholic ... Consider the irony as you read further.)
The founders recognized that religious governance was a failure. In the end, our founding documents are devoid of religious reference in any meaningful sense but supportive of individual religious choice and included the [then unheard of] gem “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This was further supported four years later with (among other things) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” in the First Amendment.
It was clear in the heads of our founders and early legislators that there was a “wall of separation” between church and state and in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli (a peace treaty with, what we now know as, Libya) included the unambiguous line “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
This blog is an inadequate venue to list and deconstruct all the court rulings and federal documents that have clearly established the United States as a secular nation. Sometimes progress is made in clarifying and strengthening that precept (i.e. eliminating state sponsored prayer in schools and removing religious monuments from government buildings). Sometimes we backslide (i.e. Dwight Eisenhower, influenced by Billy Graham, inserting “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance and replacing “E Pluribus Unum” with “In God We Trust” on much of our currency during the paranoid hysteria of the McCarthy Era.)
So ... back to the magnets ...
As near as I can tell, these magnets are the brainchild of the Rockford Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church [ref] in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s recently instituted provision of free, contraception [ref]. This kerfuffle resurrected the fear-mongering “War On Religion” campaign which gets pulled from its quiver (with increasing frequency) when the religious majority doesn’t get everything they want. [Can a group call themselves “persecuted” if they are, ostensibly, the majority of the population and lawmakers?]. This seems a go-to tactic and I had written on the this previously [here]. In a nutshell, Americans receive “health care” as defined by the medical and scientific communities. Americans do not receive “Catholic Health Care." Religious organizations should have zero expectation of defining what health care is and is not.
While I thought it unnecessary; the White House capitulated and removed any intimation that the religious institutions would, in any way, subsidize contraception and asked that insurance companies absorb that cost in its entirety. Insurance companies, in less than a heartbeat, agreed given that it costs far more to cover a pregnant woman than a non-pregnant woman. Some of the most devout Catholics that I know were fully appeased. There seemed a brief pause as the Vatican pondered [what appeared to most of the world as] the “Check Mate” move by the White House. The Catholic Church ... unsatisfied ... doubled down and effectively said, “We aged, celibate men still have more to say about women’s sexuality and we will continue to speak until our position is recognized in legislation!” And so the imaginary “War On Religion” continues.
So let’s be clear on this and establish some basic and cogent facts:
One: There is no religious adherent that is asked or pressured into changing their beliefs or opinions on the morality of contraception.
Two: Nobody (religious or not) is, in any way, forced or pressured into utilizing contraception.
Three: No exclusively religious institution is mandated to provide contraception that they might be morally opposed to.
Four: No religious institution has any innate authority to impose their concept of sexuality, morality, or health care on anyone but their followers.
Five: No religious institution with employees of other faiths [or no faith] has any innate authority to impose their concept of sexuality, morality, or health care on those employees.
Six: Our Republic is not about enacting the will of the majority, but rather protecting the rights of the minority.
So to those of you with such magnets on your car, please consider what I have said here. Those magnets are wrong on a number of levels. Please understand that it is antithetical for Lady Liberty to be associated with or seen promoting one faith (or non-faith) over another. Religious liberty is not something given to other faiths by Christianity. Lady Liberty and the secular state recognize all and elevate none.
So call off the “War on Religion” because it seems that there is only one side fighting it.
(Now ask me about the "War on Secularism"....)