Reasonable Accomodation
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Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 11:14:15 AM EST
Armando from Daily Kos directs us to this New York Times story concerning Samuel Alito's deference to religious expression in the public realm.

Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. has compiled a brief but unmistakable record, lawyers and analysts say, that makes him a leader in the camp of conservative theorists and judges who believe federal courts have been too quick to limit religious activities in public life.

During his 15 years sitting in Newark as a member of a federal appeals court, Judge Alito has sided almost uniformly with those who have complained vigorously in recent years that zealousness in enforcing the Constitution's separation of church and state has unfairly inhibited religious practices.

...Both supporters and opponents say he has the potential to become the most aggressive supporter of religious liberty on the court, moving it toward greater deference to religious practices.

Armando's got a real point in making a distinction between the lack of a positive affirmation of religion and a restriction.  Civic neutrality toward religion is not the same as limiting religious expression, as the Religious Right would like you to think. (That Crusade to Save Christmas makes more sense now, doesn't it? See this on the war that wasn't as well.)

The ultimate goal of the RR is to force the government into "recognizing the role religion plays in society." As you might guess, it's a mighty slippery slope from there, because the Moral Majority types argue vociferously that there can be only one objective, moral truth, which by an amazing coincidence happens to overlap exactly with their perspective.

In Sam Alito, they see a jurist who will advance their agenda on the Supreme Court. To heck with overturning Roe v. Wade; give them a man who will uphold their right to bully the State Legislature, and the details will work themselves out.


Cross-posted at Street Prophets.

Of all the cases cited by the article, this one worries me the most:

Last year, in writing an opinion upholding the right of an evangelical organization to distribute its materials in some New Jersey elementary schools, Judge Alito sought to distinguish the Santa Fe case. He said the Supreme Court's six-member majority had ruled that some students, like players and cheerleaders, were required to attend the games while others may have felt peer pressure to participate in the prayers.

But he said that distribution of religious fliers by the Child Evangelism Fellowship of New Jersey urging students to attend Good News Club meetings "would not result in any similar pressure to participate in a religious activity." Judge Alito said in his ruling that the school board had engaged in impermissible "viewpoint discrimination" in banning the evangelical literature because it allowed pamphlets from other groups like the Boy Scouts. He said that if the school board worried that people might think it had endorsed the religious fliers, "teachers could explain the point to the students."

I'm not so concerned with the legal issue. I happen to think Alito's right: if other outside groups such as the Boy Scouts are allowed to promote activities in public schools, then why shouldn't the Child Evangelism Fellowship?

What's really worrisome is the question of who represents values other than the conservative evangelicalism of such groups as the CEF.

As it happens, I'm familiar with the problem firsthand: my first church hosted a "Released Time" class--essentially Sunday School for public-school kids--and I sat on the program's board. We were allowed to run the program with the local school's assistance for the very reason mentioned above. Once a week, the kids were allowed to leave school an hour early for all manner of extra-curricular activities, and legally speaking, we were the equivalent of a gymnastics class or the Cub Scouts.

But it was a constant battle to prevent CEF-minded people from overrunning the program. We couldn't find mainline Protestants or Catholics teachers to save our lives, only extremely conservative evangelicals. I had to have a long discussion with one of them after I found her ranting to her class about Mary not being God, and telling them that Catholics were not "saved."

Another woman applied to be the program administrator. She actually worked for the CEF half-time, and brought their Statement of Faith to her interview, wanting us to subscribe to it before she'd take the job. She seemed surprised when I told her that Catholics would find the proposition that there was only one head of the church, Jesus Christ, to be offensive. She had assumed that since the statement was "non-denominational," it would acceptable in an ecumenical setting. We had some difficulty getting her to understand the two were not identical.

There's the core of the problem. Alito's ruling wouldn't be so worrisome were liberal Christians such as myself (not to mention Jews, Pagans, atheists and any number of other groups) able to think that our values would be fairly represented in the public realm.

We don't need someone like Alito to help conservative Christians ram their beliefs through our public system, and certainly, it's fair to ask that minority rights be respected. But who's to say that if worst comes to worst, and Alito's nomination is defeated, we won't have won the battle and lost the war?

I blogged a commentary in response to this article - if anyone is interested:


by EmilyWynn8 on Tue Nov 22, 2005 at 03:26:33 PM EST

It seems pretty obvious to me that allowing even the appearance that government is endorsing one form or another of religious expression implies hostility to all religious beliefs that happen to be inconsistent with the one that is favored. I do have to note -- and I hope it isn't out of bounds -- that many Christians believe that God will torture for all eternity all people who do not share their beliefs.  That's pretty hostile to religion in general, no?  Of course it is also hostile to non-religious belief.  

And by the way, non-denominational or ecumenical are used to mean "not discriminating among different kinds of Christians."  It doesn't seem to occur to them that some people are not actually Christian.

The only way for government to support freedom of religion is to keep religion out of government.

by Cervantes on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 09:56:48 AM EST

One important aspect of your post is that it highlights the significant discussions going on elsewhere.  In this case, Armando's excellent post on The Daily Kos.

Talk to Action is good place to highlight some of the more interesting and important such conversations going on around the blogosphere.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 23, 2005 at 02:34:53 PM EST

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