History was my first love as a child. As far back as I could remember my father would bring home The National Geographic and even before I could read I would spend hours and hours poring over the photos and later the articles. I was fascinated by the powerful words that created the stories of what had happened in the distant and recent past and the lessons we had (or hoped to have) learned from those who had long since died. Simply put History Is Awesome. If I could have chosen a different occupation in life, archaeology would have definitely been one of those choices.
So what have we learned from the past in this country and in our lives? We live in a country that has been slowly but methodically peeling away layer after layer of our constitutional rights until they are threatened to be taken away altogether.
Recently in New Jersey a case came before Judge Solomon A. Metzger. A lesbian couple wanted to rent facilities to celebrate their civil ‘union’ in Ocean Grove New Jersey. The facilities they wanted to rent are owned by the Ocean Grove Camp meeting association, which in turn is associated with the United Methodist Church, a Christian organization that believes that ‘the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching’ and that, ‘ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.’ In keeping with their teaching, the association had declined to rent their facilities out to these two women. The women sued claiming discrimination based on their sexual orientation. The judge ruled for the women and against the association. In his ruling he made some rather astounding claims.
Statement #1 Judge Metzger states that, ‘this isn’t a case of religious liberty.’ Hold the presses, did I miss something?!? The church cited their spiritual beliefs and yet he is claiming that this isn’t about the free exercise of religion? What IS it about then if it isn’t about making decisions based on firmly held religious beliefs?
Statement #2 (and this one that really shocked me) was his claim that the free exercise of religion was not factored into his decision but rather: ‘a much lower standard that tolerates some intrusion into religious freedom to balance other important societal goals.’ Wait, I thought this WASN’T about religious freedom. I would certainly agree with him on part of his statement. It is a much, much LOWER standard that he is trying to support. In fact, I feel completely justified in saying that the standard he is basing his ruling on is entirely and completely unconstitutional.
This is certainly not the first time that an organization or individuals have been legally pummeled and fined for refusing to compromise on their religious beliefs. The Health and human services department, run by one of the worst Catholics of our day-Kathleen Sebelius, is going to attempt to force Catholic Institutions from Hospitals to Colleges to small parochial schools to cover artificial contraception and sterilization procedures under their health insurance plans. The Church has never wavered on her belief or teachings that the use of artificial contraception and sterilizations to prevent birth is inherently wrong and immoral. The religious exclusions to this are so narrowly defined that few, if any Church run organizations would qualify. In essence, to qualify the organization would have to fire all non-Catholic employees, refuse to serve anyone BUT Catholics and their primary purpose must be spreading the faith. Now, if this is not intrusion into the free exercise of religion, what is? Where in the constitution does it say that your religious freedoms end if you employ or serve a person not of your faith?
Now I have a history assignment for all of you. Do a little bit of research and find out what happens to the free exercise of religion in countries where behavior or decisions based on religious beliefs are no longer respected or tolerated. Start with Nazi Germany in WWII, move over to China and Mexico in the early 1900’s and then take a peek at Russia and the Soviet Union. Get back to me and let me know how many of these countries have not prosecuted and persecuted churches, their clergy and parishioners both in and out of courts. Tell me if our country isn’t going down the same path these other countries have already travelled and if we are, reveal to me how we won’t end up with an almost complete loss of the right to practice and live the way our faith dictates.
‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ George Santayana.