First Amendment Freedoms Losing Ground
By: Molly Pitcher
According to the discussion around the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, the bill is intended to reaffirm religious freedom guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution. The law’s main objective is to prohibit the passage of any state or local laws that “substantially burden” the religious beliefs of an individual, business or religious institution. If the general public actually understood what the 1st Amendment truly says – that the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion, not only would there be an understanding of the redundancy of such a law (hence the word “restoration”), there would be a realization that a law reaffirming our commitment to the 1st Amendment should be unnecessary. To this date, there haven’t been any amendments to the Constitution which are contrary to this extremely important 1st freedom.
Once again, Conservatives, i.e. Republicans, look like clumsy bigots because the message – the argument – is framed wrong. Pundits should be saying, “While we may not like it and are perhaps offended by it, businesses that are not publicly funded have the prerogative to allow religious beliefs to influence their profit making decisions.
In Johnson v. Texas, it was determined that,
“…the Government may not prohibit the verbal or nonverbal expression of an idea merely because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable.”
In this case, the ruling was a response to flag burning; however, the act itself is protected because we value free thinking. Free thinking goes both ways. Gay people have the right to be who they are, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone and straight people have the right to be who they are, as long as they are not hurting anyone.
Okay, so anyone with knowledge of precedent will now ask about Brown V Board of Education and how this decision influences the public’s response to “RFRA”. The key ideas in the majority opinion are tempered by the words “public” and the role of the “state” or local government in providing a right:
“Where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. P. 493.(d) Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal. Pp. 493-494.(e) The ‘separate but equal’ doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, has no place in the field of public education.”
Having pizza catered by a particular business establishment is not a right. The ability to exercise our rights and responsibilities as citizens is not dependent on eating a particular slice of pizza nor is government funding involved in bringing this particular service to a community.
If government gets involved, now we are socially engineering. Would I, a potential business purveyor, personally have an issue with who I serve as long as I make a profit? No. However, the government is restricted by the 1st Amendment from telling a business operator who follows a religious belief system to ignore these beliefs – especially if that person is in the minority. That said, what is the difference between serving a gay person who walks into your place of business and catering a private event? Are you going to ask every customer who comes in what his or her sexual preferences are? As a capitalist, any conductor of business will risk going out of business by such “discretionary” practices.
All around our nation, one can find all boy schools, all girl schools, all black colleges, and religious institutions…and no government entity is forcing these private institutions to service those not targeted by their mission. The question one should be asking is this. How does this compare with forcing people to buy health insurance (especially insurance that meets certain criteria)? By compelling people to be insured, the government is forcing a transaction. It is not a transaction of free will. Is anyone thinking about the long term repercussions of such government intervention?
We are a nation founded on the ideas of liberty. Yet, encouraging such government practices is eroding our free will. Such government intervention results in our being told how we must spend our money and with whom we must conduct our business. Capitalism is supposed to guide business decisions. Factions (special interest groups) are supposed to be so numerous that none can seriously gain the power to violate minority rights. And just in case, we have a Bill of Rights. We are a government of laws, not of men.
This misplaced outrage and manipulation of the media would make any teacher fear having a class discussion on this topic because of how it might be misconstrued. And more to the point, this is precisely why children are graduating without higher thinking skills…the thought police might find how this fits into the 1st Amendment too offensive to discuss. This affirms why the Liberal Arts (logic) are important, not just STEM curriculum.
In our political correctness and effort to delegitimize our Founders and Framers for compromising and seeking a more perfect union instead of holding out for utopia, and for not being perfect themselves, we seem to forget that these white men with an agenda were actually looking out for us. They repeatedly stated how a well-educated citizenry was necessary to maintain and guard against those who would take away the freedoms for which they’d spent a significant portion of their lives working toward. It’s sad commentary on our society that the whole point of the 1st Amendment freedoms is lost on multiple generations of the populace. That’s the real story.
Molly Pitcher is the pen-name for an established opinion editorialist and career educator who, for fear of workplace retribution, chose to assume the voice of this American Revolutionary War heroine. Pitcher not only brought water to soldiers during the War for Independence, but she helped man the cannons. She is sometimes referred to as Captain Molly or Sergeant Molly because General Washington issued her a warrant as an officer, in recognition of her efforts during battle.