Friday, January 07, 2005

The Difference Between Me and the Christian Right

So, here in Massachusetts, a guy has put up a three-story white cross in his yard. He shines a spotlight on it at night so it glows like the sun. There's also a mural, shrines, and other stuff. The man says the Virgin Mary told him to do it. His neighbors complained to the town and the town ordered him to take it down, citing lack of permits. He went to court and the ruling came down yesterday.

When I saw the story on the news, before even knowing what the ruling was, I thought, "They can't make him take it down. His display is protected by the First Amendment."*

And, lo and behold, the judge agreed. The guy doesn't have to take it down.

Of course, those on the Christian right would have agreed with me. But they would have come to the same conclusion by a very different method.

You see, for me, the method for determining whether a religious display should be taken down or not is: Does the display violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? If so, the display must be taken down. If not, the display must be allowed to remain as free exercise of religion.

But the Christian right uses this logic: Does it promote Christianity? If so, it must be allowed to remain.

So, I ask you, gentle readers, who is more concerned with freedom of religion? The person who believes in the free expression and display of religion by the people with religious neutrality by the government to protect religion from government oppression, or the person who believes that his or her religion should be promoted by the government to the exclusion of other religions?

Think of this the next time a far-right Christian claims to be acting in the interest of "religious freedom." Just like "judicial activism" really means "judges making rulings I don't like," to far-right Christians "religious freedom" really means "government promotion and support of my religion."

*Yeah, it would really suck to live next to that guy. But the First Amendment guarantees free exercise of religion, which can't exist if the government, no matter how well-intentioned, gets to decide what is and is not an appropriate religious display.


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