Religious Discrimination Threatens Our Secular Survival

Donald A. Collins | 24 March 2015
Church and State

The air is so full these days of talk about discrimination that it is becoming hard to tell what will come next.

The US Supreme Court will decide if it is ok for license plates in Texas to have images of the Confederate flag on them. Since the Court’s membership is composed of 6 Roman Catholics out of 9 members, I have no idea about the outcome, but maybe if they like Confederate Flag images, they will authorize a logo of Pope Francis as mandatory on every license plate so as not to discriminate against Catholics.

However, in defense of us Americans being non discriminatory, we did elect a man who is half African American as President. And he certainly has not been discriminatory about allowing aliens full access to the US by reducing barriers of enforcement in every possible way.

So while the Republicans have multiple Presidential wannabes, indeed, we are now formally Cruzing along, the only candidate the Democrats seem to be able to nominate is Hillary Clinton who if elected would be the first woman to hold the office of US President. Again burnishing our record of being non discriminatory.

Dandy, except that her election would mean that since January of 1989 the only people to hold that high office had the surname of either Bush or Clinton. After all we only have 325 million people living here (not counting the uncounted, untracked and unknown numbers of illegal aliens AKA in our main stream media as un-documented immigrants, dreamers and refugees from places that do discriminate against their own citizens), so of course it is hard to find another surname to run, isn’t it?

And the lead Republican candidate at the moment appears to be Jeb Bush (derived from his given name of John Ellis Bush), so if either Hillary or Jeb is elected the 1989 to 2021 skein of same surnames in office would be preserved. Incidentally, one should not fail to read the March 17th NY Times article Jeb Bush, 20 Years After Conversion, Is Guided by His Catholic Faith By Michael Paulson.

Jeb Bush, center, at a Mass this month in Coral Gables, Fla. He belongs to Catholic fraternity organisation Knights of Columbus. (Source: Jeb Bush: Who is the younger brother of George W Bush expected to run for 2016 Presidency? / The Independent)

Gee, that kind of clarity about the record of his chosen faith should not burnish his attractiveness with women.

The quote continues:

Many of his priorities during his two terms as governor of Florida aligned with those of the Catholic Church — including his extraordinary, and unsuccessful, effort to force a hospital to keep Terri Schiavo on life support, as well as less well-known, and also unsuccessful, efforts to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim and to prevent a 13-year-old girl from having an abortion. He even, during his first year in office in 1999, signed a law creating a “Choose Life” license plate.

He differed from his church, significantly and openly, over capital punishment; the state executed 21 prisoners on his watch, the most under any Florida governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. But he has won praise from Catholic officials for his welcoming tone toward immigrants and his relatively centrist positions on education — two issues in which he is at odds with the right wing of his party.

“As a public leader, one’s faith should guide you,” Mr. Bush said in Italy in 2009, explaining his attitude about the relationship between religion and politics at a conference associated with Communion and Liberation, a conservative Catholic lay movement.

Incidentally, his brother, George W. Bush, while not a Catholic, was a warm friend of the Cardinals (no, not the St Louis Cardinals!) as a well known photo shows. Some wags are saying Jeb would be our 3rd Catholic President, citing JFK, 43 and Jeb.

Should Americans being discriminated against by a surfeit of power by that religion or any other? The picture on the cover in the Spring 2015 edition of The American Scholar — the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa Society — entitled “Company Men: Free Speech Goes to the Highest Bidder” by Yale Law Professor Lincoln Caplan features 5 of the 6 Catholic justices on the US Supreme Court.

The ultimate discrimination for or against free speech, Caplan persuasively argues is obtained by buying it! “Freedom of thought and speech are the means to political truth. Without free speech and free assembly, it’s impossible to thrive, perhaps even to survive.”

Of course the threats on speech come from both sides of the political aisle, but Caplan closes by citing the major anti free speech accomplishment of the current court as follows:

Is the United States still a beacon of democracy, liberty, and equality of opportunity, which saved Europe from tyranny and destruction in the 20th century and is saving it again from terrorist extremism, as those who defend American exceptionalism assert? Or, if events like the Charlie Hebdo massacre have the effect of quieting bravado about the United States’s safeguarding of Europe and instead prompt clearheaded reflection, is our country becoming a cautionary tale about the damage done to self-government by a distorted vision of free speech? Why would other democracies feel compelled to follow the model of America, where Citizens United has massively increased the reliance of politics on money as the crucial source of influence? Where the exertion of corporate power in law and politics has deepened partisanship and corruption and where our democracy increasingly functions like an oligarchy?

The test for American governance, it turns out, at home and abroad, will be whether it can reclaim the First Amendment — freedom of speech — as a foundation of democracy.

Is there a last frontier we can identify where discrimination stands undetected and un-pursued?

Well, like miscegenation laws which existed in some states, there are still states where if you are not a believer in some religion, you legally can’t run for any public office.

Wikipedia tells us about the history of miscegenation:

Anti-miscegenation laws were a part of American law since before the United States was established and remained so until ruled unconstitutional in 1967 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. The term miscegenation was first used in 1863, during the American Civil War, by American journalists to discredit the abolitionist movement by stirring up debate over the prospect of black–white intermarriage after the abolition of slavery. In those of the original Thirteen Colonies that became states and enacted such laws, they were enacted as state law in the early 18th century; a century or more after the complete racialization of slavery.

In the United States, anti-miscegenation laws (also known as miscegenation laws) were state laws passed by individual states to prohibit miscegenation, nowadays more commonly referred to as interracial marriage and interracial sex. Typically defining miscegenation as a felony, these laws prohibited the solemnization of weddings between persons of different races and prohibited the officiating of such ceremonies. Sometimes, the individuals attempting to marry would not be held guilty of miscegenation itself, but felony charges of adultery or fornication would be brought against them instead. All anti-miscegenation laws banned the marriage of whites and non-white groups, primarily blacks, but often also Native Americans and Asians.

In many states, anti-miscegenation laws also criminalized cohabitation and sex between whites and non-whites. In addition, the state of Oklahoma in 1908 banned marriage “between a person of African descent” and “any person not of African descent”; Louisiana in 1920 banned marriage between Native Americans and African Americans (and from 1920-1942, concubinage as well); and Maryland in 1935 banned marriages between blacks and Filipinos or Malays. While anti-miscegenation laws are often regarded as a Southern phenomenon, most western and plains states also had anti-miscegenation laws.

Although anti-miscegenation amendments were proposed in United States Congress in 1871, 1912–1913 and 1928, a nationwide law against racially mixed marriages was never enacted. Prior to Perez v. Sharp (1948), most U.S. states had and variously enforced anti-miscegenation laws. In 1967, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Loving v. Virginia that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. With this ruling, these laws were no longer in effect in the remaining 16 states that at the time still enforced them. However, the active repeal of the laws was not complete until Alabama did so in 2000 after failing to do so in several earlier plebiscites on the matter. At the time, nearly 526,000 people voted against the repeal.

Of course, the above condition of discrimination still exists for atheists, as the May 2013 American Humanist article tells us:

Unelectable Atheists: U.S. States That Prohibit Godless Americans From Holding Public Office
By Matthew Bulger

With election season upon us, and a near constant stream of public jabs and rebuttals between incumbents and their challengers, we should focus on something besides the Americans that are running for office. Instead, let’s turn our attention to a rather peculiar set of state laws relating to elections and nonreligious Americans.

It’s well known that there aren’t many open atheists in Congress or in state government, and that atheists aren’t held in high esteem by potential voters. Some question our dedication to what they view as a “Christian nation” while others feel that they can’t relate to a candidate who doesn’t share the same faith as they do.

Whatever the reason, public distrust isn’t the only means by which atheists are discouraged for running from office. In fact, running for a spot in state legislatures as an atheist is outright illegal in some states. Obviously, these laws are trumped by the “No Religious Test Clause” of the United States Constitution, which is found in Article VI, paragraph 3, and states that:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

However, these laws are still on the books and have given atheist candidates trouble in the past. Cecil Bothwell, an atheist who in 2009 won an election for a Asheville, North Carolina city council seat, was almost unseated by local critics who pointed to a provision in North Carolina’s constitution that prohibited nonbelievers from being elected. This provision of the state constitution is similar to provisions in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The provisions follow:

Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1:
No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

Maryland, Article 37:
That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8
The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4:
No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2:
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

Texas, Article 1, Section 4:
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

So, what do you think of these laws? Are they an affront to the secular nature of our local, state, and federal governments, or are they just antiquated but harmless relics from the past? Should there be an active effort to remove these anti-atheist provisions from the respective state constitutions, or should the nonreligious movement just let federal law trump these discriminatory provisions as conflicts arise?

I think that the legislatures of these states have a duty to eventually get around to removing these provisions and any other elements of their state constitutions that institutionalize discrimination. Now might not be the time due to the large number of pressing issues that plague this nation, but the change ought to eventually be made. Atheists, or any other religious minority for that matter, shouldn’t have to go to court after winning an election just so that federal law is upheld and discrimination is rejected.

Now of course it would be very risky of me to argue about how dangerous it might be to elect some of the believers in Islam, but then you can read of their behavior in the MSM daily.

So I guess as an atheist I won’t be throwing my hat in the ring. It would appear to me and to a growing number of perceptive people everywhere that the basis for the most dangerous examples of discrimination are coming and will continue to come from those most committed to monotheistic male dominated religion.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

The taboo of atheism

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2 COMMENTS

  1. You cannot be a true Catholic and be American because Catholic doctrine demands that the pope is the highest authority and being American requires that the Constitution is the highest authority…People fled the mess that 13 centuries of Catholic horror left Europe in…and took the lessons learned with them and put them in the constitution…10 of the amendments are laws fought and won against Catholic rule…which was a foreign occupation…answering to a foreign potentate….they snuck up on you….look where your tolerance got you….they took your kindness for weakness…

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