Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Religious Freedom"

I was pleased to accept the Indiana Civil Liberties Union's invitation to be a member of their
April 1st. "First Wednesday" panel discussion on "The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) - What Impact Could It Have on Indiana." I am a "two-fer" in this conversation; a small time politician and a long time Episcopal (Anglican) priest. (The Anglican Church is the established or state church in England.)

Thirty years ago a friend at Washington and Lee University warned me about taking a job in Indiana. "You won't like it," he said. "It's a state of "second sons"." The professor's point being that the folks who went over the mountains to the Northwest Territories in the later part of the 18th. century were not likely to be in line to inherit the plantation, or the farm, or the wheelwright business. They were ambitious certainly, but also dispossessed by the economy of their time. Not the eldest son nor the favored child, but the second son. They would be joined by others dispossessed from Ulster, Scotland, and north England. Part of the baggage they took across the Appalachians was resentment.

Indiana's RFRA is not about religious freedom. It is the political exploitation of that current sense of dispossession and resentment that has become the Republican Party's unfortunate ace. Those people; those judges in Chicago, those judges in Washington, those people with their gay agenda, those African-Americans and OBAMA, those women and HILARY, those egg-heads, those . . . . . fill in the blank. . . . why are they here?  We are still better than them. We are holy. We will not be humiliated. Our white male Christian friends in the legislature will help us resist these outsiders.  We will make law.

Which is, ironically enough, why our founders disliked religion. They knew a history featuring decades of religiously tinged wars. Imperial Roman Catholicism with it's fleets and Catholic kings plotting the end of England. A terrifying Cromwell would use his "spiritual awakening" and his desire to be among "the congregation of the first born" to bring civil war to England. The Lord Protector would use his moral authority and his religious fervor to raise an army that would wreck three nations.

The people who taught our founders wanted out of the war's. Out from under the catechisms. They looked to the English Enlightenment, to the French Humanists, to the Scottish "New Lights", and to King William's (Latitudinarian) Bishops. They wanted a universal, natural, divine, moral principal. They would use jewelers terms like refinement and politeness (polish) for their moral discourse. They would eventually settle on sympathy, benevolence,
and Francis Hutcheson's "life, liberty and happiness", a turn of phrase Hutcheson would expand to oppose slavery and the legal subjugation of women. To the founders, it was the only practical course given the diverse nation they sensed they were creating.

Will the RFRA impact Lafayette or West Lafayette? Not much.
Randy Truitt will probably have an opponent in the next election cycle. West Lafayette will have to puzzle out the future of it's anti-bias ordinance. But Grey House Coffee Supply is not likely throw out it's gay patrons.  RFRA is about a conservative movement and it's totems. It is the political exploitation of a sense of dispossession and resentment that is routinely inflamed in national politics. Those who in this era see this protection of their civil religion as a victory, are making sure that the civil religion of the next age is no religion at all. Those state Republicans who have been so clumsy here, may rightly be asked what else in public policy have they gotten so badly wrong.

No comments: