Alabama’s twice-deposed judge, Roy Moore, exemplifies such a distressing feature of present day America that I admit to a little schadenfreude in view of his recent sexual behavior problems. Innocent until proven guilty applies to state action in a court, but not to voters’ political decisions. Were I an Alabama voter, my belief of the women would guide my vote. But had the recent revelations not even come up, Moore was already a despicable choice for public office.
Are Alabamians such committed theocrats that they excuse Moore’s actions that resulted in his being removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court twice? Is Alabamians’ opposition to religious freedom so great as to declare the state home to but one set of religious views? Is Alabamians’ affection for a renegade judge to unilaterally and without authority commit Alabama jurisprudence to a theocratic stance as long as his position mirrors their dominant faith? Do Alabamians seriously espouse frank violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Article 1 (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”)?
“Yes” to each of those questions, at least as demonstrated in the elective success Moore’s enjoyed despite—or, more disturbing—because of his injecting his brand of religion into public policy. With his flamboyant encouragement, many of Alabama’s fundamentalist Christians obviously decided that preservation of the right to be of whatever religious view individual consciences dictate is less important than grabbing civic support and power for the current dominant view.
The hegemonic aspiration of religions is difficult to keep tamed, though it must be if separate religions are to be kept safe from other religions. (Disbelief has always damaged religions less than they have damaged each other.) Religionists entice government to support them since, after all, they claim divine patronage. Domination, if achieved, knows no natural stopping place, even though religious people should be first in line to maintain a wall between church and state. Although a weakened wall promises short term gains—e.g., churches getting favored tax treatment—it threatens long term loss of religious freedom, at least for the smaller or newer religions as the larger ones expand their civic imprimatur and its accompanying power.
The American Constitution made a valiant effort to protect religions, more so than predecessor documents and more than earlier colonial entities in North America. It attempted, not always successfully, to guarantee religious freedom while keeping religion and government out of each other’s way.
Allow me to quote from a portion of my post of February 7, 2016, “Flirting with theocracy” (others that touch on this topic are under the posts category “Church and state” in the right margin of this page):
“Fundamentalist American Christians as a group can no more be trusted to mean ‘religious liberty’ when they say it than the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can be trusted to really mean ‘democratic.’ . . . . With precious few exceptions, they have little interest in religious liberty, but a great deal in Christian liberty or, more accurately, fundamentalist Christian liberty. As I’ve argued in this blog, the liberty they mean is not just the freedom to worship whatever and virtually however they please. . . their definition of liberty includes the freedom to tell others what to do (see my post ‘Perverting the meaning of freedom of religion.’ Apr. 16, 2014). . . . Remember it was Baptists who feared the hazards of being outside the in-group that prompted Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter about what he called a ‘wall of separation.’ It is that same wall that many of today’s fundamentalists (including Baptists) rail against. While Baptists then needed the First Amendment’s protection, many of them and other fundamentalists now endeavor to install their religion in the halls, lawns, courtrooms, and classrooms of government.”
American freedom with respect to religion is a critical ingredient of America’s constitutional democracy. Those who threaten it the most do so with the voice of flaunted piety.