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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Politics of Hate

It's the most rabid opponents of the First Amendment's separation of church and state who argue that freedom of religion isn't the same thing as freedom from religion. We can't be "protected" from exposure to religion in everyday life and it's not the government's job to keep religion lock up in churches and temples and mosques.

Which is interesting, because these same people fight for laws to free us from religions they disapprove of. It was, after all, Republicans who fought to keep Wiccan chaplains out of the armed forces, for example. And let's not even get started on protecting Americans from the evils of atheism. When the argument is made that there is no freedom from religion, what's really meant is that government can't protect you from exposure to Christianity -- every other religion is fair game.

This is the case with Oklahoma's "Save Our State" amendment, which is meant to protect that state from the evils of sharia law. Of course, saving Oklahoma from the dangers of sharia is completely unnecessary -- not only is the state in no danger of falling to Muslim fundamentalist authoritarianism, but religious-based law is already unconstitutional. as threats go, this is about as close to nonexistent as you can get without involving unicorns and fairies.


But of course, the purpose of the amendment to the state's constitution has nothing at all to do with any actual threat, it was merely a referendum on Islam itself, meant to both promote bigotry and use that bigotry to bring people to the polls. It's not about solving a problem, but of creating the appearance of one, while at the same time encouraging people to let hate and fear inform their decisions. Saudi Arabia has Muslims, Oklahoma has Muslims, therefore Oklahoma is in danger of becoming Saudi Arabia. Be terrified -- and don't forget to keep hating those Muslims.

It's at this point that I very nearly wrote, "Luckily, this is all unconstitutional." Except luck has nothing to do with it. It's unconstitutional by design. Freedom of religion means freedom of religion and, if you don't like a certain religion, tough luck. The words the right practically worship -- "freedom" and "liberty" -- are words that actually mean something. And the plain fact is that passing laws to fight a religion aren't the definitions of those words. It's the opposite of the definitions of those words.

So a federal judge blocked the amendment. Before you start yelling "states' rights!" and "tenth amendment!" I remind you that the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land. If you want to write something crazy into your states constitution, that's all very cute and adorable. But if it's contrary to the US Constitution, you're wasting your time. You don't get to do that.

Religious organizations agree. When states are allowed to pick and choose which religions they approve of, then you have states engaging in the "establishment of religion." They're only doing it subtractively -- rule out religions until there's only one left, but pass no law specifically establishing that state religion.

But the main purpose was to cash in on the rightwing "ground zero mosque" hysteria before that fad faded into the background. Get people freaked out about Muslims taking over, then get people to go to the polls to vote against it. It wasn't sharia that was being attacked, it was Islam.

"The BJC's brief argues that the Oklahoma amendment violates the Establishment Clause for two separate and distinct reasons," reports Baptists Today of the Baptist Joint Committee, who've written a "friend of the court" brief supporting the judge's decision. "First, 'the amendment's purpose plainly is to disapprove of the Islamic tradition.' Secondly, 'the amendment's dual specific references to Shari law -- and to no other religious tradition -- have the unambiguous effect of communicating official disapproval of Islam.'"

How is this good for America? How is encouraging Americans to hate and fear other Americans helpful to the nation? And this is the GOP's modus operandi -- whether it's gays or atheists or Wiccans or Muslims. Those Americans over there -- they're the problem. Eliminating them from public discourse will solve everything. Let's pass us some laws.

And they call themselves patriots.


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