Friday, December 5, 2008

No religious exemption from Free Speech

I was wondering how long it would take for the oppressors behind Prop. 8 to play the victim, although it is a difficult feat to pull off for any group that can afford a full-page ad in The New York Times.

Mormons have collectively been taking a lot of heat for their singularly active role in working to pass Prop. 8 in order to strip gays of their preeexisting Constitutional right to marry in California. Their participation went way beyond that of any other organization, religious or otherwise, by more than a factor of 10 (more than 100 per capita). To their small credit, they have not greatly disputed their role or sought political cover for it.

Yet political cover is on the way nonetheless. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit advocacy group that promotes Religion (not religious liberty as they claim, as they do not advocate for atheist rights). They interpret the First Amendment as favoring religion, not being neutral to it. Here is how they expect a free advantage in public debate (from their ad No Mob Veto):

“We're a disagreeable lot. We differ about a great many important things...Nevertheless, we're united in this: The violence [?] and intimidation being directed against the LDS ...—and even against individual believers—simply because they supported Proposition 8 is an outrage that must stop.”

Who's we? Presumably the 13 signatories (almost all with a vested interest in preserving religious privilege). What violence? There was no statistically significant violence, much less ongoing. This is a shameless strawman slander to incite the reader. Indeed there is intimidation: lawful, legal, moral intimidation. Public shame and boycotts.

“Of course, when a religious organization enters the public policy arena, it must be prepared for disputes.”

That's an understatement: anyone wading into a public policy dispute with profound negative effect on a historically oppressed minority should prepare for war, limited only by the legality of its methods.

“Let's be clear: even the crudest anti-religious propaganda isn't illegal, and may not constitutionally be outlawed. But it's nevertheless wrong. It has no place in civilized society.”

Fascist and fatuous. The Constitution protects Free Speech, lawful assembly, and the right to petition because they are such precious rights. Far from wrong, they are our duty in a free society. Politics is bruising business. You don't get a free ride to rescind the rights of another less popular than you and then feign indignant surprise when they defend themselves.

And now brace yourselves for one more bit of strawman outrage over a nonexistent problem, their "righteous indignation":

“We announce today that we will stand shoulder to shoulder to defend any house of worship...from violence....”

As I hope we all would, naturally. But just who is burning this mythical cross or swastika, throwing bricks through Church windows, in some systematic wave of violence? The only major increase in hate crimes this year has been against gays and lesbians. As for last year, where full statistics are available from the FBI, less than 2% of hate crimes were against Christians, whereas 16% were against non-heterosexuals (and for perspective, 36% against African-Americans and 12% against Jews). I think that any feigned wave of anti-Christian hysteria should be kept in statistical perspective.

At last we come to the "threat":

“Furthermore, beginning today, we commit ourselves to exposing and publicly shaming anyone who resorts to the rhetoric of anti-religious bigotry—against any faith, on any side of any cause, for any reason.”

Bravo, now you have lowered yourself below even my standards. I do not try to impose atheism on others, just work to leave Religion out of the public debate. Now we hear that these Religious will come to the aid of other Religious to protect the supremacy of the role of Religion itself. Religiousity is now a favored quality of being American. Religion is too precious to be attacked. All hail Religion.

What can you say against this religiofascist impulse? As one of its more famous adherents put it: Bring it on! Isn't Free Speech messy? You can start with me (okay, that's a bit presumptuous, maybe you should start with Richard Dawkins, as he was here long before me).

I categorically and publicly reject subordinating my conscience, scientific reasoning, politics, rights, and civic duties in mindless subservience to a superstition merely because it is popular.

Much less do I defend the practice of superstition itself, as though ecumenism in fantasy makes it less sectarian: your Flying Teapot for my Easter Bunny.

Religion is Latin for "that which binds one back from". I do not need my free will restrained from free thought and shackled to some popular prejudice handed down from even less enlightened forbears, and I would gladly shame such people as have advocated the apotheosis of superstition in our society.

But those having signed this half-strawman half-arrogant petition of privilege have already shown themselves to be unshameable. And that's a God-awful shame.


Brendan said...

What violence?

Exactly. It reminds me of the "voter fraud" hysteria -- the wingnuts go on and on about "case after case," and whenever you hear the specifics, it turns out they're all repeating that one story of that one guy that one time.

I for one am delighted to see the bigots get this pushback. I can only hope the energy lasts until the next time this thing comes up for a vote, but in the meantime, I see nothing wrong and everything right with letting people know -- personally -- that there are real costs to supporting discrimination.

PhillyChief said...

The whole issue makes me want to show them what real violence looks like. In the mean time, how about a lighthearted way to respond

Dan Weston said...

Wow, PhillyChief. Cool blog. I can see I'm going to have to find some free time this winter solstice to read the back issues.

My own suspicions about religion started with Logan's Run: if Carousel was real, why the need for Sandmen?

PhillyChief said...

I loved that when I saw it as a kid. The plastic surgery center creeped me out.

the chaplain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the chaplain said...

Politics is bruising business.

That's on a day when everyone is being kind and gentle. The religious people who want to enter the political arena, as they have every right to do, have to play by the same rules as the rest of the participants. If we wear boxing gloves, they have to wear boxing gloves rather than wield knives. If we bring knives, they can't bring automatic weapons. Of course, the religious nuts have not had to play on a level playing field since the religious wars of the 17th century. They'll have to get used to the way the world really runs now, not the way they wish it would run.

Scott said...

Things that are, in fact, shameful:

-The way you use the phrase "statistical(ly) significant". The number of gay people who have been a victim of a hate crime is also statistically insignificant. The percentage is not, based on any reasonably conservative estimate of a gay population, statistically different from zero.

This does not mean the attacks and/or suffering are insignificant, just that the "statistical" requirement you keep imposing is completely meaningless.

As a statistician, I insist that you use a different word.

Dan Weston said...

Scott, you are bearing false witness.

I never claimed that there was a statistically significant number of hate crimes (against any group). I fear you too are engaging in a strawman argument with me.

I think you and I agree on the statistics. The point of the post was in fact that the claim (rather forcefully made by the Becket Fund) that there is some kind of violence (or threat of violence) against the Religiously inclined is bizarrely hyperbolic. This is especially true if you leave out Jews (who voted against) and Muslims (hardly any of whom live in California).

Where (I suspect) you and I disagree is on the word "significant". Random victimization (drive-by shootings, car accidents) does not signify to most people precisely because of its randomness. It is not misfortune but injustice which feeds fear and division and undermines confidence. It is why we fly a disfigured child halfway around the world for some expensive cosmetic surgery yet fail to provide free child immunization.

It is why one of the most privileged distinct subpopulations in this country (after maybe males and white people) is feigning victimization to clothe a naked power struggle. Hate sells better than sex (and lasts much longer).

And that ad was not cheap. Who knew that religion and money coexisted so comfortably. Every time someone accosts me with a John 3:16, I fire a Mark 10:21-25 right back at them. Invariably, they have no idea what I am talking about.

Scott said...

I'm not certainly not intentionally engaging in a straw-man argument--which is obviously not the same as "I'm not engaging...."

What I am disputing is the apparent implication that the seriousness of a crime depends in some way on a frequency threshold, whether it be absolute (# of happenings) or relative (against Christians vs. against Gays).

"There was no statistically significant violence, much less ongoing." --You have used the same term in other posts/comments, so I'm not referring only to this post. I'm not discounting any attacks on gays--what I am doing is saying that it's disingenuous to toss authoritative terminology like "statistically significant" around unless you deem yourself worthy to be the decision-maker on what specifically constitutes a "statistically significant" act of violence.

As an individual, a single attack is significant--statistical frequency is of little import to me. In terms of public policy, frequency takes on an increased level of importance, but I still think it unwise to volunteer opinions about what specific frequency is sufficient.

Scott said...

Oh, and starting off by declaring that I've "born false witness"?

Very nice.