Sunday, March 15, 2015

Deference to Delusions: Perverting the First Amendment

The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads, in full:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment doesn't suggest any deference to [any] religion, only tolerance of all. Yet the courts are constantly deferential to religion. Not just tolerant but subservient. And downright hostile to those who reject all religion.

The Supreme Court state in Everson v. Board of Education (1947):
The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. (italics mine)
In other cases Federal Courts have decided that secular humanism and atheism are "religions" for the purposes of the First Amendment (see Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, Kaufman v. McCaughtry 2005). In the latter case the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals stated:
Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs dealing with issues of 'ultimate concern' that for her occupy a 'place parallel to that filled by . . . God in traditionally religious persons,' those beliefs represent her religion.

We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. See Reed v. Great Lakes Cos., 330 F.3d 931, 934 (7th Cir. 2003) ('If we think of religion as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of religion.')
Despite such stated interpretations of the First Amendment guaranteeing equal protection to lack of belief, federal courts and the Supreme Court have been deferential, even supportive, to religious belief in God. The Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that the Government may (must?) recognize the existence of a Supreme Being (God) and by implication that all atheist citizens who do not believe in any Supreme Fixer in the Sky are not true citizens. From the Wikipedia entry on a case brought against the soi-disant "national motto" In God We Trust:
In Zorach v. Clauson (1952), the Supreme Court also held that the nation's "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being" and that government recognition of God does not constitute the establishment of a state church as the Constitution's authors intended to prohibit.
This goes far beyond mere State tolerance of religion, and completely negates the Supreme Court's own stated position in Everson of protection of non-belief under the First Amendment.  The Court appears to insist that all citizens subscribe to a belief in a Supreme Being in that all US "institutions presuppose a Supreme Being". This is offensive not just to atheists but to various religious groups as well. Many Hindus believe in multiple Supreme Beings not just a single Supreme Being. Many Buddhists don't believe in any Supreme Being at all. It is intolerable that "the government [should recognize] God". By refusing to prevent the state from propagating a religious belief and a specific monotheist flavor of religious belief the court is in effect allowing the state to establish and sponsor religion.

The courts rule on matters of fact, empirical evidence, science and the scientific method all the time. The Scopes trial relating to teaching of Evolution is  of course rightly famous. Why then cannot the courts rule on belief in God - a hypothesis that has not a shred of empirical evidence to support it. Shouldn't the Court's position on the First Amendment therefore be that while religious delusions must be tolerated by the State, the State ought to itself embrace non-belief in God, for to act otherwise is to sin against reason? Using the First Amendment to claim, as the Supreme Court does in Zorach v. Clauson that, in effect, God exists, is patently absurd.

The recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case exemplifies the disease. It was of course decided on statutory (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) , not Constitutional or First Amendment grounds, but it is emblematic of the courts kowtowing to religion, and religious prejudice at that.

Consider the following hypothetical secular alternative case. A closely held rationalist family corporation wishes to deny family medical coverage to employees, male and female, with more than 2 children; the oldest 2 children would be covered but not the 3rd or further children and no pregnancy or maternity care insurance would be provided to employees for their 3rd or further children. This on the sincerely held and entirely secular belief that overpopulation is a threat to the species wherefore large families are to be discouraged.

What about other sincerely held delusional beliefs? The courts are not deferential to those who sincerely believe in alien abduction, that the government controls their thoughts via chips implanted with vaccines. that blacks are racially inferior by divine decree, that a father may slit his son's throat because YHWH tells him (the father) to, that a father may force his daughters as be whores to visiting strangers, that wives must immolate themselves on the pyres of their dead husbands or be buried alive with the corpse of their dead husband.

The First Amendment doesn't say churches should be treated as non-profits with tax exemptions - taxpayer subsidies by another name. It doesn't say that churches should be exempt from financial disclosure requirements imposed on secular non-profits.

The Constitution and First Amendment do not call for any State deference to religion. It is time to get the courts to recognize this. Fight State sanctioned religious privilege wherever you find it.
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