Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Today in Religion

The first thing Imma do when I get home today is take some measurements and then file for a patent on the magical miracle transporter chamber that must exist somewhere in the vicinity of my pillowtop Serta, because I went to bed in Arizona and swear I woke up in Alabama.
Saying the minority must be tolerant of the majority, Republicans who control the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday to require a copy of the Ten Commandments to be erected in front of the old state Capitol.

Tempting as it may be to suspect Roy Moore of taking over the bodies of several state legislators in Phoenix, at least Ol' Roy was straightforward with his motivation when he erected his own two-ton block of granite in front of the Alabama state courthouse. In contrast, the AZ Republicans are falling over each other to see who can be the most disingenuous.

Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, who crafted the measure, said it's wrong to think of the Ten Commandments as religious. Instead, he called them "10 little rules," saying that if everyone honored them, "boy, what a better place this would be."

Anyway, Pearce said it is clear the United States was founded on those principles. And he said the intent of the First Amendment, providing freedom of religion, is not to keep the government from displaying symbols like this but to keep the government from interfering with religious worship.

What, the Ten Commandments are religious? Shoooooot. Them's just ten little rules! Not religious at all! Oh, those first four little rules about I AM THE LORD THY GOD, BITCHEZ, SO DON'T GO WORSHIPPING ANYBODY ELSE OR BOWING DOWN TO STATUES, AND YES, CATHOLICS, I AM LOOKING AT YOU you can probably just ignore. Or don't ignore, actually, because anyway, the United States was founded on religious principles and the First Amendment doesn't say the government can't display religious symbols, which you should not think of this particular religious symbol as. Religious, that is. Because it's just ten little rules.

"Tolerance works two ways," responded Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake. "People need to be tolerant of the majority's beliefs as well as the majority needs to be tolerant of the minority's beliefs.

"I don't know why it would be that offensive," she continued. Allen said anyone who doesn't believe in what the Ten Commandments say is free to ignore the words, even if they are posted next to a government building.

"There are many things on TV that I'm offended by," she continued. "Everybody says, 'Just turn it off.' "

Because a commercial TV broadcast is exactly the same as a government-sanctioned (and, in this case, government-mandated) display of one particular religion's rules on the grounds of the state Capitol.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said his colleagues are worrying too much about running afoul of the First Amendment. It says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

"The 'establishment' clause of the United States Constitution doesn't apply to the states," he said.

Gould said states such as Virginia actually had state religions before the formation of the federal government. He said the deal that resulted in the Constitution was designed to let states continue down that path with a promise Congress would not get in the way.

Yes, colonies and states did have their own religions, and that worked so well--say, in Massachusetts--that Roger Williams ended up creating Rhode Island so that non-Puritans could live without worrying about paying state taxes directed to churches, or being jailed for not going to church, or, you know, being executed for heresy. Not that such things are likely to happen now, at least not the jailing and dying bits, but once a church is made an official organ of a state, it gets state funding. Interesting as it might be to watch the resulting mental gymnastics on the part of legislators who firmly oppose taxation in Arizona for anything but Joe Arpaio's pink tent jail--and that only grudgingly--it's really not a road I would like to see any state try to travel.

The revisionist history of Christian Reconstructionism has been thoroughly debunked (Chris Rodda has done most of the heavy lifting; go here when you have a few evenings to devote to reading), leaving Pearce's assertion that the US was founded on the principles of the Ten Commandments in the dust. Even if that were true, however, he's forgetting that the US was at its core founded on the principles of individual liberty with minimal interference from the government, and as we have evolved into a pluralistic nation of more belief systems than the founders could have imagined, government cheerleading on behalf of a single creed doesn't wash. Pearce is free to post a monument with "little rules" he thinks would improve life. Shit, make it a ten-ton block of granite inscribed with "don't kill" and "don't steal" and "don't be a dick." I'm all over it. Just don't include appeals to a deity, or reminders of that deity's jealousy and the generations of hurt promised to anyone who breaks on of its rules.

Let's review the past couple of weeks in Arizona. We have had the Take an Extra Four Months to Get Divorced bill, the No Booze or Cigarettes if You're on Public Assistance bill, the No Gay Adoptions Married Straight Couples Get Dibs on Adoptions bill, and now a Ten Commandments Are Required but They're not Religious Honest We Mean It bill. Oh, in case you forgot, we also have a governor who thinks God picked her to be governor and relies on team prayer to address state business. I can't wait to see what they come up with today in the legislature in lieu of addressing the state's squintillion-dollar deficit.

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