Religious Freedoms and Governing Intolerances

Tolerance

Article VI of the United States Constitution states: “…This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

That last sentence is perhaps the most important line for Article VI for not only the Federal Government, but for all lesser elected offices, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

This line and the concept of separation of Church and State represented the views of our founders regarding how and if we should include religion in our government.

The United States was not only the first Constitutional Democracy created, it was the first nation created without a National Religion. This was emphasize in the Treaty of Tripoli, a treaty ratified by unanimous consent in the Senate (made up of many of our original founders) and signed by President John Adams that stated clearly As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan  nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Why is this so important?

The founders knew the history of the colonies was a story of people coming to our shores to escape religious persecution from the countries they came from. The Puritans were demonized by the English State Religion, Protestants were persecuted by Catholic State Religions, Catholics were persecuted by Protestant State Religions, so the United States was to be different.

Our founders were mostly Deists, they believed in God, but many didn’t put much faith (no pun intended) in organized religions or the rituals and nuances that surrounded those faiths. They knew of and studied all the religions of the day. The Federalist Papers and Jefferson’s letters discuss what has become known as “The Separation of Church and State.”

The founders advocated not only religious freedoms for the citizens of this country, but more importantly the freedom against religion influence on the workings of government.

Religions are prone to advocate to one degree or another, intolerance against people. All faiths have passages in their religious texts that have been used to justify bigotry, intolerance against other faiths, lack of faith, and/or sexuality. This was true then and it is true now.

So to have a nation that honors the separation of Church and State, the founders weren’t saying you couldn’t be a Christian, a Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu, etc.; you are entitled to have you views and use your views to govern your life, just not the lives of those you represent. Sorry Bill O’Reilly the history is clear, the founders did believe in Secular governance.

A religion can be used to justify slavery as it did in the Southern States. Republicans in the 19th Century bridged all religious interpretations of the day, focused on Secular reasons to justify abolition and the eventual end of Slavery despite the hard felt views of many in State and local governments.

When you are in office, you aren’t leading a congregation of like minded religious types; you are governing a community of varied beliefs and tolerances.

You are there to serve them and their needs, even if they conflict with yours. The most honored politicians in our history did that very well.

Kennedy governed as a secularist, not a Catholic;

Truman governed as a secularist not a Methodist,

as did other great leaders. They allowed things to progress that possibly ran counter to their own personal religious views, as taught to them in order to serve all of the people they represented. You can’t do that if you place your religion before your duty as an elected government official.

If you are unable to separate yourself from your religion in making decision that impact all you serve, you frankly have no business running for public office.

If elected you must represent each and every Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist, and each and every homosexual. You are not there to change their views, you’re there to represent their views as Americans, all deserving of the same rights as all other Americans regardless of color, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. That is the only formula that works in a country we hope honors democratic rule.

So why this rant?

I believe in having tolerance for all people regardless of their classification. I have problems with those who practice intolerance against people based on any criteria of their birth or faith and I honor those who work to bridge those intolerances and bring understanding and equal rights to discriminated people. The story I’m about to relate pertains to a Phoenix City Council race in District 8 on Tuesday. However, a variation of this story I’m sure can be found in other races on Tuesday and in years to come.

District 8 has for nearly 50 years been represented by an African American. The Phoenix City Council has had good representation from that District that covers a portion of Phoenix that is predominately minority and impoverished. One of the candidates for this race, Reverend Warren Stewart is an African American who has honorably fought for minority rights in Phoenix for years. He worked to get us to honor Martin Luther King, he is a man of God, he has helped the Hispanic Community, and his resume would appear to be what many of us would like to see in a City leader. But there is a problem. He cannot separate the prejudices of his faith against the inherent rights of all the people he will represent.

He has issues with the LGBT community, and them with him. Although he says he supports civil unions and supports Phoenix City Ordinances giving rights to LGBTs, he is clearly on record as opposed to same sex marriage. He went so far as to send President Obama a letter regarding his evolution into accepting that same sex marriage is a right. Reverend Stewart is placing his religious intolerance of those outside his version of the faith against a growing number of more enlightened constituents who support gay marriage.

Bigotry is not restricted to angry old white men; it transcends all races, sexes, faiths, ideologies, and sexual orientation. In my opinion you cannot be intolerant of any group despite intolerance practiced on you or your work to end it for others. If you are intolerant of any group for any reason, you may as well accept being intolerant of all groups.

To justify your intolerance using religion and indicating you will govern under those religiously sanctioned intolerance does no service to you, your faith or the people you intend to represent.

Bigotry finds strange bed-fellows. Reverend Stewart is a Democrat, by all accounts a liberal Democrat, but his views on being anti same-sex marriage and frustration with the President’s conversion has gained him support from Conservatives in Arizona. See this link to a blog post that speaks in favor of Reverend Stewart using language that those of a liberal/progressive/enlightened and tolerant mindset would find distasteful:

http://azconservative.org/2013/01/11/radical-homosexual-activists-attack-free-speech-religious-liberty-in-arizona/

What is also disappointing with the Reverend’s campaign is he is clearly playing the race card in trying to win this seat. His opponent is Kate Gallego, her married name that those on Stewart’s side says she using a Hispanic name to gain support, not that women often take the names of their husbands. They are sending out fliers saying that voting for Gallego will end 47 years of racial diversity on the City Council.

StewartFlier

These are links to a local story of this race and the views of the LGBT community here:

http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/20130923phoenix-council-election-race.html?nclick_check=1

http://www.onecommunity.co/blog/2013/02/gay-rights-group-raises-concerns-over-potential-phoenix-council-candidate

I agree that racial diversity is good, but what’s more important is tolerant governance of all races, sexes, religions and sexual orientation. To be an African American on the Phoenix City Council does provide diversity in racial make-up, but does it provide tolerance for all people?

When I voted for Barack Obama twice, I didn’t vote for him because he was black, I voted for him because he is intelligent, thoughtful, compromising and tolerant. It helped that he was black, but that wasn’t the focus of my votes or my current support. This country does need more racial diversity in all government offices, we need more female representation in all government offices, but more importantly, we need more tolerance, void of religious shackles in all government offices.

We govern better for all people when we do so secularly, not religiously. Save that for home and church and remember we are a diverse nation and that is where we draw our strengths. Intolerance saps us of those gains whether it’s for racial, sexist, or religious reasons.

I’m not in District 8 so I won’t be voting there and I’m not telling those living in District 8 how to vote, but I am asking you to consider what is more important when you make your selection, a person of race or a person of tolerance for all?

And as I mentioned above, this scenario is playing out in other races across the country with different candidates for different offices, the same rule applies. Figure out what is important to you, but no matter what, VOTE!

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