Why Use Religion to Oppose Rights?

A N.C. Pastor has asked a powerful and direct question of Edwards that can be applied with equal force to nearly every candidate running for office (via Pam, Pandagon):

Rev. Reggie Longcrier, pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory, N.C., submitted a question on marriage equality for the CNN’s YouTube Presidential debate. It’s a powerful, short and simple video.

While Longcrier’s question could have been asked of all of the presidential candidates (save Gravel and Kucinich), he happened to direct the question to former N.C. Senator John Edwards because of his statement that he is unable at this time to “cross that bridge” to support marriage equality. His wife Elizabeth is waiting on the other side of bridge, of course, since she favors the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

Here is the question itself:

Sen. Edwards has said his opposition to gay marriage has been influenced by his Southern Baptist background. We know religion was once used to justify slavery, segregation and women not being allowed to vote, all of which today are recognized as unconstitutional and socially and morally wrong. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to justify denying gay and lesbian American their full and equal rights.

This question is very well crafted.  Generally those who oppose gay marriage take the debate into the reasoning behind their opposition.  When being intellectually honest, they bring it back to a question of their faith.  Of course why that faith should be imposed on others is the immediate question the pro-gay marriage crowd (self included) jump on.  But to ask why faith or religion should ever be used to justify denying someone their rights and their equality is an important shift in the debate.  The likely response from the opposition would be to quote scripture to defend their stance.  The pro rights crowd can do the same.  However that is not where the question really takes us (and not where its utility lies).

The power of this question lies in the nature of religion and the role of rights in relation to ethics.

  1. If religion is a fundamentally ethical entity
  2. And denying rights is an unethical action
  3. Then a particular religion cannot act to deny rights without violating its nature.

Using religion to agitate against civil or human rights is therefore an unnatural act.  Either that, or a given religion cannot claim to be a moral force for good in the world.  It becomes just another grouping of people, another political powerhouse working towards its own goals.

Religious groups are consistent when they work towards the recognition and realization of human rights.

When they turn on the rights of others, they act in opposition to what religion should be and strike at the core of its social legitimacy.

Religion should be used to affirm rights.


13 Responses

  1. I’ll support Ron Pauls’ view here. Why is it that this guy just makes so much sense?

    To quote:

    Mr. Speaker, while I oppose federal efforts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between one man and one woman, I do not believe a constitutional amendment is either a necessary or proper way to defend marriage.

    While marriage is licensed and otherwise regulated by the states, government did not create the institution of marriage. In fact, the institution of marriage most likely pre-dates the institution of government! Government regulation of marriage is based on state recognition of the practices and customs formulated by private individuals interacting in civil society. Many people associate their wedding day with completing the rituals and other requirements of their faith, thus being joined in the eyes of their church and their creator, not with receiving their marriage license, thus being joined in the eyes of the state.

    If I were in Congress in 1996, I would have voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which used Congress’s constitutional authority to define what official state documents other states have to recognize under the Full Faith and Credit Clause, to ensure that no state would be forced to recognize a “same sex” marriage license issued in another state. This Congress, I was an original cosponsor of the Marriage Protection Act, HR 3313, that removes challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act from federal courts’ jurisdiction. If I were a member of the Texas legislature, I would do all I could to oppose any attempt by rogue judges to impose a new definition of marriage on the people of my state.

    Having studied this issue and consulted with leading legal scholars, including an attorney who helped defend the Boy Scouts against attempts to force the organization to allow gay men to serve as scoutmasters, I am convinced that both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Marriage Protection Act can survive legal challenges and ensure that no state is forced by a federal court’s or another state’s actions to recognize same sex marriage. Therefore, while I am sympathetic to those who feel only a constitutional amendment will sufficiently address this issue, I respectfully disagree. I also am concerned that the proposed amendment, by telling the individual states how their state constitutions are to be interpreted, is a major usurpation of the states’ power. The division of power between the federal government and the states is one of the virtues of the American political system. Altering that balance endangers self-government and individual liberty. However, if federal judges wrongly interfere and attempt to compel a state to recognize the marriage licenses of another state, that would be the proper time for me to consider new legislative or constitutional approaches.

    Conservatives in particular should be leery of anything that increases federal power, since centralized government power is traditionally the enemy of conservative values. I agree with the assessment of former Congressman Bob Barr, who authored the Defense of Marriage Act:

    “The very fact that the FMA [Federal Marriage Amendment] was introduced said that conservatives believed it was okay to amend the Constitution to take power from the states and give it to Washington. That is hardly a basic principle of conservatism as we used to know it. It is entirely likely the left will boomerang that assertion into a future proposed amendment that would weaken gun rights or mandate income redistribution.”

    Passing a constitutional amendment is a long, drawn-out process. The fact that the marriage amendment already failed to gather the necessary two-thirds support in the Senate means that, even if two-thirds of House members support the amendment, it will not be sent to states for ratification this year. Even if the amendment gathers the necessary two-thirds support in both houses of Congress, it still must go through the time-consuming process of state ratification. This process requires three-quarters of the state legislatures to approve the amendment before it can become effective. Those who believe that immediate action to protect the traditional definition of marriage is necessary should consider that the Equal Rights Amendment easily passed both houses of Congress and was quickly ratified by a number of states. Yet, that amendment remains unratified today. Proponents of this marriage amendment should also consider that efforts to amend the Constitution to address flag burning and require the federal government to balance the budget have been ongoing for years, without any success.

    Ironically, liberal social engineers who wish to use federal government power to redefine marriage will be able to point to the constitutional marriage amendment as proof that the definition of marriage is indeed a federal matter! I am unwilling either to cede to federal courts the authority to redefine marriage, or to deny a state’s ability to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Instead, I believe it is time for Congress and state legislatures to reassert their authority by refusing to enforce judicial usurpations of power.

    In contrast to a constitutional amendment, the Marriage Protection Act requires only a majority vote of both houses of Congress and the president’s signature to become law. The bill already has passed the House of Representatives; at least 51 senators would vote for it; and the president would sign this legislation given his commitment to protecting the traditional definition of marriage. Therefore, those who believe Congress needs to take immediate action to protect marriage this year should focus on passing the Marriage Protection Act.

    Because of the dangers to liberty and traditional values posed by the unexpected consequences of amending the Constitution to strip power from the states and the people and further empower Washington, I cannot in good conscience support the marriage amendment to the United States Constitution. Instead, I plan to continue working to enact the Marriage Protection Act and protect each state’s right not to be forced to recognize a same sex marriage.


  2. 1. Andy,
    “Why is it that this guy just makes so much sense?”
    Over active imagination?

    Other than block quoting an entire Ron Paul quote in a comment, can you offer any comment on the questions raised above?

    How about just the big one: Should religion ever be used to advocate for limiting an individual’s rights?

  3. Good questions, I await Edwards answers. I mean this was directed at Edwards, not Ron Paul, why don’t we let Edwards answer this one?

  4. Just giving you a hard time for slamming my man Ron Paul 😉

    As for freedom of religion, there is a guarantee through the first amendment for the freedom of belief for individuals and freedom of worship for individuals and groups. It is also recognized to include the freedom not to follow any religion and not to believe in any god.

    For individuals, religious tolerance generally provides for an attitude of acceptance towards other people’s religions – and rights. It does not mean that one views other religions as equally true; merely that others have the right to hold and practice their beliefs.

    Religious practice can conflict with secular law creating debates on religious freedom v. individual rights. For instance, certain Mormon sects believe polygamy is valid per their religion while state laws prohibit polygamy. Since properly voted on and enacted state law prohibits polygamy, you can argue it is not an infringement on individual rights, BUT the Mormon who practices polygamy sure will feel it is an infringment on his right of religious expression, and thus also on his individual rights.

    I do see this as an issue for the states, and not for presidential candidates (Edwards, Paul or whomever) who are involved on the federal level, so I think the video of the good Reverand asking the question of Edwards is for the most part irrelevant as it is not the place, under the constitution, for the federal government to interfere with the states on these issues.

    I believe that if the beliefs of the people of a certain locally governed area (be it on a municipal or state level) are such that they would enact laws such that freedom of religion interferes with an individual’s rights, then that is fine. I also believe that the opposite is true, and the a local government can enact a law that champions individual rights while perhaps curtailing religious freedom.

    The problem with any form of government is that you can’t please all the people all the time, and unless you are in a vaccum, it is impossible to have both freedom of religion and individual rights perfectly protected at the same time.

    Thus, the solution is checks and balances through a local democratic voting process, with the full understanding that any individual or group that ends up on the short end of the stick on a freedom of religion v. individual rights legislative issue has the full minority protection (based on the fact that we are a Republic) of seeking redress through the courts – and this is where it could get murky because it could involve state or federal courts where questions of jurisdiction may arise. Regardless, that is the process per our constitution and that is how you handle these issues.

    Sorry if that sounds like Ron Paul, but those are my own words and thoughts with no reference to his words or speeches. You strike me as a philosopher and I am more of a pragmatist, so I don’t think my way of responding will be pleasing to you as it is cut and dry and does not seek to promote debate as I believe in my position, though others may certainly disagree with me and have every right ot argue their positions – however I would see that all as philosophical talk (which can be a good thing) and not the reality of a situation for me where I don’t have a strong personal stake.

    And for the record, I personally believe in gay marriage, but again, it is an issue for local governments to decide.

  5. First, I agree 100% with the sentiment expressed in the video. But there are two destinct issues that should be seperated.

    1 – Marriage, in a religeous, traditional, or spiritual sense, is purely between individuals, their faith, and their church. The pastor has the right to marry who wants. Government should have zero say in this. If the Catholic church chooses not to recognize certain marriages that is wholly within thier rights as a private organization as well.

    2 – Likewise, government should have zero say in the legal arrangement of a private contract between two individuals, and should not grant special privilages on any basis, including the genders of those entering the contract. This should hold regardless of the whims of the majority.

    Now I ask this. Do you believe, based on a moral and ethical stand, that government has the right to take money from your paycheck, and redistribute it in the name of moral causes? And, if you refuse, to send you to jail? Don’t we justify a welfare state by our “moral” obligation to the poorest among us?

    Legal marriages are an example of government sanctioned ethical or moral standards imposed by majority will. Welfare, medicare, socialized healthcare, etc. are also examples of moral or ethical standards imposed by majority will.

    So, where do you draw the line? Where does the majority right of imposition of morality and ethics get drawn? And how is that line justified?

  6. Zack – I disagree that the government should have “zero” say in religion (here I go getting caught up in philosophical arguments). What if a religion espouses marriage between an adult and a ten year old? Same goes for the Mormon polygamy issue. In those cases the govenment should intervene as it violates the law.

    It is for the local governments to have the laws set by the people by majority democratic vote, and those laws apply to religious organizations – BUT there should no actual government intervention in how a religion operates as long as the religion obeys the laws of the land. The oversight should only be such that religions abide by the law (which is no oversight as long as the religion obeys the law). Then, if somone within a religion disagrees with the law, he or she can take it to court.

    The problem with the gay marriage issue is that it has been illegal under most state laws. I agree with you that allowing gay marriage should be personal choice by a specific religion. Gay marriage should not be an issue at all, but certain communities are against it, the constitution does not allow for federal oversight on this issue, so it is up to local governments to set their own laws with the courts deciding for those who disagree with the local government.

    And with further thought, it is the state courts that would handle it as is it would be a state law that is being challenged.

  7. Andy – I think we agree mostly. I didn’t mean to advocate that religious doctrine (like your example) could usurp local and state criminal law. I believe the people (through government), have the right to determine something like age of consent.

    Since you got caught up philosophically, so will I 🙂

    In the legal sense, I see marriage as a contract between consenting adults. The basis of the contract is an agreement in the joint ownership of property. Beyond providing for and protecting that joint right to property, I don’t see government needing a role. (in reality they have great involvement particularly in the tax arena).

    Based on that limited deffinition, I would argue that a majority decision to limit the joint property rights of any adults wishing to enter into a contract would be a violation of both individuals property rights.


    Unfortunately, thanks to government involvement at all levels, marriage is much more complicated than a simple property rights contract. I would argue that by tying marriage into the federal tax code, Washington has indeed laid claim to this issue (like everyhing else). In that sense, the best alternative is what you’re advocating, which is state and local authority.

  8. Zack – I agree. I used the example of government intervening in, say, a religion allowing marriage between an adult and a ten year old, for which you agreed as that is obvioulsy common (and legal) sense.

    However, with gay marriage between two consenting adults – no law is being broken. There is no law (at least none that are enforced) against homosexual relationships. Therefore, since the relationships are legal, and if certain religious organizations should choose to accept a gay marriage union – then it certainly is none of the governments business.

    On the cynical side, if certain states still have old laws on the books against homosexual relationships (even if they are not enforced), those against gay marriage could use that as a legal challenge.

  9. Whew… Okay, here goes…

    3. Rafael,
    Indeed, although any candidate’s answer would be welcome, I am most interested in what Edwards has to say about this. It certainly seems like his wife is being the braver of the two politically.

    4. Andy,
    No worries!

    Let’s say one state decides that we need China like population control, or another is pro-death penalty, or one decides to scrap all protections for the poor. At some point we have to say, which rights, which protections should be universally guarenteed?

    I believe in checks and balances that bias towards increasing protection of rights and affirmation of freedom. So these laws exist at both the local, state, and federal levels. But higher levels of government can overrule lower levels in the event they remove protections or infringe upon rights guarenteed at the higher level of government.

    Actually I find your way of responding very engaging. I disagree with much of it, but its great to read through and debate with. I’d say that one’s pragmatic qualities are separate from one’s identity as a philosopher. In any case, I certainly believe removing a layer of government protection to be more idealistic than realistic.

    5. Zack,
    On the first part, I agree! Marriage (as a so called sacred institution) should be up to individuals and the organizations they belong to. Legal contracts between individuals should be enforced by the state (and regulated to ensure no rights are infringed upon in these contracts), but at no point should the government regulate away peoples rights to enter into said contracts!

    Yes. I believe government to be nothing more than another form of collective action (even if it is backed by force). It is ok for the government to collect taxes, and spend them. It is also my responsibility to argue and fight against what I regard to be bad spending, and advocate and push for good spending. I don’t think sending someone to jail is quite the right approach. But locking them out of society would be fine by me. Paying taxes is a way of paying the price of admission. Don’t want to pay for medicaid? Don’t want to pay for schools? Fine. Just don’t use our government services you complain about so much. I think that would be more reasonable than jail.

    The question is not whether the collection of and spending of taxes is ethical. It is fine. What needs to be debated is how we spend that money (and how we determine how much people should pay). But all of this is slightly off topic.

    6. Andy,
    Agreed. If your individual rights infringe on someone else’s rights, that is a good place for government to get involved and regulate.
    Disagree with your ideas on state regulation of gay marriage. Why should certain communities get to limit the rights of others?

    7. Zack,
    Damn. Well said. Thinking of it in terms of property rights is quite the handy frame.
    I can see a good argument forming for removing marriage from federal tax policy.

    8. Andy,
    It isn’t about the relationships (although respect is part of all of this). It is about the rights you lose if you are not married to your partner. Hospital visits. Health Care. That sort of thing. If this is about contracts, then no one, states or the federal government, has any business limiting who you can consensually enter into contract with.

    (This is a rather cool discussion you two have going!)

  10. Note, you don’t need government to adjudicate infringement of rights (although it may be convenient). 9th Century Iceland had a great system of adjudicating controversies among the populace. Heinlein (the originator of “There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”) employed a similar device in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

    Marriage is a contract. Religious marriage is up to the various religions to decide. Ultimately it is their cultural integrity that they seek to preserve – so in that sense, they may deny or prohibit certain things you may consider “rights” – but they would disagree. It does not make any sense to sue them to recognize your right. So why should it be the responsibility of the government to enforce?

    The problem we have in this country is that contract rights are no longer paramount. That is from what stems all of this. I think the question for Edwards is apt, but mostly because Edwards is kind of a hack. I mean, “poverty” is his main issue, and he’s got a bazillion dollar home and gets $400 haircuts? Why not get a $10 haircut and donate the $390? Hell, we’ve raised something like $500+ for a food drive for the Ron Paul rally in SC this weekend just on the forums. Surely Edwards with his name recognition could do better if he wanted to.

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I really think these people – the Edwardses of this Country – don’t really want to solve these problems. If the problems went away, there wouldn’t be any need for ever increasing government programs, graft, and inefficiency (for their kind to “feed on”). Iraq is a prime example of this. Poverty and drugs are two more.

  11. Heinlein?

    I certainly would not want to live in a world ruled by Heinlein’s proto-fascist views.

  12. fitnessfortheoccasion –

    Hmmmm……. So you are saying the federal government should have a say in the gay marriage issue because “higher levels of government can overrule lower levels in the event they remove protections or infringe upon rights guarenteed at the higher level of government”. Ever stop to think that the “higher” level of covernment could be more corrupt than the “lower” level?

    My point is that the “higher” federal government can provide no rights or guarantees in regards to marriage. Remember “Congress chall make no law….” from the 1st Amendment? Thus, in regards to marriage, there are “no rights guarenteed at the higher level of government”.

    Sounds to me that you wish for the federal government to have blanket laws that the constitution forbids and that may not be agreeable in certain communities for which the all knowing Fed has no understanding of that community’s values.

    When you say: “Let’s say one state decides that we need China like population control, or another is pro-death penalty, or one decides to scrap all protections for the poor. At some point we have to say, which rights, which protections should be universally guarenteed?” what makes the Federal government so all knowing in passing laws as opposed to state governments? The states still have to follow the federal constituion in regards to the laws they make, and state constituions as a whole are very similar to the federal constituion. Your thoughts of mass chaos seem awful far fetched in my view.

  13. Granted, I’ve not read heinlein’s catalog, but I’ve never seen anything “proto-fascist” in the writing’s I’ve read, unless it is in an ironic fashion, commenting on where we’re going.

    Newsflash – you’re living in a “proto-fascist” world already, buddy.

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