Religious Freedom and Judge Roy Moore

(I was asked to speak at the No Moore Rally today at the Alabama Supreme Court Building in Montgomery, AL.  Judge Roy Moore was being tried on six out of seven ethics violations when he urged Alabama Probate Judges to disobey US Supreme Court Ruling on the constitutionality of Same Sex Marriage. Here is what I said.)

We have been standing here for quite some time now awaiting the verdict that Judge Moore is found guilty of violating the Supreme Court orders to enforce marriage equality in this state. Judge Moore believes that he is above the law of the land.  He believes he is called to impose his brand of religion onto the citizens of this state. He believes that his brand of religion is the one true faith, that he has the pure and unadulterated interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. That all other interpretations of these sacred texts are heresy and therefore should be purged from the state of Alabama.

However, Judge Moore does not live in a country where only one religion is declared the official government religion.  Where only one interpretation of that religion is sanctioned. Where other religions are persecuted.

The United States does not have an official government sanctioned religion.  Here we have religious pluralism and the promise of religious freedom for all religions to not only be practiced but to have their rituals protected and recognized by the Government. This protection is found in our nation’s most sacred of texts, a text that Judge Moore vowed to uphold in his role as judge.

From the Declaration of Independence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Constitution of the United States, 1st Amendment:  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.

Constitution of the United States, 14 Amendment, Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is from these documents that I stand here today to proclaim that my faith, which teaches me to love one another, no matter who you are or whom you love is to be respected under this constitution.  My religion, while a minority religion in the state of Alabama, has under the US Constitution the legal and moral authority to have its marriages recognized by the government of these states.  This right has been denied the members of my faith and other faiths for decades.  It was a right that was finally recognized by the Supreme Court as being fully constitutional.

Roy Moore and his ilk want to deny people, who do not agree with his religious faith, their rights as citizens of these United States. The followers of his religious faith are not hindered in any way by the practices of those who follow another faith or who follow no faith, just as my faith is not hindered in any way by the practices of his.  Where hindrance occurs is when followers of his faith demand that I and others adhere to his faith tenets.

In countries where there is one sanctioned religion his approach would be legal but here in the United States all people are free to practice their faith.  All people have the right to pursue happiness.

But here is thing; Judge Moore’s faith doesn’t even follow the tenets of his religion. His professed religion is Christianity.

Jesus declared that for his followers, and I am reading from the King James version, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Judge Moore violates this commandment. He is not loving his neighbor.  His behaviors show no respect for the diversity of his neighbors.  His behaviors show only contempt which goes against his very faith which insists on following the author of love, by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I feel sorry for Judge Moore.  I do.  Truly.  I feel sorry for him because he has no love in his heart.  He has walled himself off from knowing the freedom that divine love gives to each of us when we are willing to be embraced by that love.  He is afraid. And in his fear, he attacks others who have found the freedom that love bestows.

That love for one another is expressed in the Christian Scriptures of Galatians 3:28. Here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We do not need to be afraid of each other any longer because when love is present, when love is placed at the center of our hearts, the need to separate us into categories falls away.  The desire for ensuring mutual respect of our differences rises to the fore.

But Judge Moore has not experienced the very redemption his Christian faith teaches him.  Redemption is more than just reciting a few words on a page.  And the Redemption I am talking about is not just in the life to come, but redemption in this life. Freedom in this life which our founding parents of this nation in their wisdom codified into law—the redemption of being able to have life and the pursuit of happiness.  He does not know this redeeming love.  He only knows hatred for others who not only are different than he is, but have found happiness and love through that difference.

He is going to need a bit of a nudge from today to be told once again, that he does not have the right to enforce his hatred onto the citizens of Alabama.  He does not have the right to impose his version of Christianity onto the citizens of Alabama—who have found the power of love through other Christian denominations, through Judaism, through Islam, through Buddhism, through Baha’i, through Sikhism, through Taoism, through atheism, through humanism, through Jainism, through Wiccan, through indigenous faiths, and yes, even through my faith, Unitarian Universalism.

Judge Moore, you have betrayed the trust of the state of the Alabama by violating our most sacred creeds as a nation.  Not just once, but twice.  You must be removed from office this day.  And you cannot be allowed to serve a public office again because you have proven yourself as not being able to hold the people’s rights above your own interests and agendas.  Perhaps one day you will realize that Love is Love and that all people have the right to experience love and have that love recognized by the government.

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The religious freedom argument against HB 56 that was not made

The Federal judge, Sharon Lovelace Blackburn heard the three suits against HB 56 today.  While I supported the Department of Justice’s and the Civil Rights suits, I was most interested in the Bishop’s suit that HB 56 infringed on First Amendment rights.

I wished I had been able to track down a copy of the actual complaint because if I had I would have offered an amicus brief  presenting another argument than the one offered in court today.  Judge Blackburn was adamant that the three bishop’s;  Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic  had not made their case.

The attorney said “If the bishops encourage their clergy and congregations to serve immigrants then the bishops would have exposure to be in violation of the law.”  What?  This is not about the bishops.  This is about seeking to fulfill the tenets of faith that teach to welcome the stranger, to serve the poor, to provide resources that enable the immigrant to live here.

The Judge repeated the question, how does this statute prevent the church from practicing its faith. How does it prevent the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion?  “Saying it does, does not make it so,” Judge Blackburn stated. As I listened to the judge read portions of the bishop’s affidavit, I would agree.

One of the bishops wrote that this law would impinge on his freedom of religion by prohibiting him from offering counsel to an immigrant pregnant woman where by not being able to receive his counsel she might then get an abortion.  I sat there in horror. This was their argument?

Judge Blackburn simply did not see the argument of infringement because the argument was based on doctrinal beliefs and not on services congregations provide based on living their faith. There is nothing in Section 13 that speaks to doctrinal beliefs and therefore does not impinge on freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly the judge stated. The Bishop’s example provided was so far fetched and out of touch with what his congregations are doing that I was stunned at the weakness of this argument.

Let me back track with a story.  In Danbury, CT there developed in the 1990’s a large community of Brazilians.  The question arose as to why Danbury as a destination point?   The answer was simple.  Danbury had a well established and large Portuguese community which provided among other things  a Portuguese radio station, a Portuguese newspaper, Portuguese markets, and Portuguese worshiping communities.  Granted these were in continental dialect  Portuguese and not brazilian dialect Portuguese but the language similarities were close enough that their presence provided the resources to enable the Brazilian community to thrive and integrate easily into American society.

Congregations, regardless of faith tradition,  seeking to live out their faith teachings to welcome the stranger and to provide hospitality to the least of these  are providing the resources to enable immigrants to thrive here in Alabama.  HB 56 section 13 specifically states that harboring, transporting, and encouraging immigrants to reside in Alabama is against the law.  The free practice of our religion to provide these services as taught by our collective faiths is impinged and injured when the offering of these resources to immigrants become illegal under section 13.

What are these resources that enable and  encourage  immigrants to live here?  The provision of English as a Second language courses is a resource that will enable immigrants to live in Alabama.  The provision of meals through soup kitchens, food pantries, meals on wheels enable immigrants to live here.  The provision of church run homeless shelters, the provision of worship services in languages other than English allows/  enables/ empowers immigrants to live here. There are other resources that congregations in living out their faith provide immigrants.

Worship services do more than just feed the spirit they provide a place of community; a place where connections can be made for support.  Immigrants coming to Alabama need to find places where they can meet people who are similar enough to themselves in order to thrive.  Churches and congregations are these places because in part they are following the tenets of the faith to welcome the stranger, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless.

This law on its face  states that actions that allow places of harbor, that transport immigrants to access vital resources  are actions that encourage immigrants to reside in Alabama and therefore are illegal under Section 13. The lawyer attempted to point out that section 13 does not define the terms harboring, transporting, concealing.  She further stated that Section 27 talks about entering into contracts and therefore  congregations could read this as impinging the delivery of church sacraments such as marriage.  The judge did not buy this argument because there have been no cases where a church was not allowed to perform a marriage ceremony according to its faith. The lawyer was not able to state that it was indeed the intention of the legislature to impinge faith institutions in part, I presume, because the bishops were not at the public hearings to report what was said.

When I spoke at the house public hearing, the chair of the committee sponsoring this bill stated clearly that if a congregation has undocumented immigrants worshiping in the church he would personally insure that in addition to the immigrants being arrested, the clergy would be arrested for harboring them.  The Lawyer could not state that as an answer  when the judge stated, “Everyone is exaggerating, it is not going to go that far.”  The legislator who wrote this bill intended it to go that far, I heard him after I gave my testimony against this law at the public hearing.

The best the lawyer could do was state the provision for  church exemption was removed from the senate version of this bill indicating that churches were not exempt to this law.  The judge simply did not buy this as a strong enough statement of intent.

Our hope for this law to be halted whether in whole or in part rests with the much stronger arguments presented by the U.S. Department of Justice and  the Civil Rights suits.  May it be so.