The Theological Doctrines of the Alabama State Legislators

We live in a country that was founded on the notion of religious freedom in the broadest sense.  Unlike the Diet of Torda in 1500s Transylvania, religious freedom was extended not just to the Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Unitarians but to all expressions of faith and non-faith. This country early on determined that there was to be a wall of separation between the government and the people in regards to the practice of religion.  The government was not in any way to endorse or promote a specific religious belief above all others.

Welcome to Alabama.  Where our elected officials flout their religious doctrines as supreme above all others.  Chief Justice Roy Moore has made it a quest to make Alabama and the United States a Christian nation branded with his version of Christianity.  He has not once but twice in his terms as Chief Justice promoted his brand of Christianity in the State.  The first time was his insistence to have a statue of the Ten Commandments in the State Court House.  He was removed from office for that battle.  He is now, once again at odds, with the federal courts regarding his refusal to honor a Federal Court order to commence same sex marriages in the state.  Based on his past flagrant disregard for Federal Court Rulings, I predict he will continue his ban on same sex marriage in the state if the Supreme Court rules that the ban on same sex marriages is unconstitutional in June of this year.

He has support for his actions in the State House.  The Republican controlled house has submitted bills and resolutions that suggest that the Alabama State Legislators are operating on a Theological doctrine of how they view not only their role as legislators but also how they view the people of Alabama.  Last year the Health Committee passed a resolution that they believed that Life began at Conception and therefore the bills they were going to pass would reflect that belief.

This is a theological statement.  It is a religious doctrine of a specific sect of Christianity.  It is not a universal belief across Christianity nor across other religions. Jews, for example, teach that life begins at birth, the moment that the child draws their first breath akin to the breath of God that was breathed into Adam.  So here we have one example of the State House imposing their religious doctrine unto the citizens of the state.  Recently a public hearing was heard on House Bill 405, a bill that last year passed the house but did not make it through to law, makes it a criminal Class C Felony if a doctor performs an abortion without determining if the fetus has a heartbeat or if the doctor performs an abortion of a fetus that has a heartbeat.  When does a fetus develop a detectable heart beat?  Around 6 to 7 weeks.  When do most women learn they are pregnant?  Around 6 weeks.  The fetus is still in embryonic stage meaning it still looks more amphibian like rather than human.  Given that most women receive confirmation that they are indeed pregnant around 6 weeks, their decision to abort the pregnancy is one of urgency under this bill.  This means that if the woman was raped and becomes pregnant, she may have to live with the painful reminders of that rape for a long time. And in Alabama, the rapist has the right to demand custody and visitation rights.  This bill would negate anyone’s religious belief that life begins when the fetus can be viable outside of the uterus. In fact it declares their religious belief as a false doctrine.

There was another public hearing on House Bill 491 which authorizes health care providers to refuse to perform services that violate their conscience.  This means that a health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion but it also means that if they have an aversion to Transgenders receiving treatment enabling them to live in a body congruent with their gender, they can refuse to serve them as well.  This bill allows for shaming and discrimination against women and transgenders who claim the inalienable right to have control over their bodies. Rights that are taken for granted by cisgender males in our society. Again, it is a very narrow slice of Christianity that sees women’s bodies as not their own but their husband’s as the head of household.

In the state of Alabama, we do not yet have a personhood law that states that the fetus has all the rights and protections that other citizens have but this is the direction the State House is headed and it is a matter of time for such a law to be presented and passed.  HB 405 is the closest to making this claim and it would restrict further the ability for a woman to receive a medically supervised abortion in the state of Alabama. Personhood laws in other states have resulted in manslaughter charges if the woman is addicted to drugs and miscarriages or is unable to access prenatal care and miscarriages.

The doctrinal belief of the Alabama State House based on the bills they have passed and are proposing regarding human life is as follows:  Life begins at conception. Regardless if the conception was through an act of love or through violence, it must be protected at all cost. Any attempt to choose an abortion, regardless of the reason–life threatening to the woman, life threatening birth defect, rape, economic viability–is inconsequential to the shaming and shunning bestowed on the woman by medical providers because their personal religious beliefs trump the woman’s circumstances.  Any attempt by providers to perform an abortion that does not adhere to this doctrine are to be punished with a Class C Felony branding the provider as a criminal to be shunned and faces loss of career.  While not all of these reasons are currently codified as forbidden by law, this is the direction the State house is going and with each passing session they move closer to their goal of enforcing their doctrinal beliefs on the rest of the state. This is akin to the coercive moves the Taliban and Isis have taken where they are in control, though done at a much slower pace so as to be imperceptible to the populous until it is too late. Alabama State House is not afraid to spend millions of dollars of taxpayers money to defend their doctrinal stances, in fact they are poised to do so at every turn and then cry poverty after wasting taxpayers money.

To be clear, religious practice is a very personal and intimate expression of faith that each person has the right to hold but it is not in the purview of any government, federal, state, or local to tell people how they are to practice their faith.  And for the State legislator by passing laws that favor a specific religious doctrine over others is to violate the sacred trust that this country was founded on. In this country where religious freedom is highly valued, no one should have the right to impose their religious beliefs on another.  Not an individual, and especially not any governmental entity or any representative of that government.

It would be one thing if the State House were consistent in their doctrinal beliefs in all of their creation of laws but their doctrine of protecting the fetus at all costs unfortunately ends at birth. Once the child is born, the theological doctrine I have just described is no longer on the table. The actions of the State House are antithetical to the ability of a person to pursue life, liberty, and happiness once the child is born.

On April 21 of this year, the Senate passed a  resolution forbidding the expansion of Medicaid, sentencing up to 700 individuals to death this year because they along with 300K Alabamians fall into the gap between Medicaid and the provisions covered in the Federal Affordable Care Act. Refusal of expanding medicaid will result the closure of some dozen hospitals, many of them located in rural and inner city areas where the majority of Alabama’s poor live.

How our state administers Food Stamps also reflects a conflicting doctrine to their doctrine regarding the sacredness of life.  Federal guidelines include employment requirements such as being registered for work but Alabama places added twists to this requirement. Striking employees, even if the strike is justified for better wages that would lift the family out of poverty, disqualifies the household unless the strike occurs after the household applies for food assistance. Food Stamps are not eligible to undocumented citizens.  This stipulation follows the federal but there is a caveat in Alabama–the income the undocumented citizen brings into the household is counted towards eligibility. Alabama legislators have already spent millions defending its hatred of immigrants. Here is their hypocritical stance, Alabama Legislators hate foreigners unless their presence helps keep citizens off the public dole.   And here is something of a catch-22; Social Security Numbers (SSN) are requested for each member of the household in order to receive food stamps.  The provision of SSN is stated as purely voluntary but not providing them disqualifies that member of the household.  If a SSN is a requirement for qualification, then providing it is not a voluntary act; it is coerced.

Apparently, the doctrinal belief of the State House is that each life is precious until it becomes a burden and then it can be ignored or thrown away or incarcerated for slave labor. Alabama has passed more laws restricting the freedoms of its citizens  Their approach to the welfare of the citizens of this state is one of total disregard of their inherent worth and dignity.

And then we have the infamously named HB 56--in its latest incarnation as a Religious Freedom Act.  This bill was created in response to the striking down of the same sex marriage ban by federal court and the upcoming SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage.  The proponents state this is not in any way an anti-gay legislation because it merely states that clergy and judges (the current people authorized in the state) can refuse to marry anyone for personal religious convictions and not face litigation for doing so.  They claim this is a save people from litigation bill not a codification of religious discrimination against the LGBTQ community.  Clergy have always had the right to refuse to marry any couple for any number of reasons–domestic violence, couple not of their faith tradition, and yes, doctrinal beliefs regarding what constitutes a marriage.  This bill is really aimed at giving judges the legal right to discriminate against those who do not hold their religious convictions regarding marriage.

There is a difference here– marriages performed before a judge or justice of the peace is not a religious ceremony.  It is a civil union.  Regardless of what a judge may personally believe about religious marriage ceremonies, a wedding officiated by her is not under the auspices nor  blessing of her church. It is not a religious ceremony.  It is merely a legal recognition by the state and federal government of a contract between two people. In the eyes of the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic god, the same sex couple married by the state is not married. In the eyes of the Presbyterian (USA), United Church of Christ, American Baptist god, the same sex couple is married.

So what is this law really about?  It is about a subset of Christianity imposing their doctrinal belief of marriage onto the citizens of the state. It is declaring their doctrinal belief as supreme trumping all others.  Judges have taken an oath to uphold the laws of the state and federal government and regardless if their personal religious convictions place them at odds with those laws be it officiating a same sex marriage or enforcing the death penalty, they are required to do so. They do not have the right to impose their religious doctrine onto the people as an act of shaming and discrimination.

But this is Alabama– where theocracy is well rooted into the archaic 1901 state constitution.

The Past, The Present, The Future

How well do you know your American History?  I am most referring to the formation of this republic that celebrates the 4th of July as its birthday.  Who were these people?  There has been a barrage of history revisions over the last few decades by people who want the founders of this nation to look more like them and less like the radical and liberal people that they were.

It is said that History is written in the view point of the victors and this is true about our history as well.  If the British had succeeded and squashed the rebellion of the colonists, we might still be called the United States of America but we would be placing Benedict Arnold on our currency and not George Washington or Benjamin Franklin.  These men would have been placed as footnotes in the pages of history as rebels, as anarchists, as terrorists because that is how they were viewed by King George.

There is a push by the religious right to claim the founding fathers as one of their own and not recognize that the founding fathers were as diverse politically and religiously as we are today.  These people have this idealized perspective that the founders were harmoniously united in not only in what strategies to take in seeking their liberty but also united in their vision for what was to become the United States of America.

Nothing can be further from the truth.  So who were the founders of this nation?  Looking at the two highest offices of this nation and who filled these posts during the first six administrations, we find that of the eleven individuals filling these positions, four were Unitarian, three were deists[i] [ii] [iii] [iv], three were Christian, and one apparently was agnostic[v].  The three who were Christian were not evangelical Christians[vi]; they were Episcopalian[vii] and Presbyterian[viii].

The four Unitarians were:  Our first Vice-president and second President, John Adams[ix]:  Our second Vice-president and Third President, Thomas Jefferson[x], Our Sixth President, John Quincy Adams[xi] and his vice-president, John C. Calhoun[xii].

Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia and during that time, if you were born in Virginia you were automatically Anglican (Episcopal).  That was the colony recognized religion, any other faith was considered reprobate. We claim Thomas Jefferson because he espoused Unitarian views.  He was mostly influenced by the writings of Rev. Joseph Priestly founder of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.  And depending on the historian you speak with, the first or second Unitarian Church in the nation.   Jefferson attended this congregation whenever he was in Philadelphia.  He believed that reason was the arbiter of faith.  During his presidency he removed all the passages in the New Testament that were supernatural or miraculous in nature. This testament is now known as the Jefferson Bible.   He also believed that someday everyone in the Americas would be Unitarian.

But even those who did claim the Christian nomenclature were not like the conservative Christians today who seek to create the kingdom of God here in the USA.  They were firm in their stance on religious liberty.  Vice President Elbridge Gerry, also one of the signers of the Constitution wanted the first amendment to read: “No religious doctrine shall be established by law [xiii].”   No, the Christians of the revolution and the birth of this nation were liberal in their theology, tolerant of other religious beliefs, who knew the dangers when religious authority blends with governmental powers.

While Thomas Jefferson is given credit for the concept of building a wall of separation between church and state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, he is not the only founder who espoused such ideals.  James Madison said:  “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries. [xiv see footnote]”

Thomas Paine, in his book The Age of Reason, and a person who was raised Unitarian said, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

In the treaty of Tripoli of 1797, then President John Adams stated in Article 11, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.[xv]”  There is some speculation that the Arabic version of this treaty does not contain Article 11 but nevertheless, the English version does contain it and it was the English version that was ratified by the Senate.

While Unitarians and Universalists were a small minority faith during the founding of our nation, we were influential in ensuring and building upon the freedoms that we enjoy today.  Unitarians and Universalists that followed these founding parents of our republic added their voice towards freedom.   Judith Sargeant Murray pioneered women’s education.  Theodore Parker penned ideas of justice and democracy that would resound through the ages and be quoted by President Abraham Lincoln and Rev. Martin Luther King. Clara Barton established the American Red Cross.  Rev. Olympia Brown and Susan B. Anthony and others fought for the women’s right to vote.  Jane Addams founded modern day social work. Mary White Ovington was a founder of the NAACP. On these shoulders we stand today.

From the founding fathers of this nation to those who marched side by side during the civil rights era, these are our religious ancestors; some by nomenclature and others by their insistence on religious liberty from governmental control.  Our 5th principle, “the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process,” has its beginnings in the hearts and actions of these revolutionaries quest for freedom and democracy.   We echo their desire for liberty and justice for all.

Today we have history revisionists, like David Barton, who claim that all of the founding fathers were not only Christian but fundamentalist Christians.  Fundamentalism developed in the early 20th century pertains to the literal reading of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures through an evangelical Christian lens.  Fundamentalist Christians were not even at the table in 1776.  Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Methodists were but not Southern Baptists, not Pentecostalists, not Latter Day Saints. It is these last three groups who are seeking to revise history.  But they were not there; they did not even exist as an expression of faith. Their faith expression did not develop in this nation until later in American History.  Mormons developed in the early 19th century, Southern Baptists after the civil war, and Pentecostalists in early 20th century.

Barton takes quotes out of context from Unitarians John Adams and John Quincy Adams and quotes from Deists such as James Madison and twists them to his revisionist history.  Barton has gained influence in recent years and has been given platforms by Tea Party gurus Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee[xvi].

He has been a consultant on the Texas Board of Education Social Studies curriculum.  This is our present reality as Unitarian Universalists.    Almost 240 years after our radical and revolutionary founders declared their independence not only from monarchical tyranny but also religious tyranny, our nation is once again facing the specter of religious tyranny.

We are hearing Barton’s revisionist history being quoted by judiciaries in Alabama and in the US Supreme Court.  Judge Roy Moore recently declared that the first amendment is only to protect Christians.  When judges sworn to uphold the constitution declare a religion to be supreme, the very fabric of our nation is being torn asunder.

Here is some history to place his statements into context.  Several years ago, Chief Justice Moore was removed from his office for refusing to obey a court order to remove his stone monument of the Ten Commandments from the Rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building.  A few years later, he is voted back into office as Chief Justice.  The State legislature then seeks to pass a bill that would make a constitutional amendment allowing such displays in public buildings, including schools and court houses.  It passed the house but died in the Senate.    I guarantee it will resurface again because separation of church and state is being systematically dismantled in Alabama and in the Federal Government.  In Alabama, this is a non-partisan dismantling.

Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision, a decision divided between the Christians on the court and the non-Christians on the court, that opening prayer at a town meeting is constitutional.   The courts majority did not see Christian prayers as being coercive.  Judge Scalia “suggested that there’s no harm in a little “subtle” pressure on those who don’t choose to pray in public places at taxpayer expense.[xvii]”  Of course he would think that, he has religious or Christian privilege in this nation.  It is no coincidence that three of the four judges in dissent were Jews.  They have lived under Christian privilege in this nation their entire lives. They recognize its coercive forces upon their daily lives.

Regardless of where one lives but perhaps most especially in the south, Christian privilege holds sway over non-Christians.  Ask our students if they are excluded in school events because they are not Christian and the answer sadly is yes.  Ask them how often they are told by their peers they are going to hell because they do not accept Jesus as God and the answer is frequently.

I know many have joked that when moving here from another town or state, the first question asked after introducing yourself at work is; “Where do you go to church?”  The assumption is that you must be Christian.  If you are not, then something is not right and in their mind it wasn’t asking the question.

We see Christian privilege rearing its head in the Hobby Lobby Case which the Supreme Court may soon rule on.  If corporations are given the right to ignore federal laws based on religious beliefs, then this is another form of coercion on their employees to conform to their employers’ religious beliefs.  This court case extends further than a sincerely held belief albeit erroneous that contraceptives are abortifacients and therefore violates ones religious practice.  A company could publicly state that it is against their religious beliefs to hire gay or transgender people[xviii].  It is already legal in Alabama simply by its absence in law to fire an employee for their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation.  If this court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby, it would give legal teeth to enable other religious beliefs to be acted upon such as the refusal of hiring members of the LGBTQI community.  We are already seeing conservative Christians demanding a right to discriminate against sexual minorities in communities throughout the south.

This is our present reality in this country. And Unitarian Universalists across the country are involved in these issues as part of our campaign to Stand on the Side of Love.

In 21st century America to protect our ability to the right of conscience and the use of democratic process we are called to become advocates and be active in the community arena.  We are still a rather small faith in this country.  We may never reach Jefferson’s vision of all of America being Unitarian.  But the followers of our faith from this nation’s infancy until now have proven to be consistently on the forefront on issues of justice.

From the earliest days of this republic, Unitarians have spoken up and influenced the direction this nation needs to go. We have consistently sought to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Not everyone of us is able to take the initiative to speak up especially when we are alone in whatever setting we find ourselves.  But we can match our behaviors to our values.  We can listen before we speak.  We can emphasize in our presence the honoring of others inherent worth and dignity. We can seek to say the kind word of encouragement instead of the criticizing word.  And when others notice that our behaviors match our words, and they ask us about our lives.  Then we can state, I am a Unitarian Universalist and we believe to be gentle with one another.  Or we believe that loving our neighbor as ourselves is not just a suggestion.  Or we believe that everyone has worth and dignity.

In our own small way we will be joining those who have gone before us and paving the way for those who come after us to live in a community of peace, liberty and justice.  May it be so. Blessed Be.

Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on May 25 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_religion

[ii] http://www.vqronline.org/essay/religion-james-monroe

[iii] http://www.adherents.com/people/pm/James_Monroe.html.

[iv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison

[v] http://www.adherents.com/people/pb/Aaron_Burr.html

[vi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_D._Tompkins

[vii] http://www.god-and-country.info/EGerry.html

[viii] http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/VP_George_Clinton.htm

[ix] http://uudb.org/articles/johnadams.html

[x] http://uudb.org/articles/thomasjefferson.html

[xi] http://uudb.org/articles/johnquincyadams.html

[xii] http://www.famousuus.com/bios/john_calhoun.htm

[xiii] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions53.html

[xiv] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Madison   In preparing for this sermon to be posted on this blog, I realized I had not posted my source for this quote from James Madison. In searching for a source, discovered that while this quote has been attributed to James Madison, no credible source has been found. This site lists the quote as misappropriated.

[xv] http://candst.tripod.com/tripoli1.htm

[xvi] http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/barton-s-bunk-religious-right-historian-hits-the-big-time-tea-party-america

[xvii] http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2014/05/supreme-court-misguided-if-it-thinks-public-prayer-isnt-coercive.html/

[xviii] http://mediamatters.org/research/2014/05/23/9-right-wing-media-myths-about-the-hobby-lobby/199439

Alabama Rally for Secular Government

I was asked to speak at the Alabama Rally for Secular Government that was held on May 3rd at the state capitol in Montgomery, AL.  The following is what I said.

 

In 1801 the Danbury Baptists wrote to President Thomas Jefferson a letter in which they stated:
“ Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”

This letter could have been written today about the Alabama State government which has consistently assumed “the prerogative of Jehovah and make[s] laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” This state has passed theological resolutions as to when personhood begins and then passed laws against women who violate their doctrinal belief. This state has constitutionally defined marriage which prevents minority religions to have their marriages recognized by the state. This state continues to allow religious discrimination against gender and sexual identities that do not conform to their doctrinal belief of what constitutes as acceptable expressions of humanity. This state has passed legislation that favors the religious beliefs of a judge enabling that judge to parade his doctrinal beliefs on a statue to shame the rest of Alabamians who do not share his faith. This state house passed a bill that would mandate that religious prayer be taught in the classroom.

Alabama you are in violation of this most sacred right of America—the rights to individual religious freedom –when you codify one religion as being supreme over the rest as you have done with your passage of bills that reflect a specific form of Christianity. You have torn down the wall of separation between church and state and have violated what it fundamentally means to be American.

The separation of church and state is to ensure that all people regardless of their religious persuasion are able to live their lives free from coercion to adhere to one specific belief system. I do not want the children of my church to be taught doctrines that violate my faith’s values that all people are entitled to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning; doctrines that violate my faith’s value of a right of conscience; doctrines that violate my faith’s values of justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. Alabama with the passage of these laws, bills, and resolutions has determined that my faith, Unitarian Universalism, and its values are not respected here.

I call upon all of you listening today to write your legislators and tell them that you will not idly stand by and watch American values of religious freedom be destroyed by the passage of bills that reflect a state religion. I call upon all of you to call and insist that a wall of separation between church and state be preserved so that all people will be free to follow their conscience in matters of faith and not fear legal retribution should they decide to make decisions that violate another’s religious practice.