Op-Ed

Freedom of religion is alive and well, even if some politicians don't get it

Since everyone else is writing about religion these days, I'll just jump in with two things that seem evident but are perhaps so basic people haven't felt the need to just come right out and say them.

It is legal to be a Muslim in the United States.

Kim Davis has religious freedom; indeed she's a potent symbol of the value we place on religious freedom in this country.

Call me naïve but I've never quite understood all the brouhaha about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim. So what, if he were? So what if Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders or Jeb Bush practices Islam?

I'm fascinated by the disingenuous dance candidates do on the topic. "The president can defend himself," Rick Santorum said when pressed on why he hadn't corrected a supporter who said Obama is a Muslim.

This misses the point. It's the U.S. Constitution that needs to be defended here not the president. For all the sanctimonious yammering an innocent public is subjected to about constitutional values and the Founders, why does no candidate state the obvious: The first freedom laid out in the First Amendment is freedom of religion.

Reflecting my own prejudices, this falls into a category of things I have long thought linked back to the practice of having coaches teach civics. The teams may have won but a lot of people came out of the education system with a sketchy understanding of the high ideals upon which this country was founded.

The Founding Fathers were absolutely insistent about founding a country in which people are free to peacefully worship the god or gods they choose. There's a reason it's the first thing in the First Amendment.

This is how Thomas Jefferson once put it: "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

A lot of crazy things have been said about Obama but so far no one has claimed he's picked their pocket — at least not literally — or broken their leg. So, why would Americans care which, or how many, gods he does or doesn't acknowledge?

OK, I get it. I am not so naïve that I don't understand that "Muslim" thrown about as an accusation is a barely coded term for infidel, terrorist, dark-skinned, etc. And, it's easier for people who want to act like but not appear to be demagogues to sling the M-word than the N-word. Let's face it, in the minds of many Americans, Muslims look more like Obama than, say, Jeb Bush.

For my part, I could take presidential pretenders more seriously if they would defang these "accusations" by pointing out not that Obama is a Christian but that Americans are wonderfully free to practice whatever faith they choose.

Now, for Kim Davis.

Davis is not a martyr and she is not being persecuted. She lost her freedom only briefly, she has not been deprived of her livelihood or her ability to speak and move about freely.

Her meeting with Pope Francis (Liberty Counsel's press release even includes a selfie she took with her husband — sans overalls — in the waiting room) has been interpreted by some as a Vatican endorsement of her stand but a spokesman made it clear that wasn't the case. Francis, talking about the need to respect conscientious objection, talked about the scene in the epic poem The Song of Roland when Muslims are forced to accept either baptism or the sword. "They weren't permitted conscientious objection," Francis said. "It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights."

Davis' rights have been respected. She spent a few days in jail because she defied the law of the land by insisting on keeping her job but refusing to do the work of her government office. While in prison, her Bible was not taken away from her and she was allowed to have visitors who prayed with her. She was released when she allowed the work of her government office to go forward, even though she personally wouldn't do it. She was not forced out of office or deprived of the generous income she gets from it.

Out of prison, she's been free to declare her beliefs at public events and on national television. As far as I can see, no branch of government has tried to prevent her from declaring those beliefs.

Would she have been treated more respectfully anywhere else in the world at any time in history? Goodness gracious, that woman is living proof of the freedom of religion we enjoy in this country. God bless her.

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