An interesting piece in Religion dispatches titled “The Quietly Crumbling Wall of Separation.“
The article makes an interesting case for the diminished protection over the free exercise of religion steaming from the 1990 Justice Scalia decision of Emplotment Division v. Smith – an interesting case in which the Court determined that the state could deny unemployment benefits to a person fired for violating a state prohibition on the use of peyote, even though the use of the drug was part of a religious ritual. It said that states have the power to accommodate otherwise illegal acts done in pursuit of religious beliefs, they are not required to do so.
The Religious Dispatches piece says:
“…there are two clauses that protect religious liberty in the First Amendment: the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. During the same period in which the courts have lowered the bar for protecting the free-exercise principle, they’ve also cut back significantly on protections for the flipside of the coin, the anti-establishment principle.
The combined trends, say many advocates, endanger the lofty constitutional pedestal on which religious liberty has rested. And, if they go unchecked, Americans may one day be forced to re-learn the difficult lessons from centuries of European history that inspired the nation’s founders to protect the “First Freedom” (literally, the first 16 words of the First Amendment) by creating a clear—and unique, at that time, in the annals of human history—institutional separation between religion and the state.”
The challenge with the change said Brent Walker, Executive Director Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, is that “Unfortunately, the clauses have been watered down to suggest religion needs only to be treated the same as other interests,” saying further…
“In fact, often religion should be treated differently—to ensure free exercise by lifting governmentally imposed burdens and prevent establishments by prohibiting government sponsorship of religion. Religion is special and is treated specially by the First Amendment. We must recognize its uniqueness if religious liberty in this country is to be vital over the next decade.”
With agreement from the ACLU to the Southern Baptist Convention dating back to the original Smith decision.
What role do you think region should have when considered by government? Should it be held as something unique, or as one of many exercises of free speech?
Read more on the issue on Religion Dispatches.