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By GENE H. McINTYRE
In a somewhat convoluted statement, media recently reported that the U.S. Justice Department has issued new guidance aimed at giving religious groups and individuals broad protections to express their beliefs when those beliefs come in conflict with government regulations.
Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions’ directive, coming after President Trump’s executive order, mainly targets a tax law provision that thereby allows churches direct involvement in political campaigns but really set the stage in future for allowing Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus and all others to ignore the nation’s civil laws.
Long anticipated, Sessions’ action, following Trump’s announcement in May, also provides protections to America’s religious orders in hiring decisions that could threaten those whose sexual orientation conflicts with the chosen faith of employers. Referring to his directive, Sessions has said that “except in the narrowest of circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law” and that “to the extent practicable, religious observance and practice should be accommodated in government.”
Now, there’s much more to Sessions’ mix of religion and government than the latest expression of his thinking on the subject. During Sessions’ confirmation hearing early this year, he was pressed by his questioners to answer whether job security of a “secular attorney” would be respected in his Justice Department. Sessions answered citing his concern about truth nowadays not being respected in our nation and that “objective truth is impossible without a certain religious understanding” and that “a post-modern, relativistic, secular mind-set is directly contrary to the founding of our republic.”
Not uncommon in our history have been some Americans who have expressed the belief that the writers of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were devout Christians and view our origins as ultimately a ‘second coming’ where the United States of America will be ruled by fundamental Christian theology and beliefs. More than one historian of repute has taken issue with such a foundational understanding and argued that the views of the founding fathers were most poignantly expressed by them about religion in the Constitution’s First Amendment as “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Sessions has often remarked on his distaste for and dislike of secularists. What’s a secularist? A secularist is a person who advocates separation of the state from religious institutions. The secularist asserts the right to be free from religious rule and its teachings as well as separate from the imposition by government of religion or religious practice upon its people. Our founding fathers were men of faith but also knew what religion had done for centuries to subjugate the peoples of Europe and did not want the same fate for U.S. citizens. Virtually all of them also had spoken in speeches and written in essays of a new government that embraced secularism.
When our Constitution, our laws and way of life can be ignored and replaced by the most powerful among the nation’s political and/or religious forces we Americans should keep in mind an insightful message from another country in a time not long ago. That was the message written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller regarding the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist; then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a trade unionist; then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)