First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) apparent confusion over the meaning of religious liberty.
A&E announced late yesterday that Phil Robertson’s suspension over bigoted comments has ended and production will begin anew on the “Duck Dynasty” reality show. New episodes will begin filming in 2014. In response, Bobby Jindal described the news as a victory “for the freedoms of speech and religious liberty.”
Perhaps now would be a good time for a refresher on Civil Liberties 101.
As we discussed last week, Phil Robertson’s free-speech rights were never in jeopardy – A&E is a private entity, and Robertson, as a private citizen, has always been free to say whatever he pleases about minority groups he doesn’t like. Whether Jindal understand this or not, the Constitution does not entitle Americans to their own cable reality shows – Americans’ freedom of speech does not mean Americans are entitled to have someone pay us for our speech.
But this applies equally to religious liberty. Americans’ ability to worship freely, or not, based on our beliefs and conscience is not dependent on paychecks from cable networks. Phil Robertson’s freedom of religion remains entirely intact whether or not he’s on A&E’s payroll.
Let me try to explain this another way:
1. You are not the star of your own televised reality show.
2. Your ability to worship and exercise your religious beliefs remains unaffected.
See how easy this was? Jindal and other conservatives have been eager to defend Robertson by arguing that religiously based contempt for minority groups is somehow more acceptable than garden-variety bigotry. They’re certainly welcome to believe that if they wish.
But what Jindal and his allies should not do is change the meaning of the First Amendment to suit a misguided culture-war agenda. Freedom of religion has a specific meaning, and if the governor of Louisiana finds that confusing, it’s not too late for him to brush up on the basics.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* John Hagee, a prominent evangelical pastor who dabbles in Republican politics, argued this week, “[I]f atheists and humanists don’t like being wished a ‘Merry Christmas’ … well, they can just get out of the country.”
* An important overturned conviction: “Lawyers for a Roman Catholic church official will demand his immediate release from prison Monday after an appeals court overturned his conviction in a novel priest-abuse case aimed squarely at the church hierarchy in Philadelphia. Monsignor William Lynn, 62, is the first Catholic official ever prosecuted over his handling of priest sex-abuse complaints. He has served 18 months of the 3- to 6-year sentence handed down by a judge who said he helped predators remain in ministry, endangering new victims” (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And the Rev. Frank Schaefer gets a new job offer: “A pastor who was defrocked by the United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania because of his support for same-sex marriage has been offered another position by a Methodist bishop in California, a sign of the deep split within the church over acceptance of gay men and lesbians.”