The Problem with Tradition

Earlier today, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana. The reason really hinged on the idea of tradition:

A pretty safe tradition

… There are, the court noted, good and bad traditions.

“Bad traditions that are historical realities such as cannibalism, foot-binding, and suttee, and traditions that from a public-policy standpoint are neither good nor bad — such as trick-or-treating on Halloween,” it said. “Tradition per se therefore cannot be a lawful ground for discrimination — regardless of the age of the tradition.”

Limiting marriage to one man and one woman? The judges agreed that was a bad tradition and it’s time had passed.

I’m going to pivot on that idea for a moment since most of the church/state separation lawsuits that atheists ever lose revolve around governments saying their promotion of religion is tradition and our side saying it doesn’t matter, it’s still illegal, and it needs to change.

“In God We Trust” on our currency? Despite efforts to remove the phrase, judges said it could stay on the money because it was “ceremonial” and all but secular at this point.

Governors holding a Day of Prayer celebration? If no one stops you quickly, it becomes tradition, as Arizona’s Jan Brewer said in 2013:

“I applaud the Arizona Superior Court for rejecting this lawsuit, which was little more than another sad attempt to stifle an American tradition.

“Uniting in prayer is a custom as old as our nation itself. For centuries, millions of Americans of every race, creed and color have come together in voluntary prayer to seek strength and wisdom. This is an American right and tradition, and one that I’ve proudly marked each year I’ve been Governor by proclaiming an Arizona Day of Prayer.

Painting of Jesus hanging at a public school? Even that is justified by the idea of tradition, despite being an obvious constitutional violation.

Every time, you hear a refrain from Christians that sounds like this: You didn’t complain about it for decades, but *now* it’s a problem?

They forget that there’s a heavy price to pay for going against rituals that many people have become accustomed to. It’s also possible that no one noticed the violation before — but that doesn’t make it okay.

Government promotion of religion, whether it’s explicit like a prayer banner in a public school or implicit like gay marriage bans, must be fought even if “we’ve always done it that way.” Tradition is never a good enough justification to keep a bad idea going.

What’s more is that when a tradition stops, we quickly get accustomed to whatever takes its place. Kids growing up today will likely always see marriage as a commitment between two people, regardless of gender. It’s not like they’ll eventually be bawling about the good old days when gays and lesbians were being discrimination against.

(Thanks to Insightfill for the link)

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