Rights for me, but not for thee

Rights for me, but not for thee September 29, 2011

So says Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association:

My argument all along has been that the purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion.

Fischer’s interpretation of the no-establishment clause of the First Amendment is that there is no establishment clause in the First Amendment. He believes that “the Christian religion” — that is, real, true Christianity according to his definition of it — is established, privileged and protected in a way that other religions are not. Rights for me but not for thee.

This is a patently indefensible reading of what the First Amendment says about religious freedom: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It’s legal and logical nonsense.

But significantly it’s also bigoted and chauvinist nonsense, and an attempt to give Fischer’s religious chauvinism the force of law.

Fischer is scheduled to speak at next week’s Values Voters Summit — a religious right carnival also featuring many of the current Republican candidates for president. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak immediately before Fischer. Fischer does not count Mormons like Romney as members of the constitutionally privileged Christian religion. Says Fischer:

Mormonism is not an orthodox Christian faith. It just is not. … And it was very clear that the Founding Fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths.

That’s a helpful illustration of what follows when, like Fischer, you decide that one particular sect ought to be privileged with freedoms not enjoyed by other sects. The next, inevitable step is to start whittling down who is and isn’t included as a fully orthodox member of the privileged sect, and then separating out the genuine from the insincere. As I wrote in an earlier post:

To privilege any one set of believers … requires … mechanisms to challenge and sort out the genuine believers from the mere pretenders claiming allegiance only in order to gain access to those privileges that accompany membership in the established sect. Such sorting mechanisms are never perfect — allowing many hypocritical posers to slip past while unjustly condemning many sincere and genuine believers. And such sorting mechanisms are never pretty. This is where inquisitions come from.

For more on Fischer, see People for the American Way’s report: “The GOP’s Favorite Hate-Monger: How the Republican Party Came to Embrace Bryan Fischer.” Or, if you’ve a strong stomach, check out their video compilation of some of his greatest hits: “Four Minutes of Hate: The Naked Bigotry of the AFA’s Bryan Fischer.”

(The title of that report may strike some as an unfair accusation of guilt by association, but it’s not. It’s a perfectly fair accusation of guilt by association. Fischer is guilty of saying horrifically hateful things and the Republican Party continues to choose to associate with him. Avoiding the accusation of guilt by association with a racist, chauvinist bigot like Bryan Fischer is simple: Don’t associate with him.)

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