The Washington Legislature is considering whether to amend the state Constitution with language to “protect” religious freedom.
While protecting any group of people always seems like a good thing, there is a lot about Senate Joint Resolution 8205 that sounds like the ominous drumbeat of theocracy on the march.
It starts by declaring that the rights of people to worship are “guaranteed” and no one shall be “molested or disturbed” on account of their religious belief.
That seems innocuous enough, but such protections already exist and there is no reason to codify them further in the Constitution. We don’t need to clutter it with reassurances for every group that merely wants double extra emphasis of their rights.
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Next the authors added language to “not forbid” religious organizations from receiving state public money. This is yet another of the incessant attacks by religious organizations to undermine our American tradition of separation of church and state.
There are sound arguments why this separation exists, and tremendous care should be taken to protect it against continual efforts by religious organizations to dismantle it.
The next section provides a constitutional guarantee that religious beliefs cannot be considered in any evaluation of a person’s qualifications and fitness for any job.
We have seen too many cases in which public officials have refused to carry out essential functions of office because it conflicts with their religious belief. Other times, they have been seen to interpret their responsibilities and focus their attention in a way that is not in the public good or faithful to their office.
Religious people are often proud that their beliefs influence their public behavior. For the state to then exclude those beliefs from consideration in making personnel decisions is reckless and denies the reality of how people behave.
In similar fashion, the new language guarantees that religious belief shall not be considered in jury selection or in consideration of legal testimony. Again, this recklessly denies the obvious fact that belief can impact the impartiality of a juror or credibility of a witness.
The capacity of a person to believe religious nonsense can and should be a part of the picture in evaluating their credibility on other issues.
I know some might think that SJR 8205’s protections are evidence of an enlightened nation that would protect all points of view.
I submit that such absolute protections are far more indicative of repressive theocratic regimes that end up with a religious ruling class that won’t be questioned, challenged or held accountable for their beliefs and the resultant public policies they impose on others.
They want their cake and eat it too: to believe whatever crazy thing they want, enact it publicly and bear no risk of adverse consequences.
Many religious advocates have long argued that homosexual individuals are not deserving of protected-class status; these advocates claim (falsely) that the behavior is a choice.
Religious belief certainly is a choice, and by their own logic does not deserve extraordinary constitutional protections. If we allow religious advocates to codify absolute protections, then make no mistake: We are not moving toward liberal enlightenment but toward repressive conservative theocracy.
State Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, is a primary force behind this legislation. His attempt to insert his religious beliefs into public policy is very dangerous and must be resisted with all possible vigor.
Shame on fellow Republican senators Baumgartner, O’Ban, Becker, Bailey, and Warnick for co-sponsoring this regressive amendment. I urge you to withdraw your support.
Tyson Gill of Tacoma is a scientist, software developer and author of “Belief in Science and the Science of Belief: A Guidebook to Fact-Based Thinking.” Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.