This diary by Pam got me thinking about the First Amendment, specifically the two parts dealing with religion: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The 14th Amendment extends this protection down to state goverments: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. I find myself wondering if it is time to replace these provisions.

Continued below the fold.

The first clause has been problematic, in that religious extremists have been insisting for years that prohibiting sponsorship of religion by government agencies is, itself, the establishment of the “secular humanist religion.” Religious neutrality in public schools, in the courts and in the halls of power is a direct violation of this constitutionally mandated separation of church and state; therefore, Christianity must be established (I don’t understand the “logic” either, sorry.)

More at issue, though, is the second part. The “free excercise” of religion has been treated as a valid excuse for a lot of horrific crimes, from animal cruelty to incitement to child abuse to murder. Yes, murder: while many cases of “prayer rather than medical attention” have been successfully prosecuted, many others have not. Children have DIED because they were denied medical treatment for diabetes, hemophilia, meningitis and other treatable diseases by their religious parents, and the courts have decided that the deaths were accidental rather than the result of deliberate neglect.

And then we have the cases of “deliverances” and other forms of “exorcism,” where children are subjected to hours of physical and mental torture in an effort to drive out “demons” such as homosexuality, depression and autism. Unless the ritual directly results in death or permanent physical harm, civil authorities have been very reluctant to interfere, citing the perpetrators’ “free excercise” of religion.

How can this be changed? How can we guarantee the right to believe and practice religion — and non-religion — while at the same time protecting vulnerable people from abuse under the guise of protected religious rite?

Your thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.

Gregory Gadow

Gregory Gadow

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