The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Freedom of religion


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Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard the news that Jamie Coots is dead.

Coots, like another snake-handling preacher Andrew Hamblin, had both run afoul of the legal system because of their decision to take up and collect venomous snakes.

Here's the problem: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The 14th Amendment extends this prohibition to the rest of the law-making bodies in the United States.

Coots (him not so much any more), Hamblin and like-minded people believe they have a God-ordered right to handle snakes. On that, the Constitution is pretty clear. Government can't do anything about it.

Or can it?

Government comes at the matter sideways, a pretty common move. By that I mean government does not explicitly say snake handling is illegal. If a rattler appeared in church (which can happen) and the congregation took it up and passed it around, government could not do a bloody thing about it.

However, going out and collecting snakes can be regulated and is regulated. The collection process of itself is not a religious activity - yet. It could be, but no one in the church has claimed that. Possessing dangerous snakes is not illegal, but does require permits. Unless that too is claimed as a religious activity.

Hrm.

Snake handling is not the only religious practice that has run afoul of the legal system in this nation. Peyote use in religious ceremonies is legal, but only for certain people. Marijuana (which is rapidly becoming legal regardless of intent to use) is also seen as a religious matter in some places, but the government doesn't agree. Roger Christie is still in the pokey and also facing tax evasion charges.

Consider the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster which is an anti-religion religion. Niko Alm won his case of religious freedom with the CFSM.

Wearing cookwear on your head for a driver's license photo is one thing. Handling snakes that have, do and will continue to deliver venom which kills people is another. Smoking MJ is yet another.

Or is it?


Here's the problem with the first part of the First Amendment - What is a religion?  Who defines it? Does it need definition?

No one with a rational mind will dispute Christianity is a religion as it counts more than a billion believers globally. Same goes for Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, ancestor worship, animism and a bunch of others which claim enough adherents to be a decent-sized city. So is there a minimum number of adherents before a religion becomes official? How many? How few?

The more important question is - What religious practices are permissible?

Aye. There's the rub!

1) Is tearing apart a tortilla (unleaven bread) and sharing it during services an acceptable religious practice? Don't think anyone with a rational mind will argue that.

2) Is flogging someone during a religious service acceptable? Gonna find some argument on that one.

3) Is sacrificing a live animal on altar during religious ceremonies acceptable? Gonna find a LOT more argument on that.

4) Is a human sacrifice during a religious ceremony acceptable? Ooooooo. Done opened the annelid breeding facility gates!

All four items are part of the Judeo-Christian religious faith practices. Betcha. Can point it out to you in the Bible.

So let's narrow this down. How about say a religious ritual that does not harm anyone other than the person enacting the ritual is OK? In other words, wanna shred your back with a cat o nine tails? That's your business. Want to hug a rattler? Your business.

In short. Don't hurt anybody and you're good to go.

And yet this too runs afoul of some of the world's major religions. Really. Interpretations of some major religions call for the death of apostates. Others will argue that making kids go to church is child abuse. Force is, in some religions, a basic tenet.

The strictest interpretation of the First Amendment directly collides with the right to be free.

And therein is a tautology of both epic and the narrowest of proportions. What is freedom? If my religious freedom requires having power over others is that acceptable? That's part of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief structure.

Whacha gonna do?

For the record, I was forced to go to church and hated it. I have never and will never force my kids to go. They go to church because they want to be there.

One last thing - If the government intends to get you, it will. Tax evasion a la Roger Christie is a catch-all penalty like the "too fast for conditions" ticket which local enforcement can hand out when you've done nothing else you can be charged with.

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