The Religious Freedom Amendment
Article ID: 1996
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 7,922
Times Read: 37,927
Posted: May 11th. 1997
Times Viewed: 37,927
And the very next day...
IT's Baaaaak! ... RFA is NOW S.J. 48 IS !!!
Friday, June 05, 1998 at 19:12:50 (EDT)
This Time The SENATOR From Oklahoma Gives It A Go!!!
Well, well, well... THAT didn't take very long, did it? And here we thought the Religious Right didn't believe in reincarnation!
Visit Wren's Nest for details.
The Good Day for us "other" Religions
The Religious Freedom Amendment? No Way ... NOT Today !
Thursday, June 04, 1998 at 17:35:03 (EDT)
Mercifully the Religious Right didn't get their way today and RFA failed to get the 2/3'ds majority that it needed... (224 FOR RFA, 203 AGAINST RFA and 7 non-votes)... The frightening reality is that it was VERY close, and you can bet that this is not the last you'll hear from these folks. They are indeed on a roll
And What A Debate It Was!
by Wren Walker
The apartment didn't get vacuumed, the dishes are still in the sink and poor Fritz was lucky to get even a token sandwich for lunch as I stayed glued to the C-Span coverage of the House debate and vote on the proposed "Religious Freedom Amendment."
And what a debate it was! While the proponents and sponsors of H.J. Res. 78 tried their best to ease the fears of those who had questions about the ramifications of adopting such an amendment, their opponents consistently fell back on their number one line of reasoning-There is nothing wrong with the Constitution that we have right now.
Rep. Ernest "Ernie" Istook, OK (R) and Rep. Charles Canady, FL (R) took most of the leading questions quoting over and over again the words of their new "messiah", Supreme Court Chief Justice , William Rehnquist. Lacking only the rosary beads to complete the pious demeanor, Istook chanted time and again his most beloved devotion:
"I must add one final observation: The founders of our Republic knew the fearsome potential of sectarian religious belief to generate civil dissension and civil strife. And they also knew that nothing, absolutely nothing, is so inclined to foster among religious believers of various faiths a toleration-no, an affection-for one another than voluntarily joining in prayer together, to the God whom they all worship and seek.
Needless to say, no one should be compelled to do that, but it is a shame to deprive our public culture of the opportunity, and indeed the encouragement, for people to do it voluntarily. The Baptist or Catholic who heard and joined in the simple and inspiring prayers of Rabbi Gutterman on this official and patriotic occasion was inoculated from religious bigotry and prejudice in a manner that can not be replicated.
To deprive our society of that important unifying mechanism, in order to spare the non believer what seems to me the minimal inconvenience of standing or even sitting in respectful non participation, is as senseless in policy as it is unsupported in law." - Dissenting opinion on Lee V. Weisman, 1992 by Rehnquist, White, Scalia and Thomas.
And there lies one of the most important ideas that the supporters of RFA want to get across-that the individual has no right to prevent the majority to engage in any practice which that individual may find offensive. Sorry, Ernie! That's not what the First Amendment is all about.
The First Amendment was adopted precisely TO protect the one thought, the one individual and the one voice that dares to shout out to the reigning majority, "I do not agree! And not only do I not agree, but I refuse to go along simply because you think that I should or, even more frighteningly, that I must."
What has happened to that patriot spirit that tossed boxes of tea into Boston Harbor? The same spirit that said if I am not represented, then I will not just 'go along"?
Istook would like to have that "rebellious spirit" silenced once and for all, so that the majority will once more rule the day, the schools, the government and the law.
Unfortunately for the RFA, there were still patriot spirits residing in halls of the House today. They have not forgotten what a precious thing that freedom is and that is why they wrote the Constitution the way that they did.
These founding fathers knew that there would be challenges to this new idea of a democratic republic. They understood the power of dissent. They also understood the subtle forces that can work within a human's soul that makes him think that he or his group knows what is best for everyone else.
The spirits knew these things because they were Patriots, because they were dissenters and because they themselves had wrestled with that subtle force that would impose its will on others. They had wrestled with it and they had won.
They won again today.
BUT WHAT ABOUT TOMORROW?
The very fact that a couple of political leaders want to get under the hood of the Constitution and starting tinkering around with its primary propulsion system is pretty frightening. The fact that 224 other Congressional revisionist wanna-be mechanics would vote to join them under there is a threatening and ominous sign of things to come. Check to see how YOUR representative voted: RFA ROLL CALL VOTE
The Religious Right was already celebrating the "victory" that the Religious Freedom Amendment had gotten as far in the amendment adoption process as it had today. They are sure to be even more thrilled with the number of supporting votes that they DID receive. They'll just have to try to get more next time. Ask Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas about that.
The Christian Coalition sent out a mass mailing to the constituents in Rep. Edwards district labeling him as 'ungodly and un-American" because he did not support the RFA. They have promised (threatened?) to mail similar information to the potential voters in the districts of all those other 'rebellious spirits' who will not "just go along" with the majority. Perhaps extortion and political blackmail will soon be a part of the Constitution, too?
While freedom of religion for all Americans was preserved today and the Constitution remains intact, what will happen the next time the 'mechanics' come out to check under the First Amendment's hood "just to see what may need some fixin'?"
The resident House spirits are restless tonight. Can't you hear them?
The Witches' Voice
June 4th., 1997 c.e.
For details on this Amendment: The WitchVox Istook Coverage
ALSO Check out Wren's Nest for ongoing more details.
The Religious Freedom Amendment
CALL THE CAPITOL SWITCHBOARD!
Call (202) 224-3121 and ask to be transferred to your Representative's and Senator's offices. Tell them to support religious freedom and oppose the "Religous Freedom Amendment." ( H.J. Res. 78)Tips On Writing/Emailing Congress: The letter is the most popular choice of communication with a congressional office.
THE BASICS:Tips On Telephoning Your Representatives:
To find your representative's phone number, you may use any of the searchable online congressional directories listed above or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your Senator's and/or Representative's office.
Telephone calls are often taken by a staff member, not the member of Congress. Ask to speak with the aide who handles the issue to which you wish to comment.
After identifying yourself, tell the aide you would like to leave a brief message, such as: "Please tell Senator/Representative (Name) that I support/oppose (S.___/H.R.8___)."
You will also want to state reasons for your support or opposition to the bill. Ask for your Senator's or Representative's position on the bill. You may also request a written response to your telephone call.
- Your purpose for writing should be stated in the first paragraph of the letter. If your letter pertains to a specific piece of legislation, identify it accordingly, e.g., House bill: H. R. ____, Senate bill: S.____.
- Be courteous, to the point, and include key information, using examples to support your position.
- Address only one issue in each letter; and, if possible, keep the letter to one page.
To a Senator:
The Honorable (full name)To a Representative:
__(Rm.#)__(name of)Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510 pBR>Dear Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
__(Rm.#)__(name of)House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Note: When writing to the Chair of a Committee or the Speaker of the House, it is proper to address them as:
Dear Mr. Chairman or Madam Chairwoman: or Dear Mr. Speaker:
The Line Forms At The Right...
Since we first posted our opening article on the proposed "Religious Freedom Amendment" introduced by Rep. Istook, we have received many comments and questions from our readers. While there was much interest expressed in this issue, we could not help but notice a decided hint of shoulders silently shrugging as if to say, "What does this really have to do with my everyday life?"
The sheer size of today's political machine has produced a feeling that our elected officials in Washington are so removed from the "common citizen" and his/her 'real life" problems that they no longer react to their constituents. The feeling that only "money talks' has lead to a rather apathetic mind- set in the majority of potential voters which can be summed up as, "Who cares what I think and want?. Unless I have the big bucks or bigwig political allies- who is going to listen to lil ole me?"
Let's face it. Our guys in Washington can neither see our shoulders shrugging nor our heads shaking in disbelief over the latest antics of the Religious Right. The only way to let them in on what you care about is through your letters, your phone calls and your organized efforts to speak out on the issues. We here at The Witches' Voice do our best to bring the information to you and explain some of the ramifications and offer suggestions on how to address them- but we cannot influence YOUR Representatives or Congressmen as effectively as you- one of the people who elected them- can do by your personal correspondence.
GUESS WHO IS SPEAKING UP?
"We want to make it clear that we are no longer going to be treated as second-class citizens because of our faith. Our goal is to deluge Capitol Hill with petitions, telegrams and phone calls." - Ralph Reed May 1997.
'In 1985, at a conference in Washington called "How to Win An Election, " Michael Carrington admonished the gathering, "Always talk in terms of traditional values... we can get more narrow later..."
And Pat Robertson has said, "We have enough votes to run this country...and when the people say, "We've had enough, ' we're going to take over!" '-excerpts from "The Christian Coalition: An Introduction "by Skipp Porteous (published in Mother Jones) .
Rep. Bill Fuller (D-Lafayette), who sponsored the 1993 measure (Alabama prayer law) said , "For the courts to discourage the advancement of spiritual values I think grieves God, "
AND WHO IS LISTENING?
Board of Education member (Columbus, S.C.), talking about displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools, had a ready suggestion for groups who might object to it.
"Screw the Buddhists and kill the Muslims, " Dr. Henry Jordan said during the board's finance and legislative committee meeting. "And put that in the minutes" he added.' - (AP_Boston Globe 5/16/97)
The House of Representatives adopted a resolution by a 295-125 roll vote on Wednesday March 5, 1997, supporting an Alabama judge who displays the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.
Rep. Istook introduced the "religious freedom Amendment " with the backing of 120 co-sponsors.
If you are not yet concerned about this proposed change in our Constitution then-
YOU DO THE MATH...
To pass, the Istook amendment would need to win votes from two-thirds of both chambers of Congress -- 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate. State legislatures would then vote on whether to ratify it.
WHAT WE CAN DO:
- WE CAN - Write or e-mail OUR elected officials in Congress and the House. We CAN tell them that we do not support this surgery to our Constitution. The Constitution has served us well for 200 years and we do not want the Religious Right to dictate for us "whom we shall serve." Tell them you expect a response on their stance and that this will have an effect on how you will vote in the next election.
- WE CAN - Send copies of the letters you write to local and national news agencies. Go public with your concern.
- WE CAN - Post this information to any news group, forum or channel area you may frequent-get other people involved! Ask them if they would like to be included in any future mailings and bulletins that The Witches' Voice may issue.
- WE CAN - Align with and support other organizations that have spoken out against the need for this amendment such as Americans United and the Jewish Congress. Send them copies of the letters that you have written and the responses that you receive.
- WE CAN - Stay informed- and help to keep us informed. Clip or send copies of articles from your area. Send The Witches' Voice copies of letters that you have written and any responses. We will post some of your letters on the site to encourage others to take action!
- WE CAN - Start a petition and bring it with you when you attend festivals and events over the summer. Talk to people on the street and let them know that this amendment is a real threat to their religious freedom.
- WE CAN - Ask Christians this question: If the Bible in Matthew 6:5-6 says "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners, but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray...", then wouldn't- by Jesus' own words- these self proclaimed and publicly vocal Religious Rights spokespeople be condemned as "hypocrites:? And do you want "hypocrites" encouraging your children to disobey the "Word of God" also?
The Witches' Voice IS working on petitions - both physical and electronic - to make it easier to let your voice be heard on Capitol Hill and your State House.
A LINE IS NOW FORMING ON THE LEFT-
- WE ARE - willing post YOUR letters on the web site.
- WE ARE - committed to keeping you informed and updated with the latest information and resources available.
- WE ARE - speaking out against the Religious Freedom Amendment.
During the last ten years, the Religious Right and the Christian Coalition has flooded the country, the Republican Party and the media with their tales of social woe. They frequently state that all the problems in America today began when government sponsored prayer was removed from schools. They offer a simple solution to those who have been duped into believing their self serving rhetoric. They are making inroads with those who have little or no interest in politics because they believe political leaders do not seem to care about them.
The time has come when you no longer can stand on the sidelines and let your country's future be directed by those who would destroy the very principles upon which it was founded....
It is time to choose, to become involved and to get serious, Pagans...Make the decision to stand firmly in support of religious freedom for all or others may make the desision for you.
The lines are forming....and time is running out...
"Now Is The Time When We Carry Out The Wishes
of The American People"
- Rep. Ernest Istook (Okla.)
If Congress tosses their votes down this "wishing well", fairy tales may be the only place you ever hear about...or from...Witches and other minority religious groups.
On May 8th, Rep. Istook and 100 other right wing supporters in the House of Representatives introduced the "Religious Freedom Amendment " to the U.S. Constitution. Expressing the need for such a revision, Istook stated, " We now have a consensus on language and there is widespread momentum in the House and across the nation. Thirty years of opinion polls show that more than 75% of Americans support a constitutional amendment to protect voluntary school prayer."
What's In A Word?
The "consensus on language" that Rep. Istook refers to the three year campaign to come up with an amendment that will bring religion back into the classroom and the public arena. The panic attacks concerning the alleged decline of "family values" and "moral decency"-mostly orchestrated by the backers of the amendment- have lead many in Congress to believe that such a revision is what their constituents want to see. At least three other versions of this bill have been proposed with wording slightly different from this one. Why is the "language" of the bill so important?
The original so-called "Istook Amendment" stated:
"Nothing in this Constitution shall prohibit acknowledgments of the religious heritage, beliefs or traditions of the people, or prohibit school sponsored prayer in public schools. Neither the United States nor any State shall compose any official prayer or compel joining in prayer, or discriminate against religious expression or belief."
That was a very obvious proposal. There was no doubt of the real intent behind this document: to put school sponsored prayers back into the public schools. Under this amendment the government could have:
The language of this former attempt by Istook was just too obvious for most Americans and the bill was never presented in this form.
- authorized public schools to begin each day with a student delivering a sectarian prayer over the intercom; thus sidestepping the "government involvement " issue;
- allowed teachers to assign a student to read a prayer or otherwise proselytize during classtime to a "captive" audience; again to seemingly avoid the appearance of the "official sanction" of a religion;
- allow a "majority" vote of students on what prayers would be used in classrooms, pep rallies , graduations and sporting events. Since Christians are still a majority in most schools, this would probably disallow any other type of prayer-twisting the "democratic" process into a vehicle for Istook's pro-religious right agenda.
Unwrapping The "New" Package: Plan "B" Is Just Plan "A" With Stealth Wording.
The "Religious Freedom Amendment" states simply:
"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools shall not be infringed. The government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion."Seventy-one little words, that if passed by Congress, would diminish the wall of the "separation of church and state" to a mere hairline fracture.
Let's take a look at this 'new language":
"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience." The first question that comes to mind is, of course, "Whose God"? The answer is-the "God" of any public official who wants to put up a cross on the state house lawn or a copy of the ten commandments in his courtroom. (see our commentary on this issue.). Every public building then could become a potential promotional gallery allowing a religious "shakedown" for converts. Of course, all religions could be included in such displays...or could they? What would "we" do if our "conscience" does not allow our displays to share space with..say..pentacles?
The danger in this part of the amendment phrasing is the "right to acknowledge"..."Acknowledge" here subtly infers a right to publicly declare a religion "under God" by government officials. One of the meanings of the term "acknowledge" is "to declare a fact in order to give it legal validity." Giving "legal validity" to this "God" opens the door to theocracy. And that is the main thrust of this amendment-To form a legally sanctioned "Christian Nation".
Why else would Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition have said. "Large majorities in continuous polls have shown solid support for protecting religious freedom, and the Christian Coalition will work hard to secure passage and ratification of the amendment." Reed also has promised to spend up to $2 million dollars to lead a public campaign for the amendment. Religious "freedom" to Reed has always meant "freedom" for Christians to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else.
Reality Checkpoint One - The First Amendment already protects the exercise of religious freedom in the private sector and the public open forum. Public employees may wear their religious symbols and attire, read or pray during lunch breaks and discuss religion in public areas as long as they do not disturb others while doing so. The First Amendment protects the exercise of free speech on these issues as well... So why do we need "further" protection?
"The right to pray..."
Not chant, meditate, invoke-just pray. Will minority practitioners have to go to court to prove that their "chant" or "invocation" is the same as a "prayer"?
"...or acknowledge religious belief, heritage or tradition..."
The religious right has long adopted the premise that the United states was founded as a "Christian Nation." If this came to be considered a part of our "heritage", the next step toward a Christian Theocracy would be taken.
Reality Checkpoint Two - The First Amendment as well as the Fourteenth protects us all from discrimination based on these factors. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the equal Access Act protect religious exercise. The right for any citizen in his private capacity to enjoy these fundamental freedoms at home, in the workplace and everywhere else is already guaranteed by law... So why do we need "further" protection?
"...on public property, including the schools, shall not be infringed."
Ah, THAT is why the "we" need further protection. So proselytizing can take place in courtrooms, classrooms, town halls and state houses. Judges can place decisions under the hand of his/ her "God", teachers can introduce through their students a personal religious slant and every Easter we can all enjoy the treat of having a "He is Risen" banner flying over our state capitol building.
(To see what the "we" may want in the schools, read the letter posted at: http://www.aclj.org/kyr/hatchltr.html.)
Reality Checkpoint Three - In public schools, students are already free to pray silently at any time, say grace or other blessings , at lunch, meditate and form religious clubs as long as this option is extended to all religions. They are allowed to wear their religious symbols, including t-shirts with religious messages if their local school has not imposed a unilateral dress code, and read religious materials during their free time. They may quietly do these things singly or in a group as long as they do not disturb other students.
The Equal Access Act allows for the teaching of religions in the classroom as long as the teacher does not endorse or demean any one religious belief over another; allows students to write homework assignments on religious subjects and allows the promotion of "civic" values. "Civic" values while they may parallel some religious codes of behavior simply should not be endorsed as the exclusive beliefs of any one religion.
The People Being Represented in This Amendment Are Not Representative of The People.
"The government shall not compel joining in prayer, initiate prayer or compose school prayers..."
Wait a minute! Didn't the amendment just guarantee the "right" to pray in public schools? What is this all about?
What this is about is, simply stating , that if you have a problem over what "prayer' is being used in schools or other public buildings-well, that is just too bad. The government cannot help you. You have no recourse. You see, the government cannot "compel" anyone to pray in a certain way...or "compel" anyone to change their prayer to accommodate anyone else of different religious belief.
The government would not able to make anyone include other language; or make suggestions as to how to include other religious beliefs in any public prayers or to help "compose" a secular or inclusive prayer that encompasses any other belief other that one being used. The government would stand helplessly by, and indeed would be required by law, not to interfere with whatever religious belief was being promoted in whatever setting it was being promoted in. Public school officials, military officers, judges and government employers could impose their religious beliefs on those under their control.
"... Discriminate against..."
We have laws already to cover discrimination... but consider the following items:
"The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision requiring a city to remove the cross from its city seal because it "endorsed Christianity."
"Since 1992, Cleveland's (Ohio) school board has opened its meetings with prayer. Now, a federal magistrate has declared the prayers unconstitutional and has recommended that a federal judge prohibit them."
"The Hennepin County Jail will not allow volunteer religious groups to tell inmates that homosexuality is a sin. Officials say they are enforcing the county's diversity policy, which calls for respecting "diversity" in (among other things) sexual orientation."
"A federal judge in Ohio has ordered the removal of a sign that for more than 60 years adorned the Montgomery County courthouse with the phrase "The World Needs God." (source: "Religious Rights Watch"-a C.C. publication)
John Giles, chairman of the Alabama "Save the Commandments" rally, said, "Today, we see another civil movement to protect our religious liberties."
Rep. Bill Fuller (D-Lafayette), who sponsored the 1993 Alabama Prayer measure (recently ruled as unconstitutional) said that the federal decision "devalues the role of prayer. For the courts to discourage the advancement of spiritual values I think grieves God, " he declared.
Reality Checkpoint Four - The only discrimination addressed in the "Religious Freedom Amendment" is a decided bias against the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution. For some the wall of separation between church and state has grown a little too broad and thus impedes their religious agendas. This amendment is an attack against the Supreme Court and its interpretations of the establishment clause.
"...or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion."
This amendment would require the government to fund religious activities in the same way it funds secular activities. Under this law, the government , if it continues to fund public schools and public charities would also have to fund religious schools and religious missions. Tax dollars-your tax dollars- may go to promoting and advancing religious agendas and beliefs with which you may not agree. Such "entanglement" of government and religion would spell ill for minority religions without the resources or numbers to successfully vote or lobby for "equal" representation of their views.
So, Who Are These American People Whose Wishes Are being Carried Out?
A better question would probably be: Who of the American people feel that their 'rights' are not now protected under the first Amendment?
"We will not rest until people of faith play a role in public life commensurate with their numbers. Americans are hungry for change, common sense, and a return to traditional values. For friends of the family, the future is bright indeed." -Ralph Reed
"When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. `What do you mean?' the media challenged me. `You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?' My simple answer is, `Yes, they are.'"-Pat Robertson, The new World Order.
Tell Congress What is On YOUR Wish List."Before we take the risky and divisive step of amending the First Amendment, let's do all we can to use the amendment we already have." -Charles C. Haynes, Ph.D.-Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.
The fact that the House of Representatives recently voted to support Alabama's Judge Moore in his defiance of the federal courts and the Constitution -as it now stands- is a very ominous sign to those who treasure religious freedom for all.
House Judiciary hearings are expected to place this summer and a vote on the Religious Freedom Amendment is anticipated in the fall. A constitutional amendment must pass by two-thirds in the House and Senate, and then be ratified by three-fourths of the nation's 50 states, with no approval or other role involving the President or the Governors.
Please write to your Congressman and Representatives and ask them not to support this Amendment.
Sources: The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center http://www.freedomforum.org/ - Americans United For The Separation of Church and State http://www.au.org/ - ACLU http://www.aclu.org/siteindex.html - Separation of Church and State http://www.louisville.edu/~tnpete01/church/index.htm - Christian Coalition- Religious Rights Watch - People for The American Way - New York Times - Tennessee Times
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