Using Religious, Philosophical and Political Views to Excuse Bullying

Jan 08 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

“What must we do to win? We must educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate.”

-       Rick Santorum, March 2007 at David Horowitz’s “Islamo-Fascism Campus Awareness Week.”

“There is no crime for those who have Christ.”

-       Shenoute, Egyptian monk, fifth century C.E.

People have the right to believe what they want to believe. The Constitution’s First Amendment protections contained in the  Establishment clause guarantee that. But that means everybody has a right to believe what they want to believe. To hear Christian fundamentalists talk, these protections extend only to them, not to Islam, not to Mormons, and certainly not to pissant Heathens like yours truly, let alone to gays, atheists and other undesirables.

This is the axis around which revolves fundamentalist opposition to anti-bullying legislation. Just as when fundamentalists talk about religious freedom they mean only their religious freedom, when they talk about anti-bullying legislation they see as the real victims of bullying – “true believers” who are being persecuted for their beliefs. This one-directional concept of freedom isn’t in keeping with the Constitution.

What fundamentalists want you to worry about is not the First Amendment but about their god’s wrath. They want you to be thinking not in terms of freedoms, as the Founding Fathers intended via their very secular Constitution, but about brimstone and hellfire, birds falling out of the sky, floods and tornadoes and hurricanes. Rather than celebrating our freedoms, we should fear them.

Robert Jeffress of the Southern Baptist Convention (who supports Rick Perry, by the way) takes a different tack than Bryan Fischer, who claims the First Amendment’s Establishment clause establishes Christianity as America’s state religion. Jeffress, reports Right Wing Watch, maintains that our First Amendment protections will “kindle the anger of God against us.”

Jeffress is very angry that the Air Force Academy, long an Evangelical stronghold, has in accord with the spirit of the First Amendment made it possible for people other than Christians to worship according to their beliefs. Christians there have a very expensive chapel ($3.5 million); fundamentalists like Jeffress resent a simple circle of stones, very inexpensive ($80k) by comparison, for Pagans.

Says Jeffress:

Although our Constitution grants every citizen the right to worship or not worship any god he chooses, that right in no way changes God’s attitude toward idolatry. God does not change. Any nation that chooses to publicly renounce the true God in order to embrace and elevate other gods is going to face God’s judgment. That is what the Word of God says. And I closed that editorial in the Washington Post by saying, how ironic that the Air Force, which is trying to protect our nation against terrorist attacks, how ironic that our nation is doing the very thing that is guaranteed to kindle the anger of God against us.

And ladies and gentlemen, when God chooses to judge us, remember how he did it with Israel? He used a pagan nation that worshipped pagan gods to bring his punishment on Israel. And I believe he will do the same with us, and when he chooses to do that, no military power, no matter how strong we are, will be able to protect us against the judgment of Almighty God.

It is not really that the United States or the U.S. Constitution renounce Jeffress’ god. In the case of the U.S. Constitution, it simply ignores his existence and that of any books or laws claiming to be inspired or authored by him. Nor does the United States renounce Jeffress’ god or “embrace and elevate other gods.” It is simply that no god can have a privileged position according to the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of any particular religion.

What Jeffress and his colleagues are advocating against the law of the land. They are threatening us that if we don’t change the law, we will all be destroyed. He wants to mandate a privileged position for his beliefs (Jeffress isn’t alone. As Right Wing Watch reports, “Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) has ripped into the Air Force for its equal treatment of religious minorities and televangelist John Hagee has claimed that pagan worship in the military is the reason why the U.S. is unable to win wars).

And this is where we come to anti-bullying laws and fundamentalist opposition to such laws.

Anti-bullying law have been called “a Trojan Horse to sneak [homosexual activists’] special rights agenda into law” (the Michigan Family Association), and would “promote acceptance of homosexuality.” (Minnesota Family Council) or that “bullying prevention is being “hijacked by activists who are politicizing or sexualizing the issue” (Focus on the Family). Apparently, however, its quite all right for religious activists to hijack bullying prevention.

In November 2011, the Michigan State Senate passed a “license to bully” bill (SB 137) which allows bulling by hose who have a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” In full:  “This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil and parent or guardian.” The language was eventually stripped from the bill.

A similar attempt to okay religious-based bullying is now underfoot in Tennessee, which is promoting its own “license to bully” bill, HB 1153:

“‘Creating a hostile educational environment’ shall not be construed to include discomfort and unpleasantness that can accompany the expression of a viewpoint or belief that is unpopular, not shared by other students, or not shared by teachers or school officials.” The bill goes on to say that  “The policy shall not be construed or interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and shall not prohibit their expression of religious, philosophical, or political views; provided, that such expression does not include a threat of physical harm to a student or damage to a student’s property.”

The bill’s agenda is made abundantly clear by the following:

“Harassment, intimidation, or bullying prevention task forces, programs, and other initiatives formed by school districts, including any curriculum adopted for such purposes, shall not include materials or training that explicitly or implicitly promote a political agenda, make the characteristics of the victim the focus rather than the conduct of the person engaged in harassment, intimidation, or bullying, or teach or suggest that certain beliefs or viewpoints are discriminatory when an act or practice based on such belief or viewpoint is not a discriminatory practice as defined in 4-21-102(4).”

While the Constitution gives people the right to believe what they want, it does not give them the right to act as they want. You are free to believe homosexuality is wrong, even to believe that you god says it is wrong and that it will lead to destruction. But you are not free to harass or beat people or even kill them, or force them into suicide, because you believe that (Right Wing Watch reminds us that Jeffress previously “claimed that a school shooting in Kentucky was divine retribution for a series of Supreme Court decisions on prayer in public schools”).  These Republican laws are basically a Bushian signing statement saying, “These laws don’t apply to us,” yet another attempt to privilege Christian belief above those of all other American citizens and even above the Constitution itself. Look at Newt Gingrich yesterday claiming that even asking questions about gay rights are “anti-Christian bigotry.”

In fifth century Egypt, an Egyptian monk, Shenoute, burned down and ransacked a Pagan landowner’s home. Accused by the magistrate of lesteia (banditry) Shenoute, like the Republican lawmakers in Michigan and Tennessee, claimed the right of his beliefs: “there is no crime for those who have Christ. As one scholar has written, “The statement neatly expresses a paradigm of religious extremism, a belief that righteous zeal for God transcended considerations of worldly law and order.”[1]

The whole thing makes you wonder about Anders Breivik and the debate over his mental status. Previously said to be psychotic, a new assessment rules the opposite. The previous assessment said he lived in his “‘own delusional universe where all his thoughts and acts are guided by his delusions.'” Brevik’s condition can be applied on a larger scale, to all Christian fundamentalists, who seem to share with Breivik residence in a delusional universe, where the reality they insist on is not the reality they are operating in. If Breivik is psychotic, then so is was Shenoute, and so is Jeffress, Fischer, Santorum (see his quote at the head of this article), and all our other fundamentalists and the presidential hopefuls they support.

Note: My thanks to our community moderator Shiva bringing to my attention the Santorum quote which opens this piece.

 Updated 1.8.12 12:46 pm for Gingrich debate comments of 1.7.11.

[1] Michael Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (University of California Press, 2005), 1.

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