Religious Freedom or Secular Reason
Two news items in the Indianapolis Star presented two dilemmas. Does religious liberty trump state security concerns in prisons? Does Muslim terrorist John Walker Lindh have the right to pray with fellow Muslims whenever he wishes, or are his religious rights limited to solitary prayer?
The second news article was about 16 Amish on trial for cutting the hair of other Amish men. The state claimed it was a hate crime and would be prosecuted as such, but an Amish leader claims it is his right alone to punish his people and not the courts. He claims civil law is interfering with his religious rights.
In both cases there’s an apparent conflict between church and state. Other similar issues have already been considered and some resolved. Do civil laws superseded Mormon Church’s polygamy policy? (Resolved). Does the Mormon Church have the right to discriminate against African Americans? (Resolved)
Do the doctrines of religious sects have priority over state and federal law? Do Hebrew circumcision rites or African female mutilation (“circumcision”) rites have priority over civil law prohibiting child abuse? Do Christian religious sects have the right to deny medical treatment to their children? Do Mennonites and others, have the right to disobey traffic regulations in their horse-drawn carriages? Does shunning deprive an individual of the opportunity to make a living and continue a normal family life? Should face covering be allowed in identity situations with police and airport security? Should whole-body searches be allowed by police and security personnel as necessary? Should animal sacrifice be allowed during religious ceremonies? Is child marriage legal? Do fundamentalist Christian morals supersede civil law, such as in abortion issues and mercy killing?
Can you think of other religious rights that are in conflict with secular civil law? No doubt there are more. Some these conflicts have been resolved, some are in process, and some have not.
The Amish leader’s argument is pretty weak. He insists that religious leaders have the last say in internal church discipline. He said, “You have your laws on the road and in the town — if someone doesn’t obey them you punish them.” “But if I can’t punish them they will run over me.” “If every family would do just what they pleased, what kind of church would we have?” The Star’s, John Seewer said the Amish leader claimed the hair cuttings “were a response to continuous criticism he’d received from other Amish religious leaders about him being too strict, including excommunication and shunning. He was criticized also, for having sex with married women in his sect for the purpose of cleansing them. Certainly the Amish leader is a nut, but all religions have their nuts, some nuttier than he. Even nuts have some rights, but ultimately, nuts are for cracking,
The point is, shall individuals under the guise of religion be able to flaunt civil laws? I guess the courts, in their wisdom, will decide. Unless the Amish leader can afford to hire expensive lawyers and fight the issue up to the Supreme Court, he will quickly lose his legal battle. The same is true for other church/state issues.
As far as Lindh’s case concerning Muslim group prayer on demand, there are extenuating circumstances such as when Muslims refused to conform to prison regulations during group prayer. They refused to discontinue a prayer in a prison emergency such as during a fire alarm. Imagine praying Presbyterians refusing to evacuate their church building as it burns to the ground or Baptists during a New Orleans flood refusing to evacuate to higher ground until they finished praying. Although Lindh’s claims are groundless, and he seems to be using his complaint as a means to express his contempt of America, prisons remain obligated to provide opportunity for religious practices as space and time permit. Lindh’s complaint needs to be resolved in the courts and not be decided at the Warden’s desk.
I personally do not have a problem in restricting some inmate’s privileges. They have forfeited some of their rights by harming society. Tough luck, they brought it upon themselves.
Our Constitution provides protection from religious and non-religious groups and protection for religious and non-religious groups. Religions have the obligation to conform to the public good by giving up some of the practices that violate the rights of other groups. They cannot expect to have everything their way even if is ordained by their God. Such is the freedom provided by a Republic that must weigh and balance the rights of all its citizens. Religions may not like the arrangement, and a few religions will resist and attempt to force their beliefs upon the majority and upon other minorities. We must be vigilant and resist the mixing of religion and government.