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Celebrating the Limits of Religious Freedom

What the Bill of Rights says—and what it does not.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."       –Bill of Rights, Article I

That’s what the Bill of Rights says:
* The government can’t establish an official religion;
* The government can’t prevent people from practicing their religion.

I totally support both of these. Don’t you?

Here’s what the Bill of Rights does NOT say:

* People can force others to follow their religious beliefs;
* The government should make it easy for people to follow their religious beliefs;
* The government should give people’s religious sensitivities more weight than people’s non-religious sensitivities;
* The government should give religious institutions a voice in government decisions, or any privileges whatsoever such as tax breaks.

Read it again: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Today, millions of Americans expect that their religious beliefs entitle them to special privileges: e.g., exemptions from doing their jobs when tasks conflict with their “sincerely held beliefs;” zoning that prevents businesses they don’t like from opening near their churches.

One of the most important of these expected privileges is the privilege to require non-believers to behave like believers: e.g., prohibiting liquor sales on Sunday; prohibiting nude sun-bathing on beaches. Religious people also tend to feel that they should be protected from the behavior of non-believers—for example, from seeing condoms advertised on TV.

But it’s much worse than that.

Mainstream religions are obsessed with sexuality. But they’re not all that interested in sexual integrity, or sexual self-expression, or sexual communication, or sexual education. They’re interested primarily in limiting sexual expression. Mainstream religions distrust sexual autonomy—people making sexual decisions for themselves, relying on their own values and ethics.

Thus, since the religious program about sex is primarily “don’t do this, don’t do that,” when organized religion gets or seeks political power, it inevitably wants to institutionalize “don’t do this, don’t do that” in the legal system.

It doesn’t matter what the “this” or “that” is. The problem is the “You may not do it” part.

Organized American Christianity wants to limit the sexual expression not just of believers, but of non-believers. And so they demand—and often pass—laws that:

* prevent strip clubs
* prevent swingers clubs
* prevent birth control
* prevent abortion
* prevent same-gender marriage
* prevent actual sex education
* prevent sex research
…and more.

When progressives challenge the Church’s right to do this, Christian leaders typically cry “freedom of religion!” But that’s bogus. This is like a publisher wanting a law requiring everyone to read his newspaper, and when challenged, him crying “freedom of the press!” Both freedom of religion and freedom of the press involve freedom from government control, not control of government machinery to force others to live as believers do.

Westerners are viewing the increasing militancy of worldwide Islam with alarm. In countries as diverse as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Turkey, more and more government agencies are requiring people to live as believers, punishing non-believers who don’t do so.

We should notice how that’s happening right here. After all, it’s Independence Day. Happy Birthday, America.

Marty Klein is a certified sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist. He has written five books and 200 articles about sex; his TV appearances include 20/20 andNightline. more...

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