Religious rights aren’t conferred by majority rule

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Comment? E-mail me

When we’re in the majority, we generally get our way — from the playground to

But our basic rights as citizens don’t depend on having one more vote or
legislative seat than someone else. There’s no “51% clause” in the Constitution
or Bill of Rights. Each of us has his or her basic rights and no government
entity, election result or judicial ruling can confer or confiscate them.

And that’s what’s so annoying about those who cite majority figures in
arguing for their “right” to ignore minority religious views — apart from what
should be a clear understanding that the law forbids government to favor or
disfavor any particular religion.

You would think that people of faith would be the last to employ the concept
of majority rule in their reasoning. Most faiths I know have moral absolutes —
sins are sinful because they are, not because of some public referendum or
legislative caucus.

In a dispute involving a crèche display at the Franklin County Courthouse in
Indiana, County Commissioner Tom Wilson said, according to the Associated Press,
that the 50-year tradition was “a big thing around here. We're in the Midwest,
part of the Bible Belt, and around here everyone has good Christian values.
We're not trying to push our religion on anybody.”

“I just think that we've got one percent of the population or less trying to
tell 99 percent what to believe and what to do and what our values are,” Wilson

Well, as it happens, exactly. The very values we celebrate as a nation were
created in no small degree to combat attitudes that would dispose of
inconvenient minority views — something James Madison and others before him
called “the tyranny of the majority.”

Devout Christians may well see Nativity scenes as an affirmation of one of
the most sacred moments of the liturgical calendar, the birth of Christ. Others
may well see the scene as more of a traditional reminder of the season. But for
some, it’s evidence of government endorsement of the “correct” religion, 
something not permitted by the First Amendment and a chilling message in a world
all too often wracked by religious-based wars and persecutions.

Sure, I doubt that a religious pogrom was on the minds of those putting up
the Nativity display at the Franklin County Courthouse. But why not set up such
displays at the homes of the faithful, at churches and private schools of one
faith or another, where the message and the motive are unmistakable and all the
more powerful?

The original Nativity, after all, did not take place on government

Comment? E-mail me