I opened up my Washington Post yesterday morning – yes, I still read a paper edition – only to see a full-page ad on page A7 headlined, “DECLARATION OF DEPENDENCE UPON GOD AND HIS HOLY BIBLE.”
“Oh, this ought to be good,” I thought.
Indeed, the ad didn’t disappoint. It stated that people have certain rights given to them by the Creator and among them “is the right to exercise our Christian beliefs as put forth in God’s Holy Bible.”
Fair enough. I don’t really know that anyone is trying to take away those rights. We have hundreds of thousands of Christian churches in America, all operating freely without government harassment. Christian ministries proliferate on radio, television and over the internet. They raise billions every year, tax free. Their ability to evangelize is limited only by their imaginations.
Then we get to the meat of things: The signers of this document declare that “God grants life at conception” and therefore they refuse to fund or support abortion. Of course, they aren’t required to do this because of something called the Hyde Amendment.
The ad then moves on to marriage equality. Marriage, we are informed, “was instituted by God between one man and one woman. The Lord gave only this family unit the responsibility to have children and raise them in the fear of the Lord.”
It adds, “We also oppose same-sex marriage, polygamy, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion prohibited by Holy Scripture” and asserts that the signers “commit to conducting our churches, ministries, businesses, and personal lives in accordance with our Christian faith and choose to obey God rather than man.”
Couple of things here. For starters, far-right fundamentalists can continue to assert that the only family that counts is one man and one woman with children, but the reality on the ground is quite different. Same-sex couples are raising children, as are single parents, blended families, extended families, families that formed by adoption, etc. When it comes to government policy, it makes sense to support them all. In fact, a real “pro-family” policy encompasses all families. (Whether those families choose to raise their kids “in the fear of the Lord” is up to them.)
Second, no one is going to require a church to recognize marriage equality or take part in a marriage between same-sex couples. We’ve been through this before. The First Amendment protects the right of all houses of worship and their ministers to decide which couples they will marry. Marriage equality has been legal in all 50 states since June of 2015. How many members of the clergy have been jailed, punished or otherwise sanctioned for refusing to officiate at the wedding of a same-sex couple? Zero.
Finally, it’s highly questionable that for-profit businesses have a “right” to refuse to provide services to people based on the owner’s religious beliefs. Many states and cities have laws that protect people, including members of the LGBTQ community, from discrimination.
Americans United has been following this issue closely through its Protect Thy Neighbor project. AU’s belief is that religious freedom is obviously extremely important and should be protected, but that this principle doesn’t give anyone the right to harm others or discriminate against them.
Some familiar names are among the signers of the “Declaration of Dependence.” Among them are pseudo-historian David Barton; James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; William G. Boykin, a retired Army general who now works for the Family Research Council; Religious Right attorney Kelly Shackelford and two TV preachers, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar.
You continue not listening to James Dobson, which makes him angry (RNS photo/Adelle M. Banks)
In other words, this is the same crew that has been trying to run all of our lives for a long time. Their rather crabbed interpretation of the Bible – a view that millions of Christians don’t share – is the yardstick by which they determine God’s law.
The group backing the petition is seeking one million signatures. As of this morning, they had less than 76,000. They claim that they will “undertake a full media blitz that will include major press and media coverage; television broadcasts; news programs; full-page ads in national newspapers, which will include the website address for millions of people to sign the Declaration; and more.”
It’s unclear what the ad's backers will do if a million people sign the petition and the group still doesn’t get what it wants. After all, even if they reach the magic number, it's likely that abortion will stay legal, and marriage equality will remain a constitutional right. Perhaps they’ll hold their breath until they turn blue?
I’d like to think that efforts like this are the last gasp of a fading Religious Right, but I’ve heard that movement pronounced dead or dying too many times in the past to believe that.
Still, a fellow can dream.