Pass the Peyote

Boycotting the entire state of Indiana will likely not solve our problems.

Boycotting the Native American Church might.

Let me explain.

On Tuesday, April 17, 1990, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed down a judgement against two members of the Native American Church who had been fired from their jobs because they had traces of peyote in their systems. The men applied for state unemployment benefits and were denied because their employment separation was in keeping with Oregon’s drug laws.

Here’s the catch that should probably start to make people feel a little squirmy inside: peyote is a sacrament in the Native American Church.

Oh.

These two men held evidence within their bodies that they had actively participated in the exercise of their sacred religious beliefs. This evidence was held against them by the nation’s highest court. In essence, these Native American men were penalized for active participation in their religion.

Haven’t the Native Americans in our country been ostracized, and beaten down, and punished for not being white, and marginalized enough?

Apparently not.

But in a response to the April 17, 1990 decision in Oregon Employment Division v. Smith (the name of the case in question), a surge of support of First Amendment rights crashed into the hallowed halls of our nation’s elected officials. The wave came in the form of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990.

This act was set into motion by a slew of supporters: “ … more than 75 cosponsors in the House includes members from both sides of the aisle, liberals and conservatives, and members from all parts of the country, including several distinguished members of this committee. The Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion, which has been formed to support the bill, is ‘ecumenical’ in both the political and religious sense of that term. It is composed of more than 35 organizations representing diverse religious and political viewpoints.” (http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/jmd/legacy/2013/11/05/hear-150-1990.pdf page 19)

In addition, the bill was also supported by the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League, which was “organized in 1913 to advance good will and mutual understanding among Americans of all creeds and races, and to combat racial and religious prejudice in the United States.” (http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/jmd/legacy/2013/11/05/hear-150-1990.pdf P. 71)

Clearly, the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act was supported by many people, of many religious and non-religious, civil rights supporting and constitutional rights supporting backgrounds.

In a hearing before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives for H.R. 5377 (The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1990), Congressman Stephen J. Solarz submitted the following statement:

“America cannot afford to lose its first freedom – the freedom not just to believe but to act according to the dictates of one’s religious faith – free from the unwarranted and unjustified restrictions of governmental regulation and interference.” (http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/jmd/legacy/2013/11/05/hear-150-1990.pdf page 21)

Solarz, cosponsor of the act and a New York representative of Jewish descent, included examples of religious liberty such as minors being allowed to participate in a holy sacrament of communion including sacramental wine, an Orthodox Jewish student in South Carolina who was allowed exemption from the no-hats school policy because his religion required the yarmulke, allowing the Amish to exempt their children from compulsory attendance laws, the exemption for religious pacifists from wartime service, and even the use of wine during religious ceremonies during Prohibition.

Solarz says:

“Our nation has historically accommodated religion, even when religious practices have conflicted with important national goals. … Justice Scalia’s observation that the loss of liberty likely to be suffered by minority religions as a result of the court’s ruling is an ‘unavoidable consequence of democratic government’ demonstrates an appalling lack of regard for this proud American heritage. We have been strengthened rather than weakened as a nation by this remarkable record of accommodation. Yet Justice Scalia derided this outstanding and uniquely American tradition of religious tolerance as a ‘luxury’ we cannot afford, ‘precisely because we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference.’

“Religious freedom is the foundation of our way of life. This nation has always provided a haven for refugees from religious persecution. We are Americans because those who came before us voted for freedom with their feet. My family, like many of yours, came here to worship freely. Even today, Jews from the Soviet Union, Buddhists from Southeast Asia, Catholics from Northern Ireland, Bahais from Iran, and many more, willingly renounce their homelands and risk their lives for the ‘luxury’ of religious freedom.

“Respect for diversity, and particularly religious diversity, was one of the fundamental principles that guided the framers of the Constitution. The Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom is as much a practical guide for good government and social stability as it is a moral imperative. …” (http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/jmd/legacy/2013/11/05/hear-150-1990.pdf pages 22, 23)

It took three years and multiple committee hearings to pass this bill. If you look closely, you will see that the wording on the new Indiana law remarkably mirrors the wording of the final Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, found here: http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/jmd/legacy/2013/10/04/bill-s578rs-1993.pdf

For the last several days, I have been reluctant to get on social media. It seems that when I take a brief scroll, I see hatemongering. I’m not seeing it, though, from my conservative Christian friends. I’m seeing it from my liberal, progressive friends. It makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. It makes me feel a little squirmy inside. I feel some anger, yes, but I feel more sadness than anger, I think.

This law in Indiana, and the religious freedom laws in multiple other states, as far as I can see, will not increase discrimination, any more than the use of peyote in Native American Church services will increase the abuse of illegal drugs in Oregon.

Those who are bent on abusing drugs will abuse drugs.

Those who are bent on discrimination and hatred, will discriminate and hate. No law will force a heart change. Heart change is a conscious choice. It appears to me that those who are screaming the loudest are demonstrating the very characteristics they are screaming about. This noise makes me question who the true bigots are.

Or, maybe that is just me.

Or, maybe we need to all pass around the peyote and relax a little bit.

You see, I have this cousin. I’m going to call her “Jane”, even though that is not her real name. She doesn’t live in Indiana, and I don’t think she lives in a state that has fortified any religious freedom laws lately.

“Jane” owns a business. She is very good at what she does because it allows her to be a stay at home mom to her three absolutely adorable children. “Jane” makes fantastic banners and really cool stuff that help people to celebrate important occasions. She is super talented and creative. She is a devoted, involved member of her church. She has been completely in love for over a decade and a half with her monogamous partner. My cousin is a lesbian.

I don’t know how to articulate how I feel about this at times. Mostly I have been silent because it is easier that way. I don’t have to explain how I come to my conclusions. I don’t have to worry about what people will think of what I believe. I don’t have to worry about being ostracized for giving breath to my beliefs, especially when I have chosen a profession that tends to be on the more liberal and progressive side of things. Here goes …

I love my cousin. Period.

I don’t agree with the lesbian part of her lifestyle because I don’t believe God approves that lifestyle. I do agree, however, that she has every single right to choose that lifestyle and to live it out accordingly. I am not her judge and jury, any more than she is mine. People have been really hurtful and mean to my cousin and her family. I HATE that.

I’ve given this much thought and here are the conclusions I have reached:

  1. I believe all people have the right to make diverse choices.
  2. I believe all private business owners should have a right to make business decisions they think are best, in accordance with their religious and societal and cultural beliefs.
  3. I believe that the freedom of religious choice and the exercise of beliefs in accordance with that religious choice, are vital and integral parts of America and should be protected as much as possible. (There are obvious exceptions to this. If the exercise of a religion includes mass murder, then that impedes ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to an irrevocable degree, and the exercise doesn’t make sense no matter how you look at it.)

These three conclusions mean I fully support federal and state protections of religious freedom. I must. Religion and religious thought and religious systems all come down to a series of beliefs. Even atheists hold a sort of belief against organized religious beliefs that include the concept of God. Supporting the right for all people to hold a system of beliefs is right and good in my opinion, even if I disagree with those belief systems.

My cousin, “Jane”, drives over an hour to attend a church that is accepting of her homosexuality. She is a faithful member who accepts Jesus as her savior, and who tries to live her life in accordance with how she interprets God’s will, and in accordance with how she can demonstrate the love of Jesus in her actions.

It would deeply disturb me if someone approached her in her business one day and said, “Make me fifteen banners that read: GOD HATES FAGS.”

I hope and pray that she would emphatically say no.

I hope and pray that she would say no based on her religious belief that Jesus intends us to show love and making banners that decry that love is against her religious belief.

I hope and pray that the laws of the state in which she chooses to live and raise her precious family would support her right to religious freedom, in choice of religion and in the active living out of her religious beliefs by saying no.

If “Jane” said no, would that be considered hatred and discrimination? If “Jane” said no, would that be intolerance? Should we strip “Jane” of her first amendment rights concerning religion?

I am a follower of Christ. I am a conservative Christian. I can write all these things with as much love and honesty as I can show on paper, but I will still be labeled one of “those intolerant Christians!” Somehow it is okay for one group to speak, but not another group. I don’t understand that.

Rest assured, if you take away my right to live out my belief, you also take away the rights of ALL others who wish to live out their belief systems, regardless of race, background, ethnicity, culture, family history, and sexual orientation.

Later, I will likely take another scroll through social media. I will likely see things that make me a little sick to my stomach. I will likely see things that make me feel a little squirmy inside.

In my heart, I will nod to the Native American Church that passes the peyote, even though I will not join them. In my heart, I will wish for “Jane” to find life, liberty and happiness in her life and how she lives out what she believes.

At least, and perhaps at most, at the end of this day, I will still have the freedom to believe.

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