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Very well put!


Yep! Well done!

Jon Berger

I think you should welcome it, frankly. The Republicans, with a great deal of help from our Dear Leader, have painted themselves into a lovely little corner: only about 28% of the people in the country like them, but those 28% are the ones that are going to show up at the primaries and select a candidate. So the people who want to be that candidate have to do exactly what they're doing: try to one-up each other in terms of who can be the biggest hard-core Christian zealot. By the time the primary is over, one of them will probably have spoken out in favor of internment camps for Jews and Catholics. And that's GREAT, because that's who the 28-percenters will vote for, and then he'll lose in the general election because the other 72% will find him somewhat more repugnant than Clinton II.

Or so I keep telling myself. It MIGHT be right.

Chris S

(I first want to establish with out a doubt that I support gay marriage).
So are you saying that if he rationale for opposing gay marriage was along the lines of "gays are just gross and I can't think of them without going 'ew! ew! ew!, gross',
that that would be a better response.
Yes he is quoting Scripture, which in part is a blatant political move, but in part it may be because it frames a personal view of his.
And as a short tangent, thinking Christians have no problem with a Bible with errors.

Issues that any country deals with are going to involve questions of ethics and values. Questions that science can't speak to.
These sort of questions are dealt with by what you are railing against. Either some sort of personal feeling or some sort of collective view of what things are more valuable and what is less.

I know you want to distinguish a religion from someone's code of ethics and while I am certainly against imposing one religion on everyone,
I honestly don't see how a person's non religious code of ethics is any less of a 'hunch'/arbitrary/ "woo woo" than a thought out religious one.


It simply isn't true that science can't speak to "questions of values and ethics."

For example, Mitt Romney's somewhat incoherent statements seem to focus on the idea that marriage exists as the best context in which to raise children, since "children are an inheritance of the Lord and happy is he who has or hath his quiver full of them."

So that's a value, right? That children are good and having married parents is good for them?

But what science (in the form of peer-reviewed, published research) has shown, is that children raised by two same-sex parents are generally as happy and as healthy as children raised in a heterosexual marriage.

Here's a decent summary of that research:

Science may not form values, but it certainly can INFORM values. And I think it should.

Greta Christina

"So are you saying that if the rationale for opposing gay marriage was along the lines of 'gays are just gross and I can't think of them without going "ew! ew! ew!, gross,"'
that that would be a better response."

Yes. That's what I'm saying. And I know that sounds weird. So let me clarify.

My point here is that religious beliefs (with some exceptions) are unusually resistant to debate, and unusually unconcerned about counter-examples and evidence. More so than most other kinds of beliefs.

It is, after all, a very common tenet in many major religions that faith -- believing in things for which you have no evidence -- is an actual positive virtue, something that makes you a good person in and of itself. And it's an extremely common tenet in many major religions that people who try to convince you that your religion is mistaken are wicked at best, devils at worst.

I'm not saying that's what you believe, Chris -- I'm actually not sure what you think about whether faith is in itself a virtue {although I'd be interested to find out). But these kinds of thinking, the "faith is a virtue/ questioning is sinful/ Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it" kind of thinking, are extremely common in religious beliefs -- and they give those beliefs a self-perpetuating quality that is very resistant to debate.

And politics and public policy should not be resistant to debate.

I mean, if someone says (as people often do) that gay marriage should be banned because anal sex is unnatural and gross, I can argue with that. I can point out (as Dan Savage did) that using your asshole for sex is no more unnatural than using your nose to rest your glasses on, and that there are lots of things people do that I find gross and yet I don't try to stop those people from getting married.

The question isn't whether the beliefs are well thought out, or whether they're based on feeling rather than evidence. The question is whether the beliefs are open to discussion. It's like what that piece in Daylight Atheism/Ebon Musings said, in "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists: "Ask any believer what would convince him he was mistaken and persuade him to leave his religion and become an atheist, and if you get a response, it will almost invariably be, 'Nothing - I have faith in my god.'"

And if nothing can convince you that your belief is mistaken, then I think that belief should not be part of how you decide law or public policy.

Janet Hardy

I wish it were that simple, but it isn't.

I've been meaning for weeks to respond to some of your material here, but I haven't had the time to sit down and really think through what I wanted to say. Fortunately, someone did it for me. In a reader response to a review of Christopher Hitchens's new book, "Xeynon" wrote:

"How about your belief that our sense perceptions (and hence are science) are accurate? Your belief that God didn't plant the fossils of the dinosaurs to have a joke on humanity? Your belief that GWB and not an alien simulacrum is actually the President? Your belief that we're not all just brains in jars being fed a series of preprogrammed hallucinations? You can't PROVE any of these things. Every human being - atheists included - has unprovable foundational beliefs. Only the very hubristic, foolish, or simpleminded fail to comprehend this. Science recognizes this - it operates on theories, hypotheses, principles, laws, etc. Nowhere in the scientific method does the word 'fact' appear - and with good reason. I believe it was Einstein who said something to the effect that 'there are a million experiments that can prove me wrong, but not one that can ever prove me right.'"

In other words, we all make decisions based on untested beliefs -- based on faith. The science that we count on to give us "real" answers is based on a whole bunch of them, certainly more widely held than, say, the Gospel of St. Mark, but still based on the evidence of the senses, which are mediated through the brain, which is fallible and fantastical.

Of course, the problem with this line of thinking is that when you carry it to its extreme it freezes you: you can't know anything so you can't do anything. About the best I can do with it is to suggest the following rule of thumb: the more certain X is of his or her own rightness, the fewer decisions s/he should be allowed to make that affect anyone else.

Chris S

Okay, real quick responses,

Science can inform value decisions, but ultimately, it can't by itself say what is right or wrong. A person is in a coma after an accident with no instructions and whether they will ever recover is an open question. Their care is paid for by the state. Should they be kept alive as long as possible or could the resources be better spent caring for aware people who are actively suffering/hungry/cold etc. Part of that is economics, but part reflects the value we place on human life and what kind/state of human life. That's not a scientific question.
The point is not to solve this specific example, but rather that there are questions like this out there.

"Religious people don't change"
This is interesting because while faith is important. Mindless devotion to a specific religion is not. Several saints were acclaimed as very serious thinkers.
Religion relies on people being able to change. One group are called Evangelicals, they evangelize or "spread the Good News". This implies that people must be able to change. If people were incapable of changing, then there would be no point to evangelicals or missionaries, or Jehovah's Witness knocking on your door. It would be a waste of effort. Religion relies on people being able to make a conscious choice as to what they believe and that that belief can change over time.

An amusing collorary of this is that the next time someone tries to pull the "gay choose that lifestyle, so they don't deserve civil rights" argument, point out that people choose their religion and yet discrimination based on religion is still legally wrong.

stephen gottlieb

perhaps a simpler point. it is distinctly probable that Mr. Romney truly believes that "god hates fags" or that gay marriage is tantamount to damnation, or that enjoying sex that will not make babies will blow your legs off. he is targeting, quite strategically, the single most unifiable voter group. Namely, the under and semi-educated pseudo-religions clowns who allways show up to vote. Given the overwhelming negative motivation most people have to vote republican in the coming election, he needs to draw in those same clowns. and those clowns are threatened by the idea of gay sex. they don't understand, and what they don't understand, they feel. what his true religious beliefs are is nearly totally unimportant. he is a politician, and I believe that all of them have no morals, nor beliefs, only a desire for power. in that, no politician can be trusted with the lives of anybody else. in the immortal words of the joker "this town needs an enema!" except that could be construed as gay sex.

Greta Christina

To Janet first.

Yes, of course it's true that nothing can ever be proven for 100% certain. It's true that we have to make assumptions in order to function in the world.

But that is not the same as "untested belief." There is an enormous and practical difference between making an assumption based on a preponderance of evidence and a careful evaluation of what is and isn't likely... and making an assumption based solely on either your personal feelings and intuitions, the authority of teachers and texts, or some combination of the two.

There's a commonly held idea that, because no idea can be proven correct with absolute 100% certainty, therefore it's equally reasonable to assume that any idea might be true. And that's just not the case. I talked about this in "The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely":

It's true that scientists don't talk about facts or proof very often. But they do talk about evidence -- and they talk about likelihood a LOT. Can we prove that there is no china teapot in orbit around the sun (or that GW Bush isn't a robot, or that all our perception isn't a hallucination being fed to us by aliens, or whatever)? No. Can we say that it's extraordinarily unlikely? Can we say that there's no evidence of it? Yes.

And can we therefore reasonably assume that it isn't true -- and act on that assumption -- unless we see evidence of it? I think we can. Without that, we would, as you say, become paralyzed. The fact that we can't say for 100% certain that X is true and Y is not doesn't mean that we can't say with a reasonable degree of certainty that X is a whole lot more likely than Y. That's what I'm talking about when I talk about evidence-based thinking -- not total certainty, but strong likelihood based on evidence and careful thinking.

Which brings me back to my point: that the difference between a religious or spiritual belief and a scientific theory (or other type of evidence-based theory) is that the science is only as good as the last piece of evidence supporting it. People talk about scientists and skeptics as if we were so arrogant and sure of ourselves. But in my experience and my observation, scientists and skeptics are usually the ones saying, "Sure, I could be wrong -- I think I'm right, but show me evidence that I'm wrong and I'll change my mind." It's religious believers who are more likely to say, "Nothing you could say or do, nothing I could see in the world, will shake my faith."

And to bring it back to the subject at hand: That attitude is what I think is completely inappropriate in politics and public policy.

(BTW: Scientists know that the senses and the mind can be fooled. That's one of the reasons the method is so careful and has so many cross-checks. They don't see the fact that the senses and the mind can be fooled as reason to throw up our hands and say, "We can never know the truth anyway." They see it as reason to try harder.)

"There's a commonly held idea that, because no idea can be proven correct with absolute 100% certainty, therefore it's equally reasonable to assume that any idea might be true."

Nope, that's not what I'm trying to say here. What I'm trying to say is that the whole idea of "true" is chimerical; the best we can do is "functional" (as in, matching up with the other things I've found that make it possible for me to go on doing what I've been doing). When I say it's "true" that if I add baking soda to vinegar it will foam, or that it's "true" that George Washington was the first president of the U.S., I mean that in the reality that I occupy these ideas are not in direct conflict with any of the other ideas I've shorthanded as "true" -- these ideas all form a reasonably cohesive whole.

I don't, can't, know for sure that I'm not dreaming that I'm writing this to you right now; that's not a thing that can be known. It is, however, an assumption on which I'm willing to go on operating until it stops working -- and because that clause is too long to say, I use "true" to mean that.

The people in whose hands I prefer to put myself are the ones who have relinquished the idea of absolute truth. The more willing someone is to say "I don't know" -- or, better yet, "I can't know" -- the happier I'd feel about that person making rules that affect me.

Certainly, most fundies are extraordinarily bad at that. But I wouldn't go so far as to say most religious people are; a Buddhist, for example, is likely to be much better at it than, say, your typical engineer. (Obviously there must be Buddhist engineers. I'd like to talk to some.)

In other words: I don't think religion is the problem, not really. I think the problem is the need to be certain, or, worse, to be right. Which is why I find many atheists as impossible as I do many theists -- they just suck at saying "I don't know."

Greta Christina

Now to Chris.

First, I'm not saying that religious beliefs don't ever change. I'm saying that they're unusually resistant to change. Not the same thing.

What makes me think religious beliefs are resistant to change? Lots of reasons. There are zillions of systems in religious beliefs and practices that discourage questioning and encourage faith without evidence. But my main one is this: By far, the Number One factor that determines what religion a person will be is what religion they were brought up in. Yes, people have conversion experiences; yes, people grow up and leave their religion. But overwhelmingly, people hold the religious beliefs that they hold because they were taught to do so at an early age. That doesn't speak to me of a world full of religious believers making careful, conscious, adult choices.

And I'm not saying that religious people don't think. I know they do. I'm not saying all religious believers are dumb, mindless, Godbot sheep. I don't think that. The evidence very obviously doesn’t support that.

What I'm saying is that core religious beliefs are very resistant to being changed, either by evidence or reason. Great religious thinkers throughout history have come up with fascinating ideas about their faith -- but the faith itself, and the core tenets of it, were not up for question.

I'll again pose the question asked by Daylight Atheism/Ebon Musings in "The Theist's Guide to Converting Atheists:" "What would convince you that you were mistaken and persuade you to leave your religion and become an atheist?" If the answer is "Nothing -- my faith in God (or the soul, or whatever) in unshakable," then that's not evidence-based thinking -- it's faith based thinking that is resistant to evidence.

Finally, to the actual point here.

"Science can inform value decisions, but ultimately, it can't by itself say what is right or wrong."

I never said that it did. Actually, I didn't use the word science once in this post. The words I used were evidence, and reality.

And evidence and reality CAN tell us what is right or wrong. In fact, I would argue that any ethical system that isn't based in reality -- that isn't primarily based on what is wanted and needed in the world -- is a pretty useless one. (What science and the scientific method can do is help tell us whether our evidence and our perception of reality is likely to be accurate.)

Now, obviously, a lot of religious believers do this as well. Plenty of religious believers decide what's right and wrong in exactly the same way non-believers do -- by looking around them and seeing what people need, and trying to figure out what does and doesn't work to help them. They may be driven in a general way by faith, by the belief that God wants them to be good people; but they make their decisions about what that means on their own, using their observations and experiences.

But that's not what I'm talking about here.

I'm talking, very specifically, about specific religious beliefs. I'm talking about people basing their ethical decisions on the specific tenets of their specific religious beliefs. I'm talking about people deciding that same-sex marriage is bad, not because there's any evidence showing that it's harmful to children or society, but because they believe the Bible or Torah or Koran or Book of Mormon or whatever forbids it -- and no amount of evidence or reason could convince them that this belief is wrong.

And that sort of religion is depressingly common. You may think it's not important, not what religion should be about. But I'm paying a lot of attention to religion in this country, and I see an enormous amount of this. And that's what I'm talking about when I say I want politicians to keep their religious beliefs out of law and public policy.

Greta Christina

And finally to Jon: I really, really wish that were true. But George W. Bush managed to win two elections (well, okay, win one election and make the other one close enough to steal) by doing exactly what the GOP Prexy candidates are doing now -- running to the far right, sucking up to the fundies, playing on people's fears, and hoping the Dems run yet another dead fish.

I suspect it won't work this time, mostly because people are so sick of the war. But abandoning the moderates and playing to the religious right has been a depressingly effective strategy for the GOP for a long time.

And as a result, religious beliefs -- especially right wing Christian religious beliefs -- currently have a huge effect on law and public policy, from same-sex marriage to abortion to sex education in schools to science education in schools.

Greta Christina

"Which is why I find many atheists as impossible as I do many theists -- they just suck at saying 'I don't know.'"

You must know really different atheists than I do. I say "I don't know" all the time -- and so does every other atheist I know or read. Even -- especially -- when it comes to the question of God or the soul. Very few atheists are absolutely 100% certain that God doesn't exist. Even Richard Dawkins doesn't think that. We just think that God's existence is very, very unlikely -- sufficiently unlikely to be able to discount as a hypothesis for any practical purpose.

Which leads me to your more general point about truth.

"It is, however, an assumption on which I'm willing to go on operating until it stops working -- and because that clause is too long to say, I use 'true' to mean that."

What makes you think I don't mean "true" in exactly the same way?

Yes, I get it. We can never know for certain that what we see and experience is real. I understand that.

I just don't think it's all that interesting.

The idea that this might all be a dream or that we're all in the Matrix or something... yes, it's theoretically possible. But I also think it's sufficiently unlikely that I feel comfortable discarding it as a hypothesis, the same way I discard the hypotheses of Zeus or the teapot in orbit around the sun. I'm willing to work on the much more plausible assumption that the physical universe, and other people, are real.

And so when I say that something seems to be true, or that the evidence does or does not support a particular theory, I don't bother prefacing it very single time with "As true as anything can be in this essentially unknowable world." I just take that as a given.

And that's the case for the other skeptics and pragmatists and engineers and literal-minded people of my acquaintance. It's not that we don't understand that this may all be a dream. We understand the possibility; we've considered it; we've discarded it as highly improbable. And we've moved on, to the hypothesis that we consider both far more likely and far more interesting -- the hypothesis that there is a real, physical, observable world, with laws and patterns that we can understand in some small way and can continue to understand better with time.

And to bring it back to the actual topic: There is, in my opinion, a much more interesting and important variety of the "We can never know for sure what's true" conundrum. And that's the fact that our human minds are very good at twisting whatever we perceive to make it fit what we already believe.

Which is why I'm so apeshit about evidence, about reason, about being willing to test your beliefs and give them up when the evidence contradicts them. Since we know that our minds can be fooled, I think we have a responsibility to be extra-careful about giving our beliefs a good reality check.

Especially when those beliefs affect other people.

And that's why I get so upset at people like Mitt Romney, who are perfectly happy to pass actual laws that affect my actual real life, on the basis of beliefs for which he has no evidence -- beliefs which he won't give up even when the evidence shows them to be flatly untrue.

(As much as we can ever know what's true, blah blah blah.)


Janet, I've thought long and hard about the question of absolute truth, and come to an acceptable answer for me. Maybe it'll work for you, too.

I do not know what "reality" is. We may all be living in Plato's cave, the Matrix, or a 4-dimensional subset of an 11-dimensional universe. Certainly quantum mechanics is seriously challenging a lot of "intuitive" concepts on the subject of "what is reality".

(If you want something truly mind-bending, just recently the paper "An experimental test of non-local realism" seriously questions whether reality exists!

But I judge theories based on their predictive power. And what they're predicting is not reality itself, but observations of it. In other words, my perceptions.

There can be multiple models that explain the same perceptions. As long as they predict the same thing, they are indistinguishable.

So, "the world as I perceive it really exists" and "it's all a dream made up to appear to me as if reality exists" are, until someone points out a conflicting observation I can test, equivalent theories.

I can use whichever is simpler to reason with, and "reality really exists" is simpler to work with, so that's the on I use.

I have no faith that reality exists; my faith is that my experience of the world has been, and will continue to be, *as if* reality exists. Although the problem of induction still exists, I have memories of years of validation of this hypothesis, and that's enough for me to be getting on with.

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, but if Hugo Weaving were to make my mouth disappear, that would convince me that it was necessary to postulate some new entities.


What it comes down to as far as making and creating laws in a free nation such as America is,government can not disregard our First Amendment.Which it does
when laws are created based on or because of an religious belief.
It's unconstitutional.
True our country was founded on chritian ideals but,some christian faiths and churches don't have a problem with same-sex marriage and others do.
So if America is going to disregard our First Amendment in favor of a religious belief.Our Constitution becomes meaningless.And if America is willing to do this,which christian faith would or should the government follow?
I am a christian who knows it's not my place to judge another for who they are and what path of life another is on.
The thing I don't understand is why other christians don't understand that and will judge and exclude others when they should know better.
America is for all Americans of all different faiths and beliefs.Including those who don't believe and America shouldn't disregard our Firt Amendment just because people are different.For if we do our Constitution becomes meaningless.


Dee, I'm sorry to tell you that the government can disregard the constitution, and it has. Repeatedly. Flagrantly. If there's been a day since his inauguration that W hasn't violated the "uphold the constitution" part of his oath of office by noon, he was having a lie-in.

To salvage a distinction that american english has all but completely abandoned, the rules say the government MAY not, but those rules are only important to the extent that the goverment CAN. There's no point outlawing the impossible.

And what's been proved QUITE thoroughly is that the mechanisms that are supposed to enforce that prohibition are not working. They seem to be completely paralyzed.

Saying "they can't do that" is like saying that the earth is flat: denial of reality. They HAVE done that. Wake up and smell the roses.

"They aren't allowed to do that" is somewhat more to the point.

Far better is "why the FUCK are they being allowed to use the constitution for a doormat like that?"

The constitution doesn't magically enforce itself. And the three-part division of power in the U.S. government doesn't prevent someone usurping power if the executive and legislative conspire against the judicial, and work assidiously to undermine and subvert it.

Greta Christina

Dee and Eclectic make some good points here. But I do feel like I need to point this out: While I strongly dislike the idea of Mitt Romney or anybody else making decisions about law or policy based on their religious beliefs, it isn't actually unconstitutional to do so.

Lawmakers can make laws and policy based on the reading of goat entrails, or what their Aunt Sadie's knitting circle thinks, or the weird dream they had where Albert Einstein told them that same-sex marriage would make all the pickles disappear, or pretty much any other reason in the world (apart from bribery and the like). We may not like it, and we can certainly vote against people who do it, but there's nothing illegal or unconstitutional about it. It's the laws and policies themselves (government funding of religious charities, just for example) that can be unconstitutional -- not the motivations behind them.

Now, that's not to say that Eclectic isn't right. Under this administration and with the support of the previously Republican Congress, the Constitution has been fucked with a chainsaw up one side and down the other. But as much as I don't like Romney (or anyone else) using religious beliefs as a motivating factor for making decisions about law or policy, there isn't anything illegal or unconstitutional about it.


Yes, agreed, sorry. I jumped at a peripheral point. There is not, and cannot reasonably be, if freedom of conscience is to be preserved, any limitation on the logic by which a law is justified in the mind of the lawmaker.

And a lot of good scholarship about ethics and philosophy comes from religious scholars. It would be silly to ignore it.

In truth, if the bible-thumpers weren't as illiterate as the hordes waving chairman Mao's little red book, I wouldn't mind so much. But they seem to have forgotten that cuius regio, eius religio is demonstrably not a good policy. Been there, done that, got the 30 years' war.

They could also use a good history lesson about the english dissenters they're so proud of as ancestors and the english civil war. *Sigh*

Greta Christina

"Sorry. I jumped at a peripheral point."

Jumped at a peripheral point? In an Internet conversation? NOOOOOO!


"Jumped at a peripheral point? In an Internet conversation? NOOOOOO!"

*Grin*. Well, I really appreciate the civil tone around here, so I can thank you for noticing my error and apologize gracefully. It's just a rant that lurks near the surface a lot.

Anyway, I should correct my statement about cuius regio, eius religio ("whose reign, his religion") and the 30 years' war. The policy (state religion follows that of the relevant prince) remained after the peace of Westphalia (1648), but unlike the original implementation in the Peace of Augsburg (1555), which only allowed adherents of other faiths to move to a friendlier principality, the Peace of Westpahlia (article 28) enshrined religious tolerance within the Holy Roman Empire (Germanies); other religions could be privately and publicly practiced.

This was the start of officially sanctioned religious tolerance in Europe. I tried to check against the original treaties (which I've unfortunately never actually studied), but they're loaded with specifics and fairly heavy going.


Eclectic,I know the government disregards our constitution when they want but it doesn't make it right or make America look good either.
As the First Amendment says one has the right to practice their religion without fear of prosecution but one can't be persecuted by a religious belief as well.
And reality is that some religious
groups and organizations are constantly persecuting those who think and act differently then them and laws have been made restricting rights & freedoms based on a personnal belief stuctures.Which to my understanding of the First Amendment is unconstitutional.
When our own government is willing to disregard our own constitution in favor of organizational beliefs that's showing the rest of the world that we don't practice what we preach.freedom & justice for all.


Er, Dee, are we violently agreeing with each other? Is there something that you wrote that contrasts with the views I expressed?

I was just trying to say that, when laws are not followed, one must be careful to distinguish "can" from "may".

The constitution talks about what is and is not permitted. It is the duty of government to enforce it. But as the government is grossly delinquent in performing that duty, saying "one can't be persecuted by a religious belief" is very inaccurate.

First, and peripherally, the first amendment only talks about what the government is allowed to do, not what a private person or organization is allowed to do.

Second, and much more importantly, just because it's not permitted doesn't mean it's not possible. Worse yet, it's so routine as to no longer be newsworthy for a person to be singled out for serious harassment by government agencies for religious beliefs. Ask any Muslim in the U.S. today, or the Smalkowski family.


No,I'm not violently agreeing or disagreeing.I'm merely pointing out the hypocritcy our government practices.Favoring one group or organization over another.
The First Amendment states that one has the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution and it also states one can not be persecuted by it either.
I don't know how you interpet that
but to me that means I can practice any religion I wish and no religion has the right to persecute me for believing differently.
That's one of the reasons our founding fathers left where they were and came here to form a more perfect union.
So my interpetation of the First Amendment means one can not be governed by religious belief therefore laws can not be created based on them either.Their suppose to be based on common sense.
If you view it differently what religion or chritian faith would you have our laws based on which govern us?
The amendment is intended to protect us from religion as well as being free to practice our different beliefs.


No,I'm not violently agreeing or disagreeing.I'm merely pointing out the hypocritcy our government practices.Favoring one group or organization over another.
The First Amendment states that one has the right to practice their religion without fear of persecution and it also states one can not be persecuted by it either.
I don't know how you interpet that
but to me that means I can practice any religion I wish and no religion has the right to persecute me for believing differently.
That's one of the reasons our founding fathers left where they were and came here to form a more perfect union.
So my interpetation of the First Amendment means one can not be governed by religious belief therefore laws can not be created based on them either.Their suppose to be based on common sense.
If you view it differently what religion or chritian faith would you have our laws based on which govern us?
The amendment is intended to protect us from religion as well as being free to practice our different beliefs.


"I can practice any religion I wish and no religion has the right to persecute me for believing differently."

Er, Dee, the First Amendment says nothing of the sort.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Note the first four words: "Congress shall make no law." That is a limitation on the power of Congress to discriminate, not a non-government organization, including a religion.

Prohibitions on more general forms of government discrimination come from the due process guarantees in the 5th (federal) and 14th (state) amendments.

This does support your point that religious justifications for laws must be regarded with grave suspicion.

But the federal constitution is utterly silent on the subject of private discrimination. The constitution does not prohibit me from, say, treating Buddhists particularly favorably or unfavorably.

Such matters are generally part of state law. In 1883, the supreme court issued a number of famous rulings (upheld to this day) that the federal government did not have the authority to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals and organizations.

The first time discrimination by private parties was effectively legislated federally was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was justified using a somewhat creative interpretation of the Commerce Clause.

"So my interpetation of the First Amendment means one can not be governed by religious belief therefore laws can not be created based on them either."

I fear that I'm really belaboring the point, but I repeat that no law says what one CAN not do; they only say what one MAY not. Attempts to narrow the gap are called "law enforcement", and do not eliminate it completely.

If people are obeying the laws, the distinction is less important, but when discussing politics these days, I think it's absolutely essential to be clear on the difference.

I don't think the U.S. government has the legal authority to do all kinds of stuff that it's undeniably doing.


You apparently are missing my point.As I said one has the right to practice their religion without fear of government involvement.
But the government also can not make or create a law based on religious belief either.
Yes,any religious organization has the right to discriminate if they wish.
Though being a christian I can't understand how some christian organizations will do that which goes againist christianity.
However,the government can not get involved in that or make a law based on religious belief.
Same-sex marriage is a moral issue
that many faiths don't agree with.
And the government can not create a law based on any organizational belief of what they do or do not see as moral.Freedom of will,will have been tossed out the window in place of making Americans conform to a religious belief.
Now if religious organizations don't agree with same-sex marriage their not obligated to marry those they don't want.But they don't have the right to stop any two consensual adults from marrying because of their belief.
If they are we are no longer a free nation.We're one that is governed by religious belief.
The First Amendment says one has the right to their religion and belief and the government will not persecute one for or by religious belief.
Therefore the government can not make or create a moral law based on religious belief.Nor can they by personnal or organizational ones.
It is unconstitutional to forbid any two consensual adults from marrying cause of a religious belief.
And since some of those organizations don't want to perform such ceremonies due to their belief.Which is their right.
The government must allow and perform them.In order for freedom and justice for all to reign.Or we will have become a religiously run government.Like others we are constantly fighting.Trying to bring others freedom from their religious persecution.
This is the last time I will post on this matter.If you don't understand what I'm saying then theirs probably no hope for freedom
to reign.For,the fight for freedom will have have become stagnate.

Greta Christina

Um... Dee, nobody's disagreeing with you about fundamentals here. I think everyone participating in this blog strongly supports both same-sex marriage and the separation of church and state. We're just debating how the principle of separation of church and state should be interpreted.

Here's the thing. Here's what the First Amendment says about religion: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It's the LAW that can't establish religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof.

Because it's the law that can actually fuck up our lives.

I mean, right now, there is almost certainly some city councilperson who is praying fervently to the Lord above for the wisdom to make the right decision on the new proposed zoning policy. And as much as you or I may not like the fact that they're doing it, unless that zoning policy establishes a religion or prohibits the free exercise thereof, the fact that the council person prayed before making their decision isn't unconstitutional.

What *would* be unconstitutional is if that zoning policy banned mosques from being built. Or gave the Baptist church a special easement on fire safety standards. If the LAW establishes a religion or prohibits its free exercise, then the First Amendment is being violated.

Now, you may not like the fact that lawmakers use religious beliefs and doctrines to make their decisions about laws. I don't like it, either. The whole point of my post was that I don't like it.

But the First Amendment puts limits on laws. Not on lawmakers.

Finally: The fact that we may not agree on this issue doesn't mean there's no hope for freedom. In fact, the fact that we can publicly debate exactly how the First Amendment and the principle of separation of church and state should be interpreted... I would argue that that is evidence of a strong and healthy fight for freedom. Not its stagnation.


(sorry for responding again but I had to comment on what was said once again.)
Greta,I don't have a problem of any lawmaker praying for guidance.
Lord knows I pray alot.
What I don't like is the percieved
perception that lawmakers tend to limit or deny rights and freedoms
based on a organizational or personnal prejudice and bias towards things they percieve as wrong or immoral.Instaed of common sense.Freedom and justice for all
not just for those who act or believe a certain way.
Your right as long as we can debate
issues freedom isn't staginate but it seems our society and government
is willing for the advancement of certain people to become stagnate because of prejudice and bias which
is unconstitutional.


Dee, for all that I've been nitpicking your postings, I agree with your primary point. To quote Thomas Jefferson ("Notes on the State of Virginia"), available at

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

This to me is one of those truths that I see as self-evident: the legitimacy of government coercion is limited to harm to others. Harming myself may be stupid, but you can't outlaw stupidity. Making the attempt is just adding to the problem.

The surrounding text says more about religion, and is *well* worth reading, although it's a bit long to quote here.

Still, I can give a taste of the start:

"If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only."

Robert W Pierce

Using one quote in Leviticus to justify legislation to prevent us from marrying is so transparent. How come nobody is going after right wing bigots suchs Romney and his ilk when there are other verses in the bible he claims to believe in along with his supporters, verses that state that adultery is forbidden; polygamy is permitted, yes, permitted; a husband can kill his wife for adultery and by the same token, kill his children for being disrespectful; the eating of shellfish is forbidden as is the shaving of one's beard; if one's eye offends, we are told to pluck it out, ditto your hands if they too cause offense, the list goes on. Yet, Romney et al deliberately ignore these quotes from their belief system, yet single out one questionable reference in Leviticus to justify discrimination against us. Why isn't anyone going after the right wing religious bigots and take them to task on this? They can't have it both ways, they either believe in all of scripture or they don't, and they should not cherry-pick one reference to discrimate while ignoring the rest because it makes them uncomfortable or because its just not convenient. Their hypocrisy and their belief system is abominable.

Robert, NYC.


The point seems to me that there are a whole lot of "laws" in the bible. If the bible is indeed to be our guide for regulating our communities, we should, for instance, immediately reinstate slavery (taking care not to beat them too badly) as well as institute strict laws for the stoning to death of disobedient children. This is strictly Biblical. There's not much else to be said, frankly. If these views are abhorrent to you, then you don't follow the Bible, no matter your protestations. That's what it says. So you cannot just decide which bits of the Bible to follow, whilst ignoring others, unless you admit that vast parts of the Bible are repugnant, and therefore no parts of the Bible are sacred and immunie to the criticism of common morality. All of them.

Rick Brentlinger

I think it is inevitable that our religious faith will influence our politics.

I hope that political and religious conservatives will take another look at what the Bible actually says about same sex relationships.

They may be surprised to discover that the Bible stories so frequently used against gays and lesbians have nothing to do with gay and lesbian relationships which are committed, faithful and noncultic.

Rick Brentlinger

Louis Doench

I just backed into this posting off Greta's Blog cuz I thought it looked interesting. And I must admit the ensuing debate has made for an interesting 1/2 hour of reading.

But I'd like to (if I can at this late date) jump back to something fascinating from the very 2nd response.

"So are you saying that if he rationale for opposing gay marriage was along the lines of "gays are just gross and I can't think of them without going 'ew! ew! ew!, gross',
that that would be a better response. "

What i find interesting is this. If Mitt Romney pursued the above line of reasoning. If he said such a thing at a debate or on Crossfire, he'd be a national laughing stock. Nobody would ever listen to him again. Yet he is allowed quite a bit of latitude to make the exact same policy decision because he bases his argument in his "faith" as opposed to his sense of ickyness.

And the question I believe Greta is getting at is, why do we value position B over position A?

Dan Reese

There is a really intense debate going on about this over at riled up:

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