The Mississippi state government has enacted a law that illustrates most of what is wrong with the way conservatives promote freedom. It expands freedom slightly, mostly to facilitate conservatives’ own immoral behavior, while betraying the principles on which freedom rests.
The law is called “the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act
.” Summed up, it says the state may not regulate business and other peaceable activities undertaken for religious reasons, unless the state has a “compelling interest” that overrides religious freedom. Plus: it adds “In God We Trust” to the state seal. The act is part of the same reactionary movement that produced Arizona’s recent Senate Bill 1062
, the ostensibly anti-gay, pro-religious liberty bill that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed on February, 26, 2014.
Far be it from me to decry an expansion of freedom. The Mississippi law does, indeed, move the needle a bit toward economic liberty.
Oh, heck, let me decry it!
Furthermore, the law doesn’t promote freedom as a right
. Instead, it carves out an exception to state power for a hodge-podge of activities. And because it explicitly endorses the power of government to do anything it deems a “compelling interest,” the law doesn’t do much for freedom in the long run, anyway. I expect the courts to find that ensuring universal health care coverage is a compelling interest, or that protecting the environment is a compelling interest, most any time they feel like it.
The law also enshrines an ongoing confusion of religion
with morality. We need economic freedom, but not to make us right with the God of the Bible and not for sake of complying with holy writ. We need economic freedom because we are all morally entitled, as independent living beings, to act in the ways that we best judge to constitute our happiness and well-being. Giving religion special liberties is to give most freedom to some of the most irrational beliefs known to man, beliefs that are fundamentally disconnected from a focus on reality
. What will Christians in Mississippi think when fundamentalist Muslims assert their desire to follow the more savage practices of Sharia law?
If freedom to engage in anti-gay discrimination is the goal some of the supporters of this law have in mind, then far from enshrining the freedom to act morally, the law enshrines the freedom to act immorally. Now, one should have that right. But irrational hatred will never be a bulwark of freedom.
So here’s a challenge for conservative lovers of freedom: next time, keep God out of the state seal, and instead, promote the full separation of the state and the economy
, as well as the full separation of Church and state, for the same basic reason: that the reasoning mind
needs to be free.
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