Monday, April 22, 1996

Week of 04/22/1996

Holier than thou...
What's safe in the First Amendment anymore?
-by David Matthews 2

I came across something rather unusual while changing channels a few months back. I was jumping through to watch my favorite daytime show when I ended up on the neighboring channel, which happen to be a highly religious station. There, the host was talking about the upcoming debate on the telecommunications bill. The host was conversing with a Republican congressman from Texas on his assurances that in the zeal to censor what would be considered obscene or indecent from all facets of telecommunications, that somehow THEIR show wouldn't get included. It wasn't that the host was concerned about the protection of free speech as much as it was to prevent any of HIS future sermons from being censored for talking about indecency or obscenity.

It was clear from the first five minutes of the level of hypocrisy being generated, and the growing sense of frustration that our representatives could very well curtail an important part of the First Amendment, with most of the credit going to religious activists such as the Christian Coalition.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps they do have a point. Perhaps we should be willing to curtail our constitutional rights to protect the innocent children and the safety of the family. Once I saw this I realized that perhaps it was high time we went after an institution that have long since operated with impunity and open defiance- religion.

Let's face it. There are a lot of religious groups that have posed a clear danger to the safety of others. Not too long ago the nation watched in horror as David Koresh led his followers into a blazing death instead of surrendering to the federal agents surrounding them. For days, the Senate held hearings to try and pin the blame on someone in the Clinton Administration. Anyone. Alas, the only person they really could blame was Koresh and his religious followers.

Before Koresh, there was Rev. Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Jonestown. Hundreds of followers who either drank poison or were shot trying to flee from what was believed to be their day of redemption.

In between Koresh and Jones there have been dozens of cases when priests and ministers have been involved in criminal activity detrimental to children and families. Sordid cases of fraud, sexual abuses, and scandals. Tales of religious sects who use children as recruiters and help in door-to-door donations. Sects who stockpile weapons and hide in bunkers to await their own day of redemption. Religious groups who advocate or condone murder to defend the unborn and publish wanted posters of their intended targets. A major religious leader who was seen on his own television syndicated show, who defraud his congregation to line his own pocket and end up convicted in a federal court. And still another popular religious leader was caught with prostitutes not once, but twice!

Certain religious beliefs have also been detrimental to the health and welfare of children. Parents have allowed their children to die from needless illnesses simply because their religious beliefs forbid the use of medicines. And just last year it was publicly revealed that Susan Smith's stepfather- a prominent member of the Christian Coalition- not only admitted to molesting her as a teenager, but also had a brief affair with her prior to her killing her two sons. Are these examples of what the Coalition considers to be family values?

Worse yet, religion has a long history of human atrocities committed in the name of God; the most heinous of events that come to mind being the Salem witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition. Clearly these events have not been beneficial to the family and to children.

So let's regulate religion! Let's get laws passed that prohibit religious groups from endangering the safety of children. Let's outlaw future versions of Jim Jones or David Koresh from causing mass murders in the name of God. Let's regulate how religious groups distribute funds so that no future fraud can be committed against families.

Wait a minute? We can't regulate religion? Why not?

First Amendment? Freedom of Religion?

Aw, come on! What is a constitutional right in comparison to the safety of children and the sanctity of the family? How can you claim First Amendment freedoms when children are exposed to potential dangers? How can you be so defiant to protecting children against this tremendous burden of evidence? Don't you care?

Sound familiar? I thought so.

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