October 9, 2017

Religious Liberty vis a vis the National Anthem

Let's consider for a moment that silently taking a knee and remaining quiet for the two minutes it takes to get through the national anthem at a football game is not a protest, but is instead an expression of the deeply held belief that racism, discrimination, and the killing of blacks by white police officers are all morally reprehensible acts and as such, they must be brought to light so that others will recognize them for what they are, will not participate in them but will instead condemn them, thereby empowering us to eliminate these acts from society.

If we look to the press release issued last week by US Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III on federal protections for religious liberty, it seems it might make things significantly more interesting, and significantly more difficult for white billionaire NFL owners, the white billionaire president and white billionaire advertisers to pressure or take action against the athletes who act on their freedom of religion.

Here are some excerpts from the press release (emphasis added):
Our freedom as citizens has always been inextricably linked with our religious freedom as a people. It has protected both the freedom to worship and the freedom not to believe. Every American has a right to believe, worship and exercise their faith....
As president Trump said, "... (this administration) will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore."
..Trump promised that this administration would 'lead by example on religious liberty,' and he is delivering on that promise.
According to the Sessions memo, which can be accessed from the press release, the following "principles of religious liberty" and their supporting statements are true:
Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs...it also encompasses religious observance and practice...
The free exercise of religion includes the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one's religious beliefs. 
Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square or interacting with government. 
Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
Except in rare circumstances, government may not treat the same conduct as lawful when undertaken for secular reasons but unlawful when undertaking for religious reasons.
Much as government may not restrict actions only because of religious belief, government may not target persons or individuals because of their religion.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief...
Only the interests of the highest order can outweigh legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion. 
Employers...may not fail or refuse to hire, discharge, or discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of that individual's religion...  
Apply these principles and this guidance to the NFL players who kneel respectfully during the anthem as an expression of religious liberty, vs. an expression of free speech, and what do you have?
  • Protected demonstrations of religious belief, just as protected as the sign-of-the-crossing and pointing to the heavens that occur throughout athletic competitions of all kinds as both a preliminary and celebratory action;
  • people maintaining religious freedom while participating in the marketplace, just like those who bake - or don't bake - for customers, or who sign - or don't sign - marriage licenses as government employees; 
  • people who are protected from bullying and targeting by the government, including by the president, the vice president and other members of the administration, who see linked arms as a positive display but kneeling as a negative one; 
  • people who are protected from having their beliefs challenged as not being deeply enough held;
  • people who are treated as fairly with respect to their religious beliefs as are companies that sell tchotchkes; 
  • and employees whose ability to earn a living in their chosen profession is not hindered because of their religious beliefs.

That's what our American tradition of religious liberty means, right? 

Or, do these principles only apply when someone is trying to discriminate against gays, or when someone is trying to deny women access to contraception?