A dear, rather conservative friend of mine posed a question to me a few days ago. He asked how far should First Amendment freedoms stretch? He asked this question in the context of California's Prop 8, since many Mormons backed this hate-bill to keep their adoption and other programs from being dismantled because they need the ability to discriminate against gay people. That's their "freedom of speech," by the way. I'm a firm advocate of First Amendment rights, to be sure, but I think in this country today we are blurring the line between speech and action.
I believe it is a bigot's right to think he is superior (for whatever convoluted reason) to women, blacks, Latinos and homosexuals. He can have a website, a private clubhouse and even an organization to promote and air his stupidity. I do not believe he has the right to start up a "whites only" adoption agency and use his First Amendment rights as a shield against any criticism for doing so. He can't have a "whites only" school or hospital, either. He certainly does not have the right to use his convictions as a reason to be shielded from disciplinary action if he chooses to enact violence on someone he believes he is superior to. These things are not "free speech."
My view of the First Amendment extends to religious organizations, as well. I do not believe that Catholic hospitals should have the right to deny a woman an abortion that would save her life. I do not believe that the Mormon church should be allowed to run an adoption agency that will never consider adopting children out to a healthy, committed gay couple with the means to give those children a good and fulfilling life. I do not believe that churches should be able to use tax dollars to fund "therapists" that will tell your gay son how wrong he is to be gay or tell an abused woman how important it is to submit fully to her husband.
Everything I listed above is unacceptable. I think you should be allowed to say whatever you want, but do not expect to access federal or local tax dollars to fund it. I also have come to realize that there are some basic agencies and services that religion should not be allowed to have a hand in. There should be NO religious adoption agencies. If the birth mother wants the child raised in a certain religion, it is her right to choose a couple from that religion to raise her baby. But no adoption services should be operated solely from a church. That service begs for governmental oversight. The same with hospitals, pharmacies, and other basic human services.
In other words, you can have your religion and be proud of it. Go to your religious services, take religious classes, practice your religion in your home and teach it to your children. Use your OWN money to send your kids to a religious school. But do not expect to have those beliefs enforced on anyone outside your church and especially don't expect special treatment or government money because of those beliefs. Enjoy them on your own time and dime.
In the past few days, as I thought over my view on First Amendment rights, I also began to really think about the concept of "small government," as well. I've realized that my own beliefs on this front have evolved over my lifetime, and I can now say I do NOT believe in small government. I am not afraid of government programs designed to help the less fortunate or in paying higher taxes to fund those programs. The power of "big government" does not scare me in the least. In fact, every time someone tells me that "big government" is a bad thing, and I bring up the fact that the poor need help feeding their children or finding a warm place to sleep, they state that they can get help from their local church.
No! A religious answer to a secular problem is wrong. So an atheist who is down on his luck has to choke down his pride and sacrifice his beliefs to get a hot meal? A secular humanist mother needs to go to a church that will help provide her children with daycare so she can get a job, but she just has to accept the indoctrination of her children that comes with that "free" help? Unacceptable!
No, the power of "big church" scares the shit out of me. When churches have taken our tax dollars to fund their hate speech, to further their agenda, and to wield enough power to have their demands written into law, that scares me. It scares me a whole hell of a lot more than the idea of funding a welfare program that gives women the opportunity to stay home with their babies until they're old enough to go to school. It makes the idea of someone fearing Universal Healthcare laughable. It makes me believe that small government is not what we need to be focusing on; "small religion" should be our goal!
We need to take back our country from the churches! Religion is slowly choking out our country's ability to be great by allowing its fundamentalists to infiltrate the government. No faith-based program should be allowed to access federal dollars. Period. If you want to feed the homeless or provide an after-school program for inner city kids, I applaud you. But either fund it from your church's coffers, or keep your religion out of it.