Friday, July 13, 2007

You can't make this stuff up

Just when you think the "religious right" can't get any more intolerant and ridiculous...then they do. This week, those of us in Washington have had the dubious pleasure of hosting a lot of folks protesting against the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This is "the hate crimes bill," which would add disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of protected classes covered by federal hate crimes laws, and would provide resources for local and state law enforcement to prevent and prosecute hate crimes.

Apparently a few people are upset about this bill, believing (erroneously) that this would criminalize religious statements against homosexuality. They are very upset about pastors being "silenced" and argue that the bill is a "serious threat to religious liberties".

In an incident which makes it abundantly clear whose religious liberties they're concerned about, some of these folks disrupted yesterday's Senate opening prayer. Apparently the individuals had decided to visit the Senate gallery while they were in town, and they coincidentally picked the day a Hindu clergyman offered the first Hindu opening prayer at the Senate (usually this prayer is led by the Senate Chaplain, a Christian cleric, although it has been led by Jewish and Muslim leaders in the past).

I really can't understand how people like this can so misunderstand the fundamental principles of religious liberty on which this country is based! Have they just missed ever reading the Constitution? For the Senate to have opened its sessions with Christian, Jewish, Muslim—and yes, Hindu—prayers is an acknowledgement of America's diverse faith traditions, and the religious liberty that distinguishes us from so many countries. This liberty is one of our true strengths, one which we should appreciate.

The best part of this story is, as one of my friends put it, "it’s about how people who came to DC to protest the hate crimes bill for muzzling clergy ended up… silencing clergy!!!! You can’t make this stuff up". No, we can't.

Once upon a time, Unitarian clergyman Rev. Edward E. Hale, then Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, was asked if he ever prayed for the Senators. “No,” he responded, “I look at the Senators and then I pray for the nation!” We should all pray for our nation when, in incidents like this one, we are shown the ugly intolerance which is all too widespread among us.