It is common for religious believers to lament the Supreme Court’s barely concealed hostility to the free exercise of religion, at least since the middle decades of the twentieth century. But in the long term, even more damage is likely to be done by the influence of ideas advocated by a cluster of political and legal theorists in the academy. For these writers, religious liberty itself is a pernicious idea.Whereas, according to Hitchcock, the “no establishment” clause of the First Amendment used to be understood to protect the “free exercise” clause, it is now understood to place restrictions on religious liberty in order to exclude religion from public life. He cites authors such as, Amy Gutmann, Dennis Thompson, David A. J. Richards, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, and Cass Sunstein who argues that the government, acting as a “divine instrument” should force the intolerant to be tolerant. Hitchcock continues,
According to Kathleen M. Sullivan of the Stanford University Law School, the “establishment clause” actually establishes a culture from which there can be no legitimate dissent—in which religion is tolerated only “insofar as it is consistent with the establishment of the secular moral order.”So, what are the consequences of such ideas? Hitchock relates a 1970 Supreme Court decision,
The 1970 Yoder case, in which the Court upheld the right of Amish parents not to enroll their children in public high schools, also focused on these issues. In dissenting in the… case, Justice William O. Douglas got to the heart of the matter in asking whether parents had the right to “impose” their beliefs on their children, or whether on the contrary the state might not have an obligation to expose children to the opportunities of “the new and amazing world of diversity which we have today.” (Douglas believed that 90 percent of people were not even fit to be parents.) Logically this left it at best an open question whether parents possess the right to raise their children in a particular religion.In past posts I’ve discussed the importance of understanding the concept that authors have intended meanings in the documents they write. In treating a document as living its meaning becomes open to further, subjective interpretation. This is tantamount to re-writing the document. What we are witnessing here are not only assaults on religious liberty, but calculated attempts by deconstructionists to impose their belief system on society.