This week the House of Representatives passed a bill, the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1998, that would require the United States to enact sactions against any government that is involved in religious persecution. This seems like a really great idea. I mean, who wants to defend religious persecution?
Well, that's a more complicated question than at first it seems to be. It turns out that many allies and trading partners of the United States are involved in some form of persecution of religious minorities. For example, the Christian Scientists say that they are being persecuted by the German government. Are we really going to impose sanctions on Germany?
One also has to wonder why religious persecution is being singled out as a rationale for sanctions. What about other forms of persecution? Is it okay for a government to persecute its citizens so long as it isn't for religious reasons?
But hey, here at Irregular Jonathan, we know that it isn't the details of a piece of legislation that matter. What counts is how a new law would make us feel, and boy is this a feel-good bill.
I even have a suggestion of a government that could be our first target: the State of Tennessee. Now, it may be hard for you to believe that the government of Tennessee actually sanctions the persecution of its citizens on the basis of religion. After all, Tennessee's in the middle of the Bible Belt. Everyone knows that the people down there are some mighty good God-fearing folks.
It turns out that the Tennessee government may be just a little too God-fearing. The state has a long-standing practice of denying the rights of a particular religious minority - those who don't believe in God at all. Let's not forget that this is where a man was put on trial for and convicted of teaching biological evolution in his public school classroom.
It turns out that this persecution is formalized in the Tennessee Constitution, which states in Article IX, Paragraph 2 that
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.You'll notice that this text has two requirements for holding a governmental position in the State of Tennessee. First, the candidate has to believe in God. Second, the candidate must believe in "a future state of rewards and punishment". That means that to hold governmental positions in Tennessee you must believe in both Heaven and Hell. None of you soft-hearted liberal Christians need apply.
In an interesting twist, the same Constitution forbids priests and ministers from holding public office, stating
Whereas Ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no Minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.My, my. Those Tennesseeans sure found a lot of ways to prevent someone from joining the government on religious grounds. Who would have thought that they'd be able to simultaneously persecute atheists and priests?
I've never heard of a clearer case of government-sponsored religious persecution, and I'm sure that our national government will move quickly against Tennessee once this great bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the President. They'll close off the borders, arrest Al Gore, and forbid the distribution of country music and Jack Daniels whiskey. I'm sure that this is exactly what Speaker Gingrich and his conservative Republican allies had in mind all along.
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