January 13, 2008

My Religion Involves Screaming Gibberish

Cover of "Culture Warrior"
Cover of Culture Warrior
Growing increasingly tired of hearing conservative Christians whine about how they are persecuted against by "secular progressives," I thought it would be fun to see if I could highlight the absurdity involved in such claims. Of course, what started as a thought experiment rapidly devolved into more of a rant as I was writing it, but what the hell. I'll share it anyway.

Assume that that I decide to stand outside a local business and scream gibberish, not so much at anyone in particular but just in general. It is reasonable to expect that the police would be called and I would be arrested if I continued my behavior when they arrived. If nothing else, I would be guilty of "disturbing the peace," "creating a public nuisance," or something similar. Those of you living in big cities probably see homeless persons suffering from schizophrenia arrested for this sort of thing regularly.

Freedom of speech probably wouldn't be an issue here since I was disturbing others and since my speech has no political value of any kind but was just loud gibberish. However, if this strikes you as a viable case of my freedom of speech being restricted, then we need to change the details because I want to remove this possibility. In this case, try imagining that I am approaching passersby and yelling gibberish at them so that I am impossible to ignore and difficult to escape. Nothing coming out of my mouth is technically obscene, but there are references to unpleasantries such as "Satan," "death," and "decapitated bodies" (note to self: lay off the Slayer for awhile). This insures that parents with children present are going to be extremely upset at my presence.

On arraignment, I inform the court that I am being discriminated against on religious grounds and that my arrest represents an infringement on my freedom to practice my religion. I provide evidence that I do in fact belong to a religious group that believes [insert any nonsense you can imagine that might be used to justify my behavior].

It seems unlikely that the court would buy my argument. I am breaking laws, and, Mike Huckabee aside, religious belief is generally not considered acceptable grounds for doing so. One would expect the court's rationale to include something about how my freedom to practice my religion ends as soon as I begin to infringe on the rights of others, etc. If I were to complain of persecution, the court would probably point out that I can do what I want in the privacy of my own home but have no right to disrupt a public place in this manner.

The point is that my freedom to practice my religion is not absolute. In fact, there are many limitations on what I will be able to do in the name of my religion. Christians, you are no different. When an atheist questions your intrusive proselytizing, gay bashing, or your insistence in training your children to preach biblical nonsense at me in the store because you think its cute, you do not get to cry persecution. This is not persecution. Your religious freedom has limits. Instead of whining about Christmas wars because you overheard me complain about not wanting to listen to your Jesus-crap when I'm shopping, you should ask yourself what you would do if you had to listen to Satanic death metal every time you went to the grocery store.

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