The New York Times writes today about increasing political activity from the liberal end of the religious spectrum and it can’t come a moment too soon.
Some are calling the holy ruckus a “religious resistance.” Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics — souring some people on religion altogether, studies show — left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.
Frustrated by Christian conservatives’ focus on reversing liberal successes in legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage, those on the religious left want to turn instead to what they see as truly fundamental biblical imperatives — caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth — and maybe even change some minds about what it means to be a believer.
There’s a lot of ground to cover there. But we saw a scrap of it in action yesterday in the state Capitol rally of support from religious leaders for Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen. He was preemptively removed from death penalty cases by an improvident and political Arkansas Supreme Court for taking part in a demonstration against the death penalty after he’d ruled in a property rights case over a drug sold to the state of Arkansas. The manufacturer and distributor intend for the drug not to be used for executions. A lawsuit said the state had behaved dishonestly to obtain the drug for that purpose.
Griffen argues that he’s being punished for a religious belief and will sue if that punishment stands. He says he tries cases fairly. Indeed no judge acts without personal beliefs in the background on virtually any issue they hear. (I’ve said before and repeat again that I think his removal from all death penalty cases is wildly out of bounds, but that he should face some form of reprimand for giving public cause to doubt impartiality of the court by his public actions the same day he issued a ruling that had the effect of halting executions. Another judge made the identifical ruling after Griffen was removed.)
The Arkansas Legislature, which wears a Bible on its sleeve and often proclaims the glories of values and religion, once enacted a law to prevent people from being punished for religious beliefs, the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
At the rally for Griffen:
“When Pastor Griffen silently prayed while lying on a cot in solidarity with Jesus on Good Friday, he did not impose his religious beliefs on others,” said Ray Higgins, the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas, which is the organization that sponsored the rally.
Jessi Turnure at KARK/Fox 16 laid the legislature’s hypocrisy bare by getting a comment from Repiblican Sen. Trent Garner, who wants Griffen impeached for witnessing his religious belief. Doesn’t that run counter to the Religious Freedom Act?
“He’s trying to use his religion to justify his mistake,” Garner said. “While I think RFRA was an excellent piece of legislation, there’s a distinct difference between what it was meant for and what Griffen did.”
“You can’t use religion as an excuse for violating the code of ethics,” Garner said.
What Garner means is that the RFRA was meant to protect HIS brand of religion, not Griffen’s. After all, everybody knows what the Arkansas RFRA really was meant for. It was meant to give people who want to discriminate against gay people a religious excuse to do so.