Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dueling Monuments

There's a reason that religious displays are not generally permitted on government property in the United States. Because the Constitution forbids the government from endorsing one religion over another, once you allow the symbols of one faith to be displayed on public property you open the door to those of everyone else's. Or at least, that's how it should work.

Naturally, Poor Oppressed Christians hate the idea of being inclusive towards other religions, because they believe that unless they are being treated like special snowflakes they clearly must be victims of discrimination. That is, they want Christian symbols allowed and those of other faiths prohibited, a clear violation of one of the basic principles of religious freedom - because, I suppose, the very existence of other religions hurts their feelings.

Recently this debate has surfaced again in Oklahoma, where a monument of the Ten Commandments was allowed to be placed at the state capitol. Last week, a New York-based Satanist group called the Satanic Temple proposed a monument to Satan to accompany that of the Ten Commandments, which was soundly rejected by Oklahoma lawmakers. Some treated it as a joke, but in fact the Temple is a legitimate 501C religious organization and should therefore be legally entitled to the same rights as any other church.

The Satanic Temple represents neither a venerable nor popular religious tradition, so at least in the popular culture it's easy to dismiss. However, the Temple has now been joined by Hindus in demanding equal representation. Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, behind Christianity and Islam, with more than a billion adherents. While it's most popular in India, it's also the fourth largest religion in the United States.

“If the Oklahoma State Capitol was open to different monuments, we would love to have a statue of Lord Hanuman, who was greatly revered and worshipped and known for incredible strength and was (a) perfect grammarian,” said Rajan Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism.

State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) contributed $10,000 and raised an additional $10,000 in private funds to erect a 7-foot monument to the Ten Commandments last month on the statehouse grounds. The ACLU sued on First Amendment grounds to have the Old Testament monument removed, and a New York-based Satanist group proposed setting up its own display at the statehouse under a 2009 measure sponsored by Ritze to allow for religious displays.

The Satanists’ plans shocked and disturbed lawmakers, one of whom said he was offended because “this is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state.” That’s where the Hindus come in. The fourth-largest faith group in the U.S. – and third-largest in the world – said it would like to join the religious displays to honor Oklahoma’s Hindus and raise awareness about their faith.

Zed said he’d written the preservation commission chairman and others to ask for detailed procedures, required forms and outlines for conditions to be met for proper approval.

Since Hinduism cannot be written off as some sort of protest or performance art piece, this puts the state of Oklahoma in a bind. By allowing the Hindu statue, they anger the Poor Oppressed Christians by undermining their oh-so-special status. But by refusing to permit it, they violate a basic tenet of the Constitution.

I of course am of the opinion that they should go ahead and allow any religion that wants to put up a monument to do so - maybe Thelemites should get together and sponsor a big unicursal hexagram or something equally cool. But from the state's perspective, I can also see where this is rapidly turning into a gigantic headache. They probably would have been better off just refusing the original Ten Commandments monument and leaving it at that.

Religious freedom isn't free, folks. It has to mean the same thing for everyone, regardless of tradition.

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Nerd said...

Always love it when "Christians" represent their religion with "The 10 Commandments."

And where are the local Thelemites on this issue? Surely a giant bust of Aleister Crowley is called for.

Scott Stenwick said...

I think so too! Bust of Crowley, Stele of Revealing, whatever the folks down there want. I'll have to mention it to our Oklahoma City initiates the next time they're in town...