“Religious Liberty” Comes to Tennessee

The moment you ignore, or do away with, individual liberty, you start developing all kinds of nonexistent liberty.

There is no liberty without the individual. The moment you express the concept “liberty,” you’re implying that someone enjoys this condition, or should enjoy it.

If you talk about the liberty of a group, an institution, or an inanimate object, you’re not only inaccurate. You’re also denying liberty to some individual, or group of individuals, merely by doing it.

That’s what we see happening now with the proliferation of “religious liberty” laws throughout the country.

Case in point:

Tennessee lawmakers approved a bill on Monday that seeks to expand religious liberty protections for students in public schools.

The Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, which passed the state Senate 32-0, would permit students to express religious beliefs in their homework, artwork and written and oral assignments without academic punishment or discrimination.

The legislation’s primary sponsors, state Rep. Courtney Rogers (R) and Sen. Ferrell Haile (R), introduced the measure after a teacher asked a 10-year-old student to choose a subject other than God to write about as the person she admired most, according to the Associated Press. The state House passed the bill earlier this month by a vote of 90-2.

Haile characterized the legislation as a pre-preemptive safeguard against potential lawsuits challenging school officials for permitting religious expression, according to the Tennessean. [Source: HuffingtonPost.com 3/26/14]

Religiously conservative parents wish to have the liberty to teach their students what they wish. They blame the fact that they cannot on socially liberal texts and publications provided for their children in public schools.

But socially liberal parents can make the same argument — and now will, in response to this kind of law.

So whose rights are to prevail? The rights of the socially liberal parents to teach their children one way? Or the rights of the religiously conservative parents to teach their children another way?

There is no solution. Somebody has to be sacrificed. If it’s the Obama Administration in Washington setting the policy, it will be happy to sacrifice the religiously conservative parents to the socially liberal ones. If it’s the state legislature of Tennessee setting the policy, then the socially liberal or moderate parents will be sacrificed.

The reason for this conundrum? People have lost sight of the only basic individual right that matters: To be free from force. The entire public school system, by definition, is based on coercion. People are forced to pay for these schools whether they want them, or not. The policies of the schools are set not by an owner or board who responds to the self-paying students and parents; the policies are set by the government — at the local level, or even nationally.

Claiming that you have “religious freedom” means that your “right” to exercise tenets of your religion comes above the rights of the individual. If this were true, then there’s nothing wrong with the Islamic regime of Iran. People are simply exercising their basic right to express their religion, which includes things such as enslaving women, hanging gay people, and the like.

I realize that many proponents of these laws, such as the Tennessee one, simply say, “I want the right to teach my kid what I think is true, not what some bureaucrat in Washington DC thinks is true.” OK, then: Fight for private schooling. Fight for the separation of education and state. It’s the public school system that’s your enemy, not the particular policies of any one public school. Fight for the right for freedom in education and, as a minimum starting point, tax credits for parents to send their children to schools of their choice if they don’t like the public schools for any reason.

Socially speaking, I’m more on the side of the social liberals than the religious conservatives. Personally, I am not religious at all. But I have no more sympathy for the social leftists who wish to impose their views (some of them my own) by force than I do with those who wish to impose whatever they wish in the name of “religious liberty.” Many of these social leftists are no less fascist and no more tolerant of dissension than the worst of those you’ll find in the most intolerant religious establishments. In fact, at root they’re all the same: Control freaks who don’t care anything about rights, only about coercion above rational persuasion and freedom.

Until or unless we all come to understand that there’s only one kind of liberty — individual — this civil and social warfare in our society will only get worse.

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