Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
A story four days ago caught my attention and I thought I’d present it for discussion. In recent years many have claimed that there is a “war on religion” taking place in America. This “so-called war” has been the result of many rulings that have tried to enforce the cherished principle of “freedom of religion”, but of necessity could also be called “freedom from religion.” When I was young most of the stores in my neighborhood were required to close on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. This was a hardship for Jews that celebrated their Sabbath on Saturday and Muslims that celebrated their Sabbaths on Friday. It affected Asian merchants, with their own native beliefs, that didn’t have a formal Sabbath. Many of these “blue laws” have been repealed because of the reality that they are showing preferential treatment to one particular religion, in a country that is made up of many religions and whose Constitution is believed by many to ban such preferential treatment.
The Supreme Court’s most important case on “blue laws” is McGowan vs. Maryland.
“The Supreme Court of the United States held in its landmark case, McGowan v. Maryland (1961), that Maryland‘s blue laws violated neither the Free Exercise Clause nor the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It approved the state’s blue law restricting commercial activities on Sunday, noting that while such laws originated to encourage attendance at Christian churches, the contemporary Maryland laws were intended to serve “to provide a uniform day of rest for all citizens” on a secular basis and to promote the secular values of “health, safety, recreation, and general well-being” through a common day of rest. That this day coincides with Christian Sabbath is not a bar to the state’s secular goals; it neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes nor prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days.
There were four landmark Sunday-law cases altogether in 1961. The other three were Gallagher v. Crown Kosher Super Market of Mass., Inc., 366 U.S. 617 (1961); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961); Two Guys from Harrison vs. McGinley, 366 U.S. 582 (1961). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_laws
I personally disagree with the SCOTUS decision in these cases and think that the logic used is disingenuous. The purpose of the Sunday “blue laws” was of course to promote religious attendance and encourage that attendance at Christian services on Sunday. A secondary reason was one of respect to Christianity and its belief that the Sabbath day of rest demanded in the Ten Commandments was Sunday. To say that it was to serve as a “uniform day of rest for all citizens” is frankly an untruth and adds intent to these laws that was never present in their imposition. This week though another ruling came down in what I see as a related case involving what I see as our right to have “freedom from religion” and I would like to add that to the discussion.“SAN FRANCISCO (RNS) An atheist parolee should be compensated by California after the state returned him to prison for refusing to participate in a religiously-oriented rehabilitation program, a federal court ruled Friday (Aug. 23).
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that a lower court judge erred when he denied Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender and an atheist, a new trial after a jury awarded him no damages.
In a move that could have wider implications, the appeals court also ordered a Sacramento district judge to consider preventing state officials from requiring parolees attend rehabilitation programs that are focused on God or a “higher power.”
Hazle was serving time for methamphetamine possession in 2007 when, as a condition of his parole, he was required to participate in a 12-step program that recognizes a higher power. Hazle, a life-long atheist and member of several secular humanist groups, informed his parole officer that he did not want to participate in the program and would prefer a secular-based program.
According to court documents, the parole officer informed Hazle the state offered no secular treatment alternatives. When Hazle entered the program but continued to object, he was arrested for violating his parole and returned to a state prison for an additional 100 days.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety, a 12-step program with no emphasis on God or a higher power, runs multiple programs in California, but had none near Hazle’s home in Northern California during that period.
Hazle sued, alleging his First Amendment rights had been violated. The district court agreed, citing well-established rulings supporting Hazle’s claim, but allowed to stand a jury’s conclusion that he deserved no compensation.
Friday’s ruling requires Hazle be awarded a new trial for damages and compensation.
“The jury’s verdict, which awarded Hazle no compensatory damages at all for his loss of liberty, cannot be upheld,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the court’s opinion.
“The jury simply was not entitled to refuse to award any damages for Hazle’s undisputable — and undisputed — loss of liberty, and its verdict to the contrary must be rejected.”
The case now returns to the district court in Sacramento.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/barry-a-hazle-atheist-religious-rehab-california_n_3818833.html
As someone with some expertise in drug addiction treatment and who is also quite familiar with “12 Step Programs”, I have always been a little troubled by the prominence of appealing to a “higher power”, to which they give a great deal of significance. I understand that Bill W. in his original formulation was trying to cater to people of varied religious beliefs and in truth that was a good thing in that it created a somewhat universal methodology. The 12 Steps were an appeal to humanity’s spiritual nature and were also developed in the context of a world where religious beliefs held far more sway than today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_W. As interpreted then and today the appeal to a higher power is referent to a divine being. This is not necessarily so, nor is believing in a higher power necessary for a 12 Step Program to work. The proof of that was mentioned in the body of the quote above which names “Secular Organizations for Sobriety” as one example of a 12 Step Program that does not deal with a deity or paranormal force.
As this quote from Wikipedia shows that the idea of spirituality can take many different forms other than the belief in God of a Higher Power:
“There is no single, widely-agreed definition of spirituality.[note 1] Social scientists have defined spirituality as the search for the sacred, for that which is set apart from the ordinary and worthy of veneration, “a transcendent dimension within human experience…discovered in moments in which the individual questions the meaning of personal existence and attempts to place the self within a broader ontological context.”
According to Waaijman, the traditional meaning of spirituality is a process of re-formation which “aims to recover the original shape of man, the image of God. To accomplish this, the re-formation is oriented at a mold, which represents the original shape: in Judaism the Torah, in Christianity Christ, in Buddhism Buddha, in the Islam Muhammad.”[note 2] In modern times spirituality has come to mean the internal experience of the individual. It still denotes a process of transformation, but in a context separate from organized religious institutions: “spiritual but not religious.” Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric traditions and eastern religions.
Waaijman points out that “spirituality” is only one term of a range of words which denote the praxis of spirituality. Some other terms are “Hasidism, contemplation, kabbala, asceticism, mysticism, perfection, devotion and piety”.
Spirituality can be sought not only through traditional organized religions, but also through movements such as liberalism, feminist theology, and green politics. Spirituality is also now associated with mental health, managing substance abuse, marital functioning, parenting, and coping. It has been suggested that spirituality also leads to finding purpose and meaning in life”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirituality
It is quite easy for me to envision that someone can undergo a major transformation in their life, to even conclude there is meaning to it for them and yet not believe in any God or Higher Power. This transformation can be deemed spirituality in my book and yet have nothing to do with supernatural phenomena. Perhaps you differ, but I would caution you to at least consider that Mr. Hazle, in the case above, may well transform his life even if he is a confirmed atheist. He need not believe in a higher power in order to end his addiction and forcing him to serve another hundred days was indeed an unwarranted punishment.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger