Poling: Plus ça change ...
The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.
The good citizens of San Francisco have managed to tear themselves away from a crippling state budget crisis long enough to place a ballot measure outlawing circumcision. Being represented by Nancy Pelosi would unbalance me, too, so I don't want to be too judgmental.
Nah, I do.
What is at stake here is nothing less than the choice between the French and American visions of the social good. Liberté or liberty, sometimes the choice is clear. In San Francisco it couldn't be any clearer.
Our revolutions took place within a stone's throw of one another, chronologically. But while the French sought to institute a creedal secularism, we set out a constitutional vision of church protected from state, and vice versa. Our experiment was a lot less bloody, and a lot more successful.
Fast forward to today and in France Muslim girls are prohibited from covering their heads in school. This approach reflects an understanding of secularism as a militant opposition to religion, a strict requirement of conformity to prescribed standards however much said conformity might violate the consciences of citizens.
When our founding fathers pointed us toward a novus ordo seclorum, they had in mind a worldliness that allowed a variety of religious movements to express themselves in virtually any way that wouldn't impinge upon others. So while we don't allow the recreational use of peyote our society allows it as an expression of Native American religious observance. We'll make you take off the veil for your driver's license picture, but we'll let you wear it in class. And we'll allow you to raise your children according to the dictates of your religion, unless doing so presents an imminent threat to the child's physical health.
How is this definition adjudicated? With care, and with great respect -- at least in this country -- for the deeply held religious convictions of the people involved. If there's no overwhelming medical reason to oppose a practice, we're going to defer to the scruples of our fellow citizens. We do so in part because we would want them to do the same to us; we do so in part because most of us have a hard enough time making difficult decisions for ourselves, let alone for others. But mostly we do so because to be American is to be free to exercise, or not, our religious beliefs, and to have that free exercise protected against the prejudices of our neighbors.
The anti-Semitism of the anti-circumcision movement is impossible to miss, but even if we were able to cleanse the "intactivists" of that taint we would still be right to choose the American rather than the French version of religious freedom. Here we're as concerned about freedom for religion as we are about freedom from it.