Monday, June 27, 2005

The rights of man

I don't have strong feelings about today's seemingly muddled Supreme Court rulings regarding religious displays at government buildings. (For the purpose of this discussion, I'm excluding public schools, which were not involved in the court's decisions and which I believe should be regarded as sui generis when it comes to Establishment Clause cases). On the one hand, I don't see what purpose religious symbols serve at public buildings, other than to alienate nonbelievers and generally divide Americans. Nativity scenes and plaques of the Ten Commandments have nothing to do with the functions of government, and the role of religion in shaping the Republic has been largely exaggerated and misrepresented by Christian conservatives.

On the other hand, I also don't see the particular harm in, say, hanging the Ten Commandments in a court room. I understand that our Bill of Rights, which guarantees freedom of religion, is intended to protect the rights of the minority against the tyranny of the majority. But it does not promise a life free of offense, nor protection from being exposed to beliefs that contradict one's own, even if those beliefs bear the imprimatur of government. I hate to sound like a Republican, but I find it troubling that every slight, every harm, no matter how trivial, that we suffer must be litigated, resolved through official action. Life is unfair, and government has limited authority and a limited obligation to change that.


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