Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rejoicing in Separation of Church and State

As I experience Pessach here in Israel, it has given me even more appreciation for the wall of separation between church and state in the US. US citizens should imagine these things being done for or given to a specific religious group of people, but not your own group, in your neighborhood/city/state/nation:

Taxpayer funded buses which segregate men from women, women being forced to ride in the back, sometimes even hidden by curtains from outside. These buses do not run on this particular religious group's deity-mandated special day, which is different from your own deity-mandated special day, regardless of whether or not you have another way to get to work.

Taxpayer funded welfare for full-time religious scholars, though not for scholars of your religion, including financial support for their deity-mandated large families, housing, food, tuition, etc. Imagine that as these families grow, they take more and more of your tax dollars for support, leaving little to maintain other needs.

Exemption from military duty to members of this specific religious group, where all other citizens are required by law to perform this service until age 40.

Laws preferring the particular deity-demands of this particular religious group, which restrict the minutia of daily life, even down to what foods you are allowed to buy and eat during particular times of the year/week.

Taxpayer funded maintenance of streets in areas where a particular religious group blockades said streets during deity-mandated times and dates, not allowing normal traffic through these areas and causing congestion in other areas. Said blockades are guarded by taxpayer funded military and law enforcement personnel.

Now, some of the Christians or other religious groups in the US may think this doesn't sound too bad. Note, however, that I specifically wrote above that the religion getting all the perks is NOT YOUR OWN. In addition, non-compliance with the laws can lead, not only to legal sanctions such as fines and what-not, but also to actually being beaten, stoned, or otherwise attacked physically.

Granted, the religion-based laws here in Israel are pretty moderate compared to, say, Saudi Arabia, and generally just make me laugh or roll my eyes. I usually don't need to go through blockaded neighborhoods to get where I want to go, with the exception of not being able to pick up my daughter after a sleepover one Saturday morning. I stocked up on bread and pitot before Pessach began. I have my Brita filter to take away the nasty smell and taste of the local well-water since the city water system has been shut off for Pessach.* I don't ride the buses. I have no desire to enter the neighborhoods/areas where I would be required to wear long skirts, long sleeves, and headcoverings.

Still, US citizens, consider if a religion NOT YOUR OWN made the laws in the US. Consider that they might start out kind of silly and just a pain in the ass. Then they might get a bit more stringent, maybe with less merciful punishments. Then, finally, they might get just plain draconian, with penalties of death for those who do not obey. And all funded and supported by YOUR tax dollars. Not such a pretty picture, huh?

I would ask all US citizens to CELEBRATE the separation of church from state. I would remind those who would sneak theocracy into our government that their particular brand of god may not be that of the majority forever. I would encourage everyone to read and learn about nations, now and in the past, which have used religion as a legal system and ask themselves if they would like to live in those nations during those times.

* True story: The mayor of Jerusalem has shut off the public water system because fishermen on the Sea of Galilee may have used leavened bread as fish bait. This fish bait may have gotten into the water, which is drinking water for the entire country. The God of the Jewish people has forbidden them to eat leavened bread during Passover. So we all get to drink and wash in local smelly, foul-tasting (at least mine is, probably most people have better wells) well water to protect us from having fish-bait breadcrumbs pass our lips.

Another fun fact, illustrating the caprice of religious laws: For many years, rabbis have railed against smoking among the religious. Their argument in the past has been that we are obligated to take care of our bodies because they were created by their God. This year, miraculously, one rabbi has finally, coincidentally JUST LAST WEEK, correctly interpreted some religious text and determined that tobacco products have LEAVEN in them and are therefore forbidden during Pessach. This despite rabbinical certification of the local manufacturers of tobacco products, who are crazy-pissed. It reeks of the same idiocy as when the LDS church's infallible leaders suddenly receive information from their God saying that the previous infallible leaders, who had received contradictory information from God, were wrong and that black people CAN join the Mormons!

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