Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

Freedom should be defended in Madison and Cairo

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Sep 13, 2012; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A

Basic freedoms under attack
Freedom should be defended in Madison and Cairo

We are all understandably upset and angry at the news that Libyan protesters killed Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. An attack on our ambassador is an attack on our nation’s sovereignty, and it is my hope that the Obama administration reacts accordingly.

The protests in Libya followed similar protests in Egypt over the online release of an amateur film that has angered some Muslims. The protesters in Egypt at our embassy there took down the American flag and burned it. They attempted to raise another flag in its place.

Rather than be outraged by this behavior, the American embassy in Egypt issued a statement apologizing to offended Muslims and condemning the “abuse” of free speech.

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

Such is the mentality of President Obama’s foreign policy. We don’t need Jimmy Carter back. Basic American values are already being held hostage.

If only the “respect for religious beliefs” applied to our domestic policies as well.

This week the Wisconsin State Journal reported on the “rosary rallies” at the state Capitol. The prayer rallies began in response to a call by American Catholic bishops for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” an attempt to bring a focus on the curtailing of religious liberty in this country.

The Madison-based Freedom from Religion Foundation is closely observing the rallies. Unfortunately, the Foundation’s members are not trying to learn anything about the Catholic faith. Instead they’re hoping to catch the prayerful gathered at the Capitol saying something that might jeopardize a church’s tax-exempt status.

Imagine that. Priests and prayer leaders have to be careful what they say for fear that the Internal Revenue Service will come after them. No First Amendment right of free speech and no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

If someone says something politically incorrect, like praise for a Catholic candidate for public office who actually supports Catholic teaching on abortion and gay marriage, the power of the state via the IRS can shut them down.

And let’s remember why the “rosary rallies” are happening. The federal government has launched an unprecedented attack on religion with the abortion mandates under Obamacare. Catholic and other life-respecting religious institutions across the country will be required to purchase insurance that pays for abortions.

This has followed similar attacks on the Catholic conscience at the state level, including here in Wisconsin. It also follows other states like Massachusetts attacking Catholic values by requiring Catholic charities to recognize gay marriage when offering adoption placement services.

Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution. But we are doing a poor job of defending those basic freedoms at home and abroad.

Of course, liberals love it when religious arguments are used to their advantage, such as organized efforts by some Catholics to attack vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for his budget plans. Then religious involvement in politics is somehow OK. Even the bizarre, online religious rants of Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman Graeme Zielinski get a pass.

But if a priest or bishop reminds his flock that President Obama’s position on abortion is so extreme he voted against legislation saving the life of a baby accidentally born alive in a failed abortion? They better have really good accountants because the IRS may be coming after them.

It would be a shocking upturning of the very ideas of the Constitution that, instead of protecting the roles of religion and free speech in public life, we were to drive both from the public square. If we cannot defend those two basic values at home and abroad, then there was no need for the Egyptian protesters to tear down the American flag. We should just take it down ourselves.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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