by Jeremy Leaming
The year included some high-profile discussion, thanks to the Wall Street protests, of the nation's growing gap between the super wealthy and everyone else, and rightly so with study after study showing a clear trend of wealth redistribution to the top 1 percent of earners. (Though apparently large numbers of Americans are unaware or unconcerned about the hard truth.)
But the year also included a heated debate much more recognizable to Americans – over ongoing religious-fueled controversies. Yet one probably wonders does it matter. Does religious strife, serious or superfluous, ever subside? More importantly, however, are the questions and concerns that have yet to be clearly resolved over the parameters of the Constitution's religious liberty clauses.
For example, as highlighted by Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, some Catholic bishops are dumping certain tax-payer supported charities instead of complying with the federal government’s requirement that such programs be operated in a manner that does not discriminate against groups of people, such as lesbians and gay men. The bishops argue that their religious groups’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is being subverted by the government’s demand that they provide adoption services to same-sex couples.
Civil liberties groups, however, believe that the free exercise of religion does not mean that religious groups have an absolute right to trump the federal government’s power to enforce civil rights laws.
The First Amendment Center’s Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project Charles Haynes highlights another strand of controversy, proclaiming anti-Muslim bigotry is the “religion story of the year.”
Haynes cites a recent decision by Lowe’s, a Home Depot competitor, to yank advertising from a “reality” television show, “All-American Muslim.” Lowe's pulled its ads at the behest of a “conservative Christian group called the Florida Family Association.” But Haynes notes this is just one controversy in a number of actions that have unfolded nationwide that expose a “growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” Haynes has noted anti-Mosque protests, and the efforts of state lawmakers to pass anti-Shariah legislation.
Haynes notes, however, that supporters of religious freedom for all believers are pushing back in the face of an obstinate movement. (He reports that an array of religious groups is banding together to protest the decision by Lowe’s.)