Dig Baton Rouge

A Work In Progress

By Nick BeJeaux

Frank Herbert wrote, “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows.” I don’t know about you, but I think we have enough to worry about in Louisiana without whirlwinds kicking up everywhere. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has been happening the last few months.

Marriage equality has become the law of the land, racial and transgender issues are in the limelight, election season looms, and tensions are tightening. Here in Louisiana, prejudice disguised as religion and protected as religious freedom are likely to endure for some time, thanks to the encouragement of the false assertion that religion justifies discrimination. While the executive orders put in place by Governor Jindal may be repealed or expired after he leaves office, this idea that religion can be used as a tool of exclusion will remain. This must not stand if we are to become the country that was intended 239 years ago.

Our Founding Fathers were hardly perfect—they were human after all—but they had a vision for something greater than their times would allow. They knew progress would be slow, but nonetheless provided the framework for that progress in the Constitution of the United States. The C-word is enough to start a firestorm these days, as everyone has their own interpretation that serves their ideal worldview, myself included. However, there is no arguing with the words of the men that wrote the thing. Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote The Declaration of Independencewith the help of the majority of the Continental Congress—has very clear opinions on the matter.

I managed to dig up a quote from one of Jefferson’s letters from the collection Letters of Thomas Jefferson. In this letter, he says that the powers of governments reach only actions and not opinions and that the wording First Amendment provides for a clear separation between private religions and public governance.

Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties,” he wrote.

Gene Mills, President of the Family Forum, an organization for whom I will not attempt to hide my disdain, would have you believe that Government cannot lawfully influence religion, but religion can lawfully influence government, as he stated in his interview with WRKF’s Sue Lincoln a few weeks back. Bunk, I say; and all evidence suggests that the author of the Constitution he pointed to would agree with me.

Americans are diverse in their customs, languages, faiths, creeds, and cultures, and we have all allowed these gifts to be hijacked and twisted to support extremist views on religion, race, and policy. We can stop this by taking responsibility for these misuses, and stand up to those that would twist what makes up our identities to serve their misguided or nefarious purposes and not flinch at accusations of being “politically correct.”

In the last few weeks I’ve heard more times than I would like that political correctness is ruining the United States of America, and, apart from being false, that sentiment underscores the problems we’ve been dealing with since July 4, 1776.

The underlying issue here is respect, and a lack thereof. Political correctness is detrimental when it serves to put up a mask of affability, but it is never wrong to be respectful of your fellow man regardless of their race, religion, gender, political persuasion, or whatever. When I hear someone reserve the right to be “politically incorrect,” I hear them say they reserve the right to be insensitive, hurtful, and belligerent towards others because screw everyone else. If you do something you know is hurtful just because you can get away with it, what does that say about you? Nothing good.

We are fortunate to live in a country where we have rights of free speech and religion guaranteed by law, but since our founding, we have used these rights to mask our dark side. Humans are tribal in nature; we cluster in groups that are like ourselves and tend to be distrustful, even hostile, toward “outsiders.” There is a better way, and we have to find that better way if we’re going to have any chance of growing up. Hint: it’s not homogenizing our society and persecuting outliers.

This past weekend we celebrated the founding of the United States of America, though amid the grilled kabobs, beer, and our women’s soccer team taking home their third World Cup title, I found myself with mixed feelings on the state of our country. There’s a lot to be proud of, and a lot to be ashamed of; we’re a work in progress and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Works in progress are exciting, unpredictable, and offer hope for something beautiful and meaningful to come. But we, the People, need to work for that something beautiful and meaningful, and it won’t be easy.

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