♫ I got it, the Holy Ghost power
Do you want it, the Holy Ghost power
I need it, the Holy Ghost power
Go back to the altar
Down on your knees
Stay there ’til you get the Holy Ghost power ♫
— Who possesses that Holy Ghost power?1 Who decides with whom God sides?
Holding sincere religious beliefs and putting one’s faith into practice sometimes yields undeniable good in this world. Why, give your theistic Weekend Politics Thread host enough time, and he could even list examples of this.2
But the flaming sword of the Archangel Michael3 cuts both ways.4 The Janus-like nature of doing dogma never comes into sharper relief than when bad actors connive to convince U.S. federal court to rule on religious liberty claims in ways that advance theocracy and constrain the freedoms of practically all people.
The roster of unrighteous religiosity runs as a river through the jurisprudence of the dawning decades of the 21st century. An extremely elided evocation of this evinces egregiousness such as
- Recognizing the religious rights of for-profit corporations,
- Granting standing to nuns to invalidate a law that already exempted them,
- Signing off on a cakemaker’s refusal to sell confections for same-sex weddings, and
- Commanding state governments to fund church-affiliated religious K-12 schools.
Perhaps the worst of all such misuses of both claims to faith and the starboard-yawing judiciary hit the docket in late 2021. President Joseph Robinette Biden, as commander in chief of the U.S. military, ordered active duty and reserve personnel to receive COVID-19 vaccines, retire or resign, or face summarily dismissal.
About 10 percent of airmen, marines, soldiers, and sailors caviled, as 10 percent inevitably will. A small group of Navy SEALs went so far to file a lawsuit claiming that an RNA-based injection would so alter their mortal coils that their bodies could no longer serve as divine vessels for the Holy Spirit.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Start with the homunculus Holy Ghost heresy. Seriously, the argument rests at root on the ridiculous conception of a spirit whose genetic code alters due to human machinations. Reconvene the Council of Nicea, fer chrissakes.
Then wrap your head cannon around a noncanonical conception of a special forces operative gaining grace from eternal judgment for maiming and killing but eternally damned for protecting their own life and the health of others. Next, ignore the reality of literally no mainstream God-bothering group forbidding vaccination.
Last step, prophet. As in, invent your own theology on the fly.
And fine. Enjoying religious freedom does mean believing and saying pretty much any damn fool thing that occurs to you in order to field excuses for eccentricities and antisocial ways. The exercise of religious freedom does not, and cannot, mean compelling others to live according to your made-up rules.
Quite the opposite. Once you devote yourself to a religious stricture that places you outside the conduct of civil comportment, you need to live in the world of your own choosing. In the SEALs case, this means they have the religious right to remain unvaccinated while no longer wearing the trident. Trying to do anything else infringes on every other person’s liberty to ignore you.
Sadly, no U.S. federal court looks prepared to make this blindingly obvious reading of the Frist Amendment. Instead, a series of ruling by federal district judges in the Fifth Circuit boil down to stripping Biden of his authority to issue binding orders.5 As an upshot, troops cannot deploy, ships remain confined to harbor even as their combat group sails, and the U.S. Supreme Court salivates at a new opportunity to lurch the country toward full Christian fascism even if doing so means unleashing the anarchy of converting each individual in uniform into their own army of one for the Lord as they define Him, Her or It.
Abraham Lincoln received posthumous credit for observing, “I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” Bob Dylan upcycled this sentiment into the underheard but-once-WPT-featured “With God on Our Side.” And more recently, the Old ’97s hoped God felt as good about them as they felt about God.
Someone force a bench full of jurists to read the preceding paragraph and click on the videos. If lawyers won’t make the winning arguments, perhaps the Avocado can.
Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849). The Peaceable Kingdom, ca. 1833-1834.