KETZENBERGER: With religion, to welcome one is to welcome all

January 18, 2014

I read recently that a proposed statue of a goat-headed figure of Satan, known as Baphomet, is a bad idea on the grounds of Oklahoma’s Capitol.

State Rep. Earl Sears told the Associated Press that the New York-based Satanic Temple’s plans were “an insult to the good people of this state.”

For good measure, the Republican from Bartlesville, Okla., added, “I do not see Satanism as a religion, and they have no place at the state Capitol.”

It’s a little amusing this whole episode was spurred by the Ten Commandments. The Legislature determined in 2012 that a privately funded monument to the biblical code should be erected near the Capitol’s north steps.

Now the Hindus want in. So does an animal rights group and another that calls itself The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

The whole thing’s tied up in court, though, because the Oklahoma Legislature thinks it’s OK to pay homage to the Ten Commandments but not OK to give a nod to Lucifer, Beelzebub, enemy of righteousness.

I’m sure they teach civics in Oklahoma, so Sears cannot claim ignorance for his misguided stance. If an insult has indeed been committed, it’s against the U.S. Constitution and the first First Amendment right that guarantees “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Granted, we’re talking about a state’s actions here, but it’s clear the Oklahoma Legislature has endorsed Christianity. Now the American Civil Liberties Union has asked the courts to look at their own precedents and acknowledge such an endorsement is unconstitutional—with one big, honking exception: The Legislature could open the grounds to all religious groups.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see what the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster come up with for a monument on the Capitol grounds. I know at least one guy who’d join me in a road-trip to Oklahoma City to see it.

Look, I’m not down with Satanism, but I can appreciate the irony of the enemy of righteousness stirring such righteous Christian indignation. If only these folks showed the same zeal for the Constitution they swear to uphold. You know, the parts about granting rights to everyone, especially those who don’t happen to think the same way you or I or they do.

Exhibit No. 2 from the Sooner State: “I think you’ve got to remember where you are. This is Oklahoma, the middle of the heartland,” the AP quoted Rep. Don Ames as saying. “I think we need to be tolerant of people who think different than us, but this is Oklahoma and that’s not going to fly here.”

The last I checked there was a star for Oklahoma among the 50 on that beautiful blue square on the American flag, so equal rights ought to fly there.

Let’s take a step back from this silly brouhaha and think for a second about what’s really going on in so many aspects of our public lives. Somehow we’ve forgotten the difference between election and governance and the basic structure of our democratic republic. Just because some legislator gets 50.1 percent of the vote does not make him right all the time. Majorities often are wrong.

The majority does control the levers of government, but not at the expense of our rights granted under the constitution.

And that’s exactly why we should not put the so-called marriage amendment up for a vote, by Baphomet! Constitutions are meant to grant rights, not deny them.•


Ketzenberger is president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, a not-for-profit dedicated to non-partisan research into the state’s tax policies, and tweets at @JohnKetz. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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