The New York Times today reported on a sad and worrisome situation in Vallejo, Calif.
Though the community faces a financial crisis, much like the rest of the country, The Times asserts the town is also struggling because "its political system increasingly reflects the influence of evangelical churches."
The story provides several examples where this influence can be seen, particularly through the town's intolerance of the recently growing gay community.
Vallejo's gay candidates for public office have been targets of a coalition of local churches who call themselves the "faith community."
Gary Cloutier, who ran as an openly gay candidate for mayor in 2007, said he was asked at a "faith forum" (the only political debate gay candidates were invited to participate in) whether he would "bring the Folsom Street Fair to Vallejo," referencing San Francisco's "notorious public display of sexuality."
While Cloutier was serving on City Council, he recalled several run-ins with evangelical activists.
"I was disturbed because they called America a Christian nation," he told The Times.
The problem also extends to the public schools in Vallejo. Earlier this year, a lawsuit was settled between a gay student and her public high school. The student asserted that the staff harassed her and told her she was going "to hell." The case settled for $25,000, and the school was ordered to adopt anti-discrimination policies.
Vallejo, unfortunately, is not the only place where religious groups are seeking to exercise control over everyone's life. In fact, in the last few weeks, the situation in Vallejo is being mimicked right here in our nation's capitol.
Already this month, the Catholic bishops pushed their religious doctrine into the House version of the health care bill and the Catholic Archdiocese in D.C. threatened to cut off services to the homeless if the D.C. Council passed the current version of the same-sex marriage bill.
Adding to that, today in the nation's capital, Roman Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox leaders released the "Manhattan Declaration," which addressed how they believe abortion, marriage and religious liberty should be treated in the United States. The declaration essentially calls for the the narrow theological views favored by these groups to be binding on all, and it promotes the idea that believers can refuse to comply with certain laws.
The Declaration "calls Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not – under any circumstance – abandon their Christian consciences."
The Declaration states, "[W]e will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia or any other anti-life act; nor will be bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family."
It continues, "We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, UNLESS the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral."
These religious leaders claim this declaration is meant to protect religious liberty and the freedom of the church. But their real agenda is clear: They want to push their religious doctrine into our laws, and if legislators do not comply, they say religious groups should be exempt from any laws they don't like simply because they have determined the laws to be "unjust" or "immoral" based on the tenets of their faith.
Since when did anyone have a free pass to violate the Constitution and our laws just because it goes against their version of morality?
This is an arrogant move on the part of these religious leaders, and we hope most Catholics and evangelical Christians do not agree. After all, I doubt they want to see their houses of worship drawn into politics in this way.
As the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said today, "This declaration is certain to be deeply divisive. These religious leaders want to see their doctrines imposed by force of law, and that goes against everything America stands for.
"The United States is an incredibly diverse nation," he continued, "and it would be a disaster if government started favoring on religious perspective over others."