Opinion Politics

Religion, North Korea and Mom

by Caleb Talley

You might not have noticed, but religious liberty and the separation of church and state has been at the forefront recently at both the state and federal level. You’d be forgiven if you missed it, with all that’s going on in the world.

Roughly two weeks ago, Sen. Jason Rapert & Co. successfully erected the Ten Commandments monument 2.0. And it’s still standing, beating the previous record of about 20 hours. And better yet, no lawsuits have been filed to have it removed. Though, they’ve been promised.

Whether or not Rapert used the monument on state property as an effort to boost his personal brand, raise funds for his own nonprofits or draw interest in his other evangelical ventures is a topic for another day. The question at hand is whether or not the monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which essentially lays the framework for the separation of church and state.

The Supreme Court has consistently ruled against religious monuments, like this one, being erected on government property. Rapert and supporters cited Supreme Court ruling Van Orden vs. Perry, which determined that the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas state capitol grounds could stay. But the Texas decision was upheld because the monument had been on their capitol grounds for more than four decades, and was just one of many monuments that represented various aspects of Texas culture and heritage.

In every single challenge to new monuments, like ours, the state lost.

But for now, it stands. And as long as it doesn’t cost the state money to defend its place on government property, I’m okay with it.

Last week, on the National Day of Prayer, President Trump signed a “Religious Freedom” executive order that set up a faith-based office in the White House that will make recommendations concerning religious liberty.

Some, especially those in the LGBTQ community, have expressed concern over the wording of Trump’s order, fearing the president left the order open-ended enough to allow the weaponization of religion as a means of discrimination. I don’t necessarily believe this will be the case (I think it’s a play by Trump to appeal to evangelicals who have grown tired of seeing their president and porn star-affairs in the same headlines). I do, however, understand where those concerns are coming from. LGBTQ allies in Arkansas know, too.

In 2015, state lawmakers tried to enact legislation that would have seemingly allowed individuals and private business owners to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs, or lack thereof. The legislation came as the Supreme Court was deliberating their historic decision on same-sex marriage. Arkansas lawmakers, apparently, saw what was coming and wanted to get out ahead of it.

They tried. Just like Indiana, under the direction of then-Gov. Mike Pence, had. Similar legislation in Indiana led to a backlash from big business, some of the state’s key employers. Predictably, Arkansas’ largest employer – Walmart – and its largest city – Little Rock – spoke out against the legislation.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson did the right thing by telling the Legislature to pump the breaks. Now, he’s taking heat for it from the political novice who wants his job. Only the hackiest of hacks would advise any candidate to personally attack the person who has the job she wants.

The state’s religious liberty measure had nothing to do with religious freedom. Everyone already has that right; it’s the first one, remember? It, instead, had everything to do with discrimination, using religion as a vehicle to do so. Freedom of religion does not grant anyone that right.

Reversely, the separation of church and state does not constitute freedom from religion. It may, in most cases, keep government from a more theistic rule of law or keep religious symbols from government property. But it does not grant non-theists the right purge religion from society.

Organizations like the Freedom from Religion Foundation use their platform to attack faith by attempting to remove chaplains from universities, take down privately owned statues and keep Bible verses off of school pep rally banners. The separation of church and state may be a constitutional principle, but the separation of society and faith is not.

We all have the right to practice our faith (or lack thereof) as we see fit, so long as we’re not physically harming others. And that’s how it should be. Religion should not be used to discriminate against those who don’t believe the same way we do, just as a lack of religion does not justify attacks on another’s faith. Live and let live.

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I will give credit where it’s due. This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, brought back three American prisoners from North Korea as the country prepares for a landmark summit with President Trump. What will come of this, no one knows – speculation means nothing at this point. But for now, we can appreciate the historic progress that has been made. Apparently, crazy responds to crazy.

I do fear, however, that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal will have negative implications for American prisoners held in Iran. There are five that we know of. And as of right now, there’s very little hope of their return.

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Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to tell my mother that I love her.

My Mom has always been there for me when I needed her, giving me more than I ever deserved. I will never be able to truly pay her back for all that she and my Dad have done for me over my 26 years. But I’ll start by saying: thank you, Mom. I love you, and happy Mother’s Day.

And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.


In Cash & Candor, Arkansas Money & Politics / AY Magazine Editor Caleb Talley aims to shoot it straight when it comes to business and politics in and around the Natural State. Talley comes to AMP by way of the Arkansas Delta, where he called balls and strikes at the Forrest City Times-Herald. He can be contacted by email at ctalley@aymag.com. Read more Cash & Candor here

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