Here behind the Zion Curtain conversations that contain the words "freedom" and "religion" are usually joined by the preposition "from." The context, of course, is the muscle the Mormon Church either overtly or covertly exerts over governmental policies that affect every citizen, Mormon or not.
Still, we're enjoying a fresh debate about getting the Mormon-dominated government of Utah out of the socialized liquor sales business. Teetotaling state legislators have finally noticed that a state-run liquor agency with its maze of abstruse regulations is contrary to both the exercise of free agency and the purity of their conservative values. And we finally have evidence that Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is also hopelessly corrupt.
'Reminds me of what the Roman Senator Tacitus noted a couple of millennia ago: "In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous." It just warms the cockles of my religious heart to see that our lawmakers are thinking about repenting.
But Utah's noxious liquor control system is a minor irritant compared to the religious-driven issues outside of our state's borders.
You see, elsewhere in our country the conversations that contain the words "freedom" and "religion" are more often joined by the preposition "of." For example, here in Utah we see new church construction going on all over the place with nary a breath of interference from municipal or county officials. It just doesn't occur to Utahns to impede building churches, regardless of who's driving the nails.
By contrast, last week a Foursquare Gospel congregation on the east side of San Francisco Bay has resigned itself to suing the city of San Leandro for the serious financial losses they suffered when the city refused to allow them to build a church. How much money did the congregation lose? The losses began with over a million dollars in mortgage payments for property they were not allowed to build on. Then, when the church finally gave up and sold their property, they lost another two million dollars.
The city of San Leandro has spent about $600,000 in legal costs pushing the church around. Why? They want property taxes, which the church would be exempt from paying. Unfortunately for San Leandro and its citizens who will ultimately be paying the damages through their own taxes, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act makes it clear that taxes are not a compelling governmental interest to be used to prevent a church from building on its property.
More clever municipalities and counties like San Francisco are restricting churches through a pernicious system of building codes. But happily, that kind of interference doesn't happen in Utah.
However, the federal government has entered the restriction of religious freedom fray.
Also last week in a national meeting Roman Catholic Bishops were obliged to condemn both state and the Obama administration's moves to generally marginalize religious people. At issue are the insufficient exceptions provided in state and federal laws for religious care-giving agencies.
For example, Catholic Charities in Illinois have been cut off from providing services for adoptions and foster-care placements. Why? Because, Catholic religious convictions won't allow them to recognize Illinois' new civil union law and gay marriage.
There's a similar gay marriage dispute in the state of New York involving both Catholic and Orthodox Jewish family service agencies.
The federal department of Health and Human Services has opened up another battleground against religious care-giving agencies who are helping refugees who are victims of human trafficking -- women and children who were enslaved to prostitution. The feds have cut off contracting with care-giving agencies that can't provide contraception and abortion services because of religious convictions.
And the Obama administration has declared open warfare against the majority of religious people in America by refusing to support the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Why? Because, the principle of marriage between a man and a woman is, in the president's words, "counter to the Constitution."
Freedom doesn't ring as loudly for religious people in America as it used to.
Here in Utah it's irritating to have to deal with the baloney it takes to buy a bottle of wine or order a martini. But I'll take those irritants over the systematic restrictions on religion that are increasing elsewhere in our country.