Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Over at First Things, Meghan Duke reports what should be (but, unfortunately, really isn't) a shocking story:
While visiting the National Gallery of Art this past Saturday, I ran into a pair of errant security guards who have taken to interpreting the Constitution in their spare time.
I decided to visit the Gallery after attending the March for Life the day before. There was an exhibit on processes of photography before the digital age that I hoped would confirm me in my refusal to give up on film. After searching my bag, the two guards at the Gallery told me, “You’re good to go in, but first you need to remove that pro-life pin.” He was indicating the small lime green pin with the message “impact73.org” and the silhouette of a small hand inside that of a larger hand that I had attached to the lapel of my coat. The pin, they informed me, was a “religious symbol” and a symbol of a particular political cause and it could not be worn inside a federal building. Why, I asked, can I not wear a religious or political symbol inside a federal building? Bringing to bear the full weight of the supreme law of the land, the guards informed that it was a violation of the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution: The combination of me, wearing a pro-life pin, in a federal building was a violation of the separation of church and state.
This is ridiculous, of course, and on many levels. (I am smothering every impulse to say something snarky about the current administration's alleged dedication to common ground and respectful dialogue on the question of abortion . . . oops. Dang.) Perhaps most troubling, though, is the premise of the guard's mistaken First Amendment analysis, i.e., that a pro-life symbol (think of the little-feet lapel pins one sometimes sees) is a "religious" symbol. As Duke notes:
A pro-life pin is not necessarily a religious symbol because the pro-life movement is not a specifically religious cause. We do not argue that abortion should be outlawed on the basis of a divine mandate; we argue that it should be outlawed because children in utero are human beings with an inherent right to life, exercising the same claim to our protection of that right as other human beings. Had I been wearing a yellow bracelet that said Livestrong or a T-shirt that said Help Haiti I am sure I would not have been stopped. I would be expressing the same sort of belief—that we bear a responsibility to help a specific group of people—but no one would suspect that my views were religiously motivated, they would chalk them up to my sense of humanity. A sense of humanity entirely comprehensible apart from religion.
On the other hand, as some of us (Michael Perry, most prominently) have argued, all serious moral claims sounding in human rights in dignity are probably, in the end, inescapably "religious". Duke again:
[T]he pro-life pin is not “entirely different” from the cross. My understanding of the inherent worth of every human being is founded in a Christian worldview. While almost anyone can vaguely intuit the dignity of the human person, the Christian recognizes that it is rooted in his being the image of God, a God who descended to become one of our species and suffered and died that we might have life.