Indiana Plans an “Independence from the US Constitution” Celebration in July 2015

Georgia made religious snake handling a felony in 1941, with sentencing guidelines being twenty years for promoting handling and the death penalty for the accomplices of any snake that took someone’s life with a venomous bite. These penalties were considered unjust by Georgia juries, and because they failed to convict time and time again, the law was repealed in 1968 – it could be they thought the death of a church member through faith based ritual as penalty enough, or considering the ritual itself signified faith and trust in God, they may have even considered that God’s justice had already been done. Religious extremism is no different than any other devotion when practiced by human beings, though it’s assumed God would especially favor such religious devotees. While the spirit and intent of the US Constitution recognizes every person’s right to determine and practice their chosen religion or none, with law abiding reasoning and logical conclusions, religious freedom Constitutionally ends when the practitioner would endanger someone or infringe on anyone else’s rights.

On March 26 2015, Mike Pence, the conservative Governor of Indiana signed into law State Bill 101 to further religious freedoms – as though the Constitutional rights weren’t enough. The Indiana law itself is said to go beyond any similar law in the US today. Although he denies it, it’s believed the Governor’s reason is essentially because some of his supporters feel persecuted for not being allowed to discriminate against others on religious grounds. And while his signature might have been welcomed by anyone who would discriminate against others, a controversy is brewing as potential would-be victims, along with friends and equal rights proponents, have already engaged in fighting against it – so much for Indiana’s Hoosier hospitality reputation while bringing diminishing tax revenues upon itself. Regardless of whether or not religious extremists intend to violate the rights of others, the new law goes into effect July 1 and this may be a call for all snake handlers and religious freedom lovers to descend on Indiana for a 4th of July combination of Independence from constitutional rights and religious freedom to impose celebration.

Any law privileging specific religious interpretations over the rights of others would be a clear violation of the US Constitution’s separation of church and state clause, which is supposed to guarantee freedom from any religion being imposed on anyone. If no one exercises the privileges granted, I suppose any enabling law is harmless – as would be any law legalizing murder if no one committed it. To make part of the argument against SB 101, we’ll take a quick look at another religion for which many SB 101 supporters already have an unfounded paranoid-phobia. In the spirit of religious equality, one can only conclude that proponents of any law granting religious freedoms to others would not be opposed to Islamic Sharia law unless they’re only seeking exceptions for their personal religion of choice – which would be automatic discrimination against any other religious or non-religious person or groups. While it’s almost certain the Governor didn’t have Sharia law in mind when signing SB 101, we can never be sure with politicians concerning undefined freedoms as yet unseen. Mr. Pence and supporters of SB 101 will look awfully foolish when Sharia law is legally enacted in some Indiana township or county as part of their legacy. The fact remains that any law, regardless of which faith it preferences, allowing actions contrary to any Constitutional rights of any other person or group, requires a liberal amount of intellectual dishonesty and/or outright intent to defy Constitutional law through the legal gymnastics and pretzel logic required to advocate it.

While the Christian Religion, with its birth from Judaism, is thought a cornerstone of US conservatism, I suspect it would have been some pretty open minded liberals who embraced Moses descending Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments in hand. It’s likely he had considerable charisma or political clout as he revealed the edicts of God and thereby compelled new believers. Any lesser esteemed person may have been sent back up the mountain for further proof and possibly with the presence of witnesses to later testify on behalf of both himself and God. Quite possibly when Moses first descended the mountain with the newfound religion, his tribe might have banished him altogether if they were staunch conservatives. None of those things happened. But written accounts recorded a thousand plus years after Moses time, exampling him and his miracles as absolute proof God had spoken, were well enough received. And as far as we know, there’s never any acknowledgement by believers regarding the human inclination to write things in a way that benefit the writers themselves or the religious leaders that might have commissioned them.

Another twenty five hundred years or so went by, and liberal open-mindedness would have been required again with secondhand witness upon secondhand witness telling how the son of God turned water into wine only to be outdone by rising from the dead and ascending into heaven – giving us the birth of Christianity. One must be either an open minded liberal or socially indoctrinated to believe these miracles actually took place as written. Anyone claiming new and similarly undocumented miracles today would be considered delusional by the vast majority, and without any previous history, most would likely think any new religion was made from scratch by an active imagination. Conservative religious logic says so many believers couldn’t be wrong generation after generation, and one only needs to have faith; but this doesn’t explain why the world was never flat. This is not to argue there is no supernatural being or conscious creator of mankind and life on earth – that is another argument altogether and we’ll stick with what’s factually known concerning snake handling, religious persecutions, and equal rights.

Infinitely unfortunate for all concerned today, is that God doesn’t send messengers in advance of miracles or natural disasters meant to inform and punish mankind – as it would then be nearly impossible to dispute God’s hand at work while there’d be plenty of witnesses with video cameras recording the miracles of any foretold events. But as things stand, interpretations after the fact, or while God confirming events occur, are revealed by men who claim God himself speaks through them, or they with superior knowledge and insight speak on his behalf.

Back in the late 1980’s there was extra-ordinarily large billboard along Interstate 10 in Louisiana proclaiming “AIDS – God’s judgment has come”. And today, I hear some now believe God delivered hurricane Katrina to Louisiana specifically to teach the state a lesson because of that self-righteous billboard – a prideful billboard – with pride being one of the seven deadly sins. In fact many prominent religious personalities gave their interpretation after the fact as to why God brought Katrina down on New Orleans, though I don’t recall the billboard being mentioned at that time. Ovadia Yosef, a Rabbi scholar in Israel stated among several other things,

Bush [President G. W. Bush] was behind Gush Katif [the Gaza settlement bloc]. He encouraged Sharon to expel Gush Katif… We [Israelis] had 15,000 people expelled here, and there [in Louisiana] 150,000. It was God’s retribution… God does not short-change anyone [meaning his favored chosen ones].

Pastor John Hagee, the founder of a Christian Zionist group, Christians United for Israel, didn’t exactly agree with the good Rabbi and stated Katrina was,

God’s retribution for a planned gay pride parade…

And although not a miracle or natural disaster, one event we know of did take place after God revealed his plan directly to the man who would implement it as reported by the man himself, George Bush. With plenty of liberally open-minded believers, Bush’s account of God’s directive to invade 2003 Iraq helped convince the US public to support the invasion. Al Qaeda in Iraq with the Jordanian Al-Zarqawi as the leader, came into existence as a direct result of what may have actually been Bush’s own self-fulfilling prophesy as noted. Shortly after hurricane Katrina landed, Al-Zarqawi declared,

I believe the devastating hurricane that hit the United States occurred because people in Iraq or Afghanistan — maybe a mother who had lost her son or a son whose parents were killed or a woman who was raped — were praying for God and God accepted their prayers.

By examining the above quotes, all from religious believers with substantial followings, anyone can see the reasons behind natural disasters are predisposed to the sentiments of what God’s divine justice and retribution would be as determined by the religious interpreter’s own point of view – apparently God paints with a broad brush and intends to leave things open for interpretation as part of what some would say is God given free will. And God given free will to liberally lie may have been exactly what George Bush was exercising when he revealed his directive from God – along with many other outright falsehoods and mischaracterizations from his administration designed for the purpose of attacking Iraq. Short of an infallible lie detector we can’t possibly know the truth regarding exactly what God, or some other supernatural being, revealed to the President – we do know George Bush was certainly no prophet as he still looks for WMD’s under rugs every time he thinks about his Presidency and experiences in the Whitehouse. We also know a million people, innocent of what Bush accused Iraqi’s of, have been killed directly and indirectly as a result of Bush’s 2003 invasion, along with millions more who’ve consequently been displaced. One can only imagine how interpreters of various religious doctrines would explain God’s actions if a similar assault, with consequences of scale, were imposed on the USA.

While giving credit where due, the credited founder of snake handling, Tennessee’s George Went Hensley never learned to read, which wasn’t entirely his fault because no one truly makes themselves to begin with, nor do they make the world and civilizations encountered in life, though a few do manage to start a new religion or sect that gathers followers and George Hensley was definitely one of those. By taking certain Biblical phrases literally in meaning, Hensley interpreted that handling venomous snakes was confirmation of ones faith in God, and God would protect any such firm faith believer from resulting harm. With a great deal of liberal open-mindedness present among those attending his religious rituals, Pastor Hensley simultaneously introduced the sincerity of his beliefs and the power of faith in God across the Appalachian southeast and as far west as Indiana. The law didn’t take kindly to the Pastor’s teachings and snake handling was outlawed in all places with the one exception of West Virginia. Back in Georgia at first glance the twenty year prison sentence or death penalty may have sounded a bit stiff, until considering innocent life was taken when a six year old died from the snake bite which prompted the harsh penalties. Georgia lawmakers obviously understood the persuasiveness and power that turns seeing into believing where religion and God are concerned. And because very few citizens saw the child die from the snake’s bite, state lawmakers thought it wise to nip the practice in the bud to keep it from blooming any further; but as previously noted, the law was essentially annulled by Georgia juries failing to convict the well-meaning and faith affirming religious extremists.

America is full of conflicts and collective hypocrisies. Though very few religious followers would admit it, a large number of conflicts are instigated by those wanting to adhere to interpreted religious doctrine rather than the law of the land. I suppose in all fairness to truth, we could refer to them as religious patriots more so than American patriots – though again it’s certain many would deny the obvious undeniable facts of their religious priority while getting angry that anyone would say such a thing – an honest dilemma many would loathe to discuss. Many believers mistakenly interpret that religious freedom means they have the right to liberally impose their religious beliefs on you, as they consider their beliefs the word and directives of God, which of course trumps everything else. Most believers instinctively go with the prevailing religious winds regardless of how it conflicts with any other realities. They’ll takes the side of one religious doctrine and interpretation over another, while also finding comfort in shared beliefs as tribally practiced among their congregate – belonging to something bigger and better than themselves and communally reaffirming their sentiments, rational and otherwise – they’re free to do so with God’s given free will blessing. But under certain interpretations God’s blessings conflict directly with our nation’s laws which forbid denying equal rights, or discriminating against anyone for religious reasons – with maybe the exception of Indiana…

Exactly when conservatism took control of religious ideology makes no difference, but it necessarily would have been after it was entrenched in the social culture because as we’ve seen, it takes a liberal mind to embrace a new religion or changes in religious concepts from their beginnings. As paradoxical as all of this is, the teachings attributed to Christ himself would seem to make for a more peaceful world if adhered to, but many who profess to be Christians are also the first to put the words attributed to Christ himself aside only to accept some other Biblical phrase interpreted in such a way as to allow, or even command they discriminate against or impose on someone else’s rights. We do this collectively with our wars when interpreting that God is always with us, even as our government and media deceive us to initiate attacks and invade foreign lands – exactly as we did in 2003 Iraq. And some are trying to do the same thing domestically through religious interpretations, demonizing someone not like themselves, while acting on religious freedom to discriminate – which can lead to hatred if it doesn’t already exist, and violence if it’s not already planned – all of which might now be interpreted by some believer as being condoned by the State of Indiana, or perhaps it’s all a go ahead signal from God himself. And if people are going to interpret all events from a religious perspective of self-righteousness according to their personally selected interpretation of God’s will, then they might as well consider themselves God himself.

Whether any reader believes creation resulted from a conscious supernatural being, or from some combination of unconscious elements and energy that created all of life and mankind, George Henley’s death from a snake bite in July of 1955 suggests his beliefs contained misinterpretations of God’s conscious or unconscious truth. Some would undoubtedly say George had a moment of doubt at the wrong time. Today as people and institutions, professing to honor God and religion, orchestrate self-serving deceptions, including deceptions of the self, a liberal amount of latitude in what God would condone or accept is required as they exercise their free will to deny others equal rights, property or life itself – this is why the US Constitution has the freedom of and freedom from religion clause – to keep us from fighting about religion and possibly killing each other.

Mark Weiser was thrown into this world without any say as to when, or where, and to whom he would be born. He says his story is the same as all others in that respect as we all come from this same earth and began the same way. There is absolute truth in all matters among human kind, even if it’s that truth we’re afraid to acknowledge or don’t yet know. The truth where he's concerned is preferable to anything else; it’s where his search began and where it never ends. Read other articles by Mark, or visit Mark's website.