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Opinion | Weaponizing faith threatens democracy

True religious virtue encompasses the principles of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect for others.

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Last week, I ventured an optimistic prediction regarding the trajectory of the 2024 Legislative Session, anticipating a pivot away from what I termed “Red Meat” legislation towards more substantive and unifying policy efforts. This hope has been dashed, not gently, but with a stark reminder of the power of ideology over governance. The latest testament to this unsettling trend is HB385, a bill introduced by Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, under the guise of the Alabama Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act. Its implications are as profound as they are disturbing.

HB385 seeks to criminalize librarians for the supposed crime of exposing minors to “obscene materials,” a nebulous term that, under this legislation, seems poised for an alarming expansion. The bill’s approach to safeguarding morality is not only heavy-handed but perilously misdirected, threatening the core of what libraries stand for: access to a broad spectrum of ideas and information. In essence, it seeks to place librarians, those guardians of knowledge, under the specter of criminal prosecution for fulfilling their professional duties.

The motivations behind HB385 appear to stem not from a desire to govern effectively but to placate the far-right factions within the Republican Party. It is a stark illustration of using religious ideology as a blunt object, an act that undermines the very principles upon which the United States was founded. The bill’s proponents cloak themselves in the banner of protecting children, yet their method suggests a different aim: to “purify” the state’s moral landscape by severely restricting the free exchange of ideas.

This legislation represents a broader, more troubling trend: the weaponization of religion for political gain. It’s a tactic fraught with danger, one that risks eroding the secular foundation of our government, manipulating voters through appeals to faith, and deepening societal divisions. When religion becomes a tool in the political arsenal, it not only threatens the secular principles of governance but also sows discord, distracts from pressing policy issues, and infringes upon individuals’ freedom of religion. For many believers, it becomes the final straw that breaks the back of their desire to engage with any religious organization where politics is the central tenet of faith.

The case of HB385 is a microcosm of a larger battle, one where the lines between faith, governance, and personal freedom are increasingly blurred. It serves as a sobering reminder that the fight for a more inclusive, equitable society is far from over. As legislators continue to introduce bills like HB385, it’s incumbent upon us all to remain vigilant, to question the motivations behind such legislation, and to challenge attempts to impose a singular moral viewpoint on a pluralistic society.

The actions last week are once again an example of what happens when mendacity and cruelty become an intoxicating elixir for those who lust for power over their fellow citizens, using a perversion of religion to do so.

In this upside-down world where faith is defined almost exclusively in political terms, it’s essential to remember that true religious virtue extends beyond the ballot box or the halls of legislation. It encompasses the principles of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect for others. As we navigate these turbulent times, let us not lose sight of these fundamental values, for they are the bedrock upon which a truly just and open society can stand.

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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