If quacks and bunko artists can be convicted of fraud…

Daniel Dennett throws down a challenge to various pieties.

I also look forward to the day when pastors who abuse the authority of their pulpits by misinforming their congregations about science, about public health, about global warming, about evolution must answer to the charge of dishonesty. Telling pious lies to trusting children is a form of abuse, plain and simple. If quacks and bunko artists can be convicted of fraud for selling worthless cures, why not clergy for making their living off unsupported claims of miracle cures and the efficacy of prayer?

Because of the free exercise clause, that’s why, or at least it’s one reason. The free exercise clause is a very problematic little item. One can see why it appears, and in some form perhaps is, necessary in a world where powerful people use their power to interfere with less powerful people in any way they can find, but one can also see why in the form it takes in the First Amendment to the US consitution it gives away too much. It sounds noble to ban interference with the free exercise of religion, but the free exercise of religion can mean animal torture, it can mean witch hunts, it can mean genital mutilation, it can mean forced marriage, forbidding girls to go to school, preventing children from getting needed medical treatment. As Dennett says, it can mean preachers telling people whoppers, and even extracting money from them on the basis of whoppers. It’s not all good.

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