Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances…US CONT, amend 1.
The Founding Fathers have failed. They knew the dangers of allowing religion to invade the body politic and infect it with misplaced righteousness, and they attempted to separate the two, leaving politics to the Public Square and religion to the privacy of church and home. They attempted to enshrine the notion in the federal constitution, but their wording was too vague, their intent is lost on the often rudimentary and perfunctory understanding most Americans (including politicians) have of their own founding document. The Founding Fathers have failed, or is it we who have failed them?
There has been a new trend afoot across the landscape of American society. It arguably started with the election of Ronald Reagan and it continues apace today. That trend has taken religion out of the private sphere and thrust it—sometimes by force—into the Public Square with disastrous results to the fundamental rights of all Americans. Across this great land, the Religious Right populated by Christians of all stripes is making its voice heard, from pharmacists refusing to dispense medications, to the insistence by some that the Ten Commandments be displayed in public venues; from the new push to teach Intelligent Design alongside The Theory of Evolution, to the pervasion of religious rhetoric in the body politic; from the right to life movement to the enshrinement of discrimination in state constitutions in an attempt to deny homosexuals and lesbians the right to marry—in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the federal constitution. Across this great land, secularism is under siege.
It is in my mind a dangerous trend that borders on fanaticism, the same extremism we are fighting in other parts of the world that seek our destruction. It is ironic that we seem to be accomplishing from within, what they seek to bring about from without; namely the collapse of American democracy, and the rise of Theocratic state, one based not on Islam, but on Christianity. It was faith, or more accurately, misplaced, and misrepresented faith that saw the Congress of the United States pass a law designed to help the one, and not the many; that saw the Congress cross the line and violate the separation of powers so vital to the continued well-being of our nation; that saw the President violate his Oath of Office to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. It is this religious fanaticism and the pandering to thereof that increasingly pits the Legislative and Executive against the Judicial in an effort to discredit the latter in the eyes of the American public.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States…US CONT, art. VI, clause 3.
The seminal 1947 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Everson vs. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing et al. laid the legal and Constitutional foundation for the Separation of Church and State Doctrine that is both embraced and rejected by the American populace. In it the Court ruled:
The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and State."
The case itself, which I counsel all to read, is stimulating and illuminating reading in that the justices recount the history of religious persecution and the oft disastrous results of mixing religion and government. And the case points out that the Founding Fathers had solid reasons for erecting a wall between religion and government. Their reasoned arguments make sense to those who seek to keep religion private and prevent it from unduly influencing public law and policy. On the other hand their arguments seem to fall on the deaf ears of those who seek to make all citizens subject to the conservative dictates and confused morals of Christianity.
As we sail deeper into the bosom of the 21st century, America is ever morphing into a multi-cultural society, one in which peoples from diverse religious backgrounds increasingly interact both publicly and privately. Islam, by all accounts, is the nation’s fastest growing religion; like it or no, the religion is here to stay and flourish. But so too is Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions of the Far East. Yes, we are a nation born of Christian people, but we can hardly lay claim to being a wholly Christian nation when so many religions are practiced freely within our borders.
The government (state and federal) must represent these Americans too; the message must not be sent through plaques and monuments erected on public property, or through political rhetoric, that other religions have no place in America; that Christianity is the favored religion. That is a direct affront to the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Nor must the government seek to ban personal freedoms based on religious dogma as the Republicans seek to do by banning Gay Marriage and trying to enact an Amendment banning abortion. Nor must School Boards seek to force our public schools to teach religious dogma; we rail against this in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, how can we condone it here in America?
I am personally of no faith, I am an agnostic, and came by my position within myself, using logic, history, and the oft heinous behaviors of mankind towards one another as my guides. I do not prescribe to the belief that the Bible (which is full of glaring contradictions, wonderful poetry, spectacular fables, and is after all is said and done a great work of fiction) holds the answers to all of life’s mysteries and problems, and I certainly do not believe that our government received its mandate from God as many of those in the Religious Right movement believes. Our government springs from the will of the people as embodied in the Constitution. It is the constitution politicians owe their “public” allegiance to, not the Holy Bible.
Not that I do not understand the need for religion in some peoples lives. Indeed, religion can offer stability and focus in lives that suffer from a lack of both. It can offer moral grounding, and sound societal principles that can last a lifetime, but religion is not for everyone, and everyone does not need religion to live a happy and whole life. The government must represent ALL American on a fair and equal footing before the law, not just those Americans who clutch the Bible close to their breast. The government must not be seen to endorse any one religion over another in order to hold true to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment. To do otherwise is to invite the very melding of religion and government the Founding Fathers sought to avoid.
Ask yourself this question: is worship of the Devil a legitimate religious practice, and if so, if that religion seeks to have the Ten Commandments of Devil worship displayed on public grounds, on what basis could that be prevented if the Ten Commandment of God are also displayed therein? And if the answer is no, that Devil worship is not a valid form of religious worship, why not; what makes it any less legitimate than the worship of God? After all, the Devil is actually mentioned in the Bible, in the very first chapter. And what of worship of Witches, and Pagan worship, and the other myriad religions that now make up the American cultural landscape; should they be given equal footing and display rights in the public square that Christianity now enjoys? If the government were to hold true to the First Amendment, how could they be legally be denied equal access and space? Remember the 1st Amendment proclamation: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…
Religion and religious teaching and dogma have no place in the public arena, they should remain private. If Christians—who now claim by the way that they are being persecuted by not being allowed to insert Intelligent Design into public school curriculum—want to limit their personal freedoms that is their choice to make; do not seek to impose your beliefs on others. If you morally object to contraception, do not practice birth control, and do not become a pharmacist, where you can interfere in the (legitimate) health care of others; if you do not believe in pre-marital sex, don’t engage in it; if you do not believe in Gay marriage, don’t practice it; if you do not believe that abortion is right; don’t have one; if you believe in Intelligent Design, or Creationism, learn it in the church or at home, but do not seek to have it taught in the public schools.
Leave the rest of us alone; don’t seek to have your misguided beliefs legislated into public laws that we all must follow. If you want you have a right to freedom of religion, then conversely, I—and others of like mind—have a right to freedom from religion.
History has shown that any society that sought to incorporate religious doctrine into the very fabric of public law, has suffered at the hands of those who would use such laws to oppress the populace, especially women and minorities. And one only has to look at modern-day Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, and other countries where Islamic law holds sway to validate my assertions. In all of these countries, women and minorities are the ones being oppressed in the name of religion. Real human progress has stopped and whole segments of the population are valueless. Is this what we want for the U.S.; a Theocracy, a nightmarish script straight from the pages of A Handmaid’s Tale? Is this where the Grand Experiment in representative Democracy is leading us? Are we casting aside the constitution if favor of the Holy Bible?