Civil Rights And Freedom From Religion
In the last article, Civil Rights And God, we examined the apparent tug-o-war American society experiences. On the one side the secularists are calling for a complete annihilation of the idea and concept of “God”, while conservatives on the other side of the spectrum claim religion as an untouchable institution that is above questioning. Who is right?
- What is the separation of church and state we hear so much about?
- Are the observance of Christmas and the upholding of Civil Rights mutually exclusive?
- To what length should Americans go to ensure that religious oppression is prevented?
- How does The Constitution protect us from ourselves?
Freedom From God?
The Bill of Rights states that
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...It is plain that religion is to be a personal choice of any individual. The government is specifically forbidden from establishing an “official” religion, nor may it hinder any individual from exercising any faith, or no faith at all. Nonetheless, it appears that American Society is indeed shaped by Judeo-Christian values and ethics. Did the founders of our nation intend to form a government that offered special recognition to Christianity?
America Is Not A Christian Nation!
Adherents to this line of reasoning cite the fact that the Constitution only mentions religion in the negative, i.e. the prohibition of religion being legislated (Amendment I) or used in legislating (Article VI). Additionally, the very fact that Thomas Jefferson is referring to a “creator” and not to “God” in the Declaration of Independence, is seen as proof that Christian language (and thereby Judeo-Christian ethics) are specifically avoided in government.
Of course, the coup-de-grace for anything Christian may be found in 1797’s Treaty with Tripoli, wherein George Washington’s government forged an alliance with the Muslim rulers of North Africa with the words
"[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…."So was United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrong when he claimed in his speech at the interfaith conference at Manhattan's Shearith Israel synagogue:
I suggest that our jurisprudence should comport with our actions...Was he mistaken when he alleged that “God,” as a term as well as an idea, is woven into every aspect of American society, from the look of our money to the text of our Declaration of Independence? To find out more, please read the next article in this series on Civil Rights and Religion.
Please take a look at the editor’s book recommendations.
To understand both sides of the issue, please consider reading Robert Drinan’s book, which “explores the state of religious freedom worldwide, arguing that international law and legal institutions have not gone far enough to protect religious freedom”:
Can God and Caesar Coexist?: Balancing Religious Freedom and International Law
To complement this perspective, I recommend Kimberly Blaker’s writing, which explains that “American Christian fundamentalists are working to change laws of our land and thus force all Americans to conform to strict religious ideologies“:
The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America
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