Religious Freedom and Tolerance: Do we have it?

Recently I posted about a Pew Research study which reported on government restrictions and social hostility regarding religion. The study found that, in the United States, both measures of religious restriction increased from 2009 to 2010, and that the increase was not against only one religion but several, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism (read the post here).

Today I read an article on the blog Mystic Politics which addresses “ceremonial deism” in our country. The writer discusses 4 ways in which Christianity (or at least, a belief in God) is proclaimed by the government:
1. Our motto on money: “In God we trust”
2. Prayer in public schools — not private prayer, not a moment of silence, but actual prayers.
3. “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
4. Prayers at the beginning of public meetings.

Let’s try a “thought experiment.” Suppose you lived in an Islamic country. The money says “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.” At school your children hear prayers directed toward Mecca at least 3 times during the school day. They indicate their love of the country by saying a pledge which includes the words “under Allah.” Finally, every meeting of government or public institutions, from the national level all the way down to your child’s graduation, begins and ends with Islamic prayer.

If you are anything except Muslim, how would this make you feel? Like an outsider? Unaccepted by the community? Annoyed that you have to participate in something against your religion? Angry even? Be honest!

“But wait,” says the other side, “it’s okay for the U.S. to be this way because we were founded to be a Christian nation!”

No, we were not. It is a fact that most of our Founding Fathers were Christians, but not all. Thomas Jefferson in particular, though, was not a Christian, but was a deist. (deism is the believe that God made the world then stepped on it. No, wait, that’s what it says in Non Campus Mentis, lol)

Deism is the belief that God made the universe then metaphorically stepped back to watch it work without His interference. This was a popular belief around the time of the American Revolution and was sometimes called the “clockwork universe.” Since God did not interfere, there was no Jesus and thus no Christianity involved in deism.

However — even if every single one of the Founding Fathers were Christian, would that make the United States a Christian nation? NO! That would be like saying that since the Founders were all white male landowners the United States today should be governed by only white male landowners!

The First Amendment clearly sets out the principle of freedom of religion, and says that the government cannot do anything that sets one religion above others, even if no one is required to follow that religion. In fact, the first permanent English-speaking settlement — the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock — was motivated by a desire for religious freedom.

So according to the First Amendment, the government can’t put a reference to a religion on money or in the Pledge of Allegiance. Not any reference at all. And the problem of public prayer becomes obvious — it’s not legal, according to the First Amendment, because it favors one religious belief system over others.

Many people believe that to question any of these 4 practices is un-American or unpatriotic, but this is nonsense (IMHO). A person’s patriotism should not be connected to his/her religious beliefs, or there is no freedom of religion at all. Personally, I am a Christian, but that does not make me any more or less of an American. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” If that isn’t a statement of separation of church and state, I don’t know what is.

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