There’s been quite a lot of furor arising over the recent federal court decision to strike down the National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional. I’ll leave the AU to explain why it’s the only fair decision. I want to address the core issue here today.
One of the biggest areas of misunderstanding between believers and non-believers is the issue of the Separation of Church and State. Believers often think that it’s atheists trying to outlaw the practice of their faith. Non-theists feel put upon by the incessant references to faith strewn liberally throughout society, and even within some of our laws.
What many don’t seem to understand is that it’s actually not about religion at all. It’s a civil rights issue. The Black Civil Rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King was not about getting African Americans special priviledges – it was about providing equal rights for all Americans, no matter their color.
So, too, is the movement to reinforce, actually, to return to, the Constitutionally mandated separation of the powers of church and state as so strongly defined by our forefathers, many of whom first came to this country to escape religious persecution! Wikipedia has an excellent article discussing the historical aspects of the issue.
First, of course, it’s very important to separate the emotional rhetoric used by individuals of both sides and focus instead on the intentions of the two group points of view.
I’ll begin with the non-theists. I’ve mentioned the organization ‘Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, (website). Led by Rev. Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, AU’s core goal is true religious freedom for all.
We come from all backgrounds and represent all fifty states. In our work, we seek to preserve and protect religious freedom for every single American and have been dedicated to this since 1947.
Our Mission Statement
Americans United (AU) is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.
In other words, this organization is comprised of many believers, and a number of non-believers, dedicated to working together. To permitting each and every person the freedom to practice the faith which calls to them – or not practice, as they wish.
To making sure that no qualified person is denied a job, housing, serving their country, raising their children, receiving health care, etc, based on what religion they follow. It’s a group which respects the common shared humanity of each person – and is convinced, as were our forefathers, that ‘no test of faith’ be given before one is permitted … well, anything!
What all this does NOT mean is that AU and like-minded people are trying to prohibit the free expression of any faith. That is a part of the individual rhetoric we must not accept. If any faith is given priority standing over any other when it comes to anything involving the government, then by default, all others are relegated to secondary status. You can’t say “Johnny is my favorite child” without making his siblings standing be less than his.
If we switch the terms for color with faith, it becomes very apparent just how ‘wrong’ it is to legislate such preference.
Imagine government run Christian-only ‘public’ bathrooms. Government funded Christian-only restaurants. (Note I said government run. Private groups – that means no gov’t funding- are indeed free to do these things if they wish.)
What happens? Well, whoops – it’s not that Christians get to hang together and everyone else goes about their business happily… no. What happens is that now, these Christians are placed in a position of ENFORCING compliance. They need to make sure that NO non-christians use their government funded toilets, or eat with their silverware. They need to find better ways to police those non-christians – maybe making lists of them, or giving Christians marked ID pass cards. But ID cards can be forged, so … hmmm. Perhaps those non-Christians need to be confined to certain areas, so the Christians can more easily keep them away. And on and on the ugliness grows.
I am sure you can easily see how absurd this is when placed in such a context. Can you see, however, that it IS what’s going on, except in different circumstances? When any religion runs a state, rules must be made which give preference to the followers. ANY TIME preference is given, prejudice is an inherent aspect of it. It’s impossible to be otherwise.
Some Christians, on the other hand, have come to believe that removing references to their faith, tests of their faith, is somehow promoting bias against them. That those who wish to keep any church and government separate are somehow advocating non-belief, or trying to supress the free practice of their Christianity. I hope, from the examples given here, and some additional reading, that it becomes clear that is simply not the case. Some believe Jefferson never wrote anything about keeping religion and government separate. See this document – from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/danburys.jpg
The ONLY honest and truly fair solution is that the government give no preference to any faith, but welcome all types of belief, including non-belief, as a part of the wonderful ‘melting pot’ of this country.