As I’ve grown up in America, I’ve noticed that there is a minimal, but present, religious undertone in public institutions. I, as one who considers his religion to be atheism, resent these undertones in principle, but feel that these are trivial aberrations from secularism. I don’t think religion has infiltrated public institutions to such a degree that it requires legal or revolutionary action. However, I am not the slightest bit averse to undercutting the defenses of publicly established religion with my pen.
Ms. Morgan Linski in her December 9th article in the Oakton Outlook argues that secular activists—or, as Linski calls them, “radical leftists”—are somehow deviating from the constitution by “twisting the meaning of the first amendment.” My goal in this article is to debunk her assessment in what I hope is a gentlemanly manner.
The part of the first amendment to the Constitution regarding religion reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” Therefore, if the United States Congress were to pass legislation respecting an establishment of a purely religious principle—even if it is perhaps not a particular religion’s principle such as the belied in a god—it would be unconstitutional. So, when Eisenhower signed legislation that added the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance on July 14, 1954, that was clearly unconstitutional. Moreover, the slogan “IN GOD WE TRUST” that adorns all U.S. currency is equally as unconstitutional, for it espouses—or establishes—the belief in a god.
Removing these religious establishments in no way restricts the free practice of religion. To suggest otherwise is pretty selective reasoning. People are free to express their religion in any way they choose so long as it is not imposed upon government institutions, and does not involve criminal offenses—like sacrificing Morgan Linskis. That would be wrong.
But to think that secularists are attempting to do away with every aspect of religious influence from the public domain is to misconstrue the intentions of secularists. Endorsers of the separation of church and state only contend that the establishment of religion in government is unconstitutional, not that any and all religious activity is to be sought out and eviscerated. Religious facilities and religious people would be as entitled to public services as anybody; and laws that are proposed for religious reasons, but still coincide with what is agreed to be logically in the best interest of coexistence, are perfectly fine secularly speaking. Secularists of course do not feel obliged to convert to any religion merely due to the presence of the religious references on currency and in the pledge of allegiance—and again I stress that this is a trivial problem; however, the fact that any facet of religion is endorsed by government implies that those who do not agree are somehow less American.
Another misconception that needs correcting is the contention that the American Constitution and this country were created in the name of Judeo-Christianity. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and the father of the United States Constitution, James Madison, were all deists. Three of the four Presidents whose faces are portrayed on Mount Rushmore were deists (Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln). So, Ms. Linski is mistaken in thinking that references made to a god by these people were motivated by Judeo-Christianity. It is ironic, therefore, that Ms. Linski accuses secular activists of “re-writing the Constitution” when she herself interprets the Constitution as somehow condoning the unification of religion and government. The Constitution of course includes no such indication, and certainly no such clause.
Simply because some of these established religious references have been parts of this government for so long does not mean that their continued presence is just. Legacy does not equal legitimacy as is so clearly evident in the fact that this country allowed slavery, disenfranchisement, and segregation for so long. The American government is not the instrument of religious zealots to advertise or proselytize to an America that is so intensely diverse. People should be, and are, allowed to practice their religion to their hearts’ content. But people should not have religious beliefs imposed upon them through government. People should not have to feel unwelcome in, or less a part of, a country because they refuse pledge allegiance to their country “under god”. And people should not be scorned for turning to the high courts of this country in the hopes of forming a more perfect Union.