Religious Freedom in the USA
It's not a big controversy like some This is True stories have generated, but there has been considerable confusion generated by two stories from the 13 August 2000 issue. Now, it's true that I write ambiguously on purpose sometimes to spark the reader to think about an issue. What did he mean by that, now? isn't such a bad response sometimes. But with the two stories in question, I was perhaps too subtle, too ambiguous, in my sarcasm and criticism, leaving readers unclear on just what I meant or, worse, thinking I meant the opposite of what I wished to convey. This page is an attempt to change that. First, the stories, then some background, and then some feedback.
We The People
A group of 450 Muslim families in the predominantly white, Christian town of Palos Heights, Ill., had no place to worship, so they agreed to purchase an unused church for $2.1 million and turn it into a mosque. Local townspeople were aghast, and when one suggested to the City Council that the Muslims should convert to Christianity or "go back to [their] own countries," the Council voted to give the group $200,000 to drop their purchase plans. Mayor Dean Koldenhoven called the action embarrassing, fiscally irresponsible and an insult to Muslims, and vetoed it. (AP) ...Per the Constitution, "Freedom of Religion" means Freedom of Religion for everyone.
In Order To Form a More Perfect Union
The Colorado Board of Education has voted to encourage schools to post the motto "In God We Trust" in all schools. No way, says the Jefferson County School Board, which oversees the bullet-riddled Columbine High. "In a time where there are already many lines dividing our children in schools, one more reason to point to differences cannot help," said Anti-Defamation League regional director Saul Rosenthal in applauding the decision. The state points out that the motto is included on U.S. currency and would be "a way to celebrate national heritage." (AP) ...Despite the Constitution, "Freedom of Religion" doesn't include Freedom From Religion.
Weekly Weird News
The first is pretty straightforward; virtually everyone understood that I was praising the mayor, and lecturing the city council (hey, morons: "Freedom of Religion" applies to everyone, not just you idiotic public servants"!) (Update: After the mayor was voted out of office for having the audacity to uphold religious freedom in his city, he was awarded The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.)
The second story -- or, really, its tagline (my follow-on comment at the end) -- is not as clear. Here it is spelled out in painful detail: The Constitution guarantees "Freedom of Religion", which also includes "Freedom From Religion" -- the freedom not to worship. Despite that guarantee, not everyone actually gets that freedom. What's my thinking on that? Americans tend to think religion is the exact same thing as Christianity. Of course, it isn't -- the vast majority of the world population is not Christian. So since "Belief in God" and "religion" are considered absolutely equal by so many, few see anything wrong with promoting God -- to the point where school boards are insisting that mottos such as "In God We Trust" and Christianity's Ten Commandments should be posted in public (read: government-funded) schools. But what of the people who don't believe in the Christian God? Not just atheists, but (say) Buddhists? Or Muslims? The attitude of the people of Palos Heights, Ill. -- that these people should convert to Christianity or "go back to [their] own countries" -- is disgusting, but common. In other words, the freedoms this country were founded on are only good for some people -- the "right kind" of people -- and not to others -- the wrong kind of people, different people. Bull!
The First Amendment's guarantee is for all Americans. And what a powerful thing it is: One hundred years ago, social scientists predicted that belief in God would decrease by the end of the century because of the secularization of society. In fact, the opposite has occurred. (Source: How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science by Michael Shermer, 1999.) Yet despite the fact that the First Amendment has allowed religion to grow like it never has before, some Christians would deny others the same right to practice their own religion. Forcing slogans on people such as "In God We Trust" denies the rights of people to make up their own minds, to pursue their own rights. Such thinking deserves to be revealed as the hypocrisy it is.
Many people think a motto such as "In God We Trust" is very innocuous and, really, not particularly religious. They point to the fact that it is on every piece of money issued by the United States government. That motto is, in fact, on money for religious reasons -- contrary to the clear words of the First Amendment. It's not just my opinion that it's there for religious reasons: the U.S. Treasury readily admits it in their history paper, "History of the Motto 'In God We Trust'" (available online here), which admits in part:
The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. From Treasury Department records, it appears that the first such appeal came in a letter dated November 13, 1861. It was written to Secretary Chase by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania.
The history notes that the slogan was first used on paper money in 1957, but was not widely on currency until the mid-1960s.
If you're an American, all the money in your pocket declares a motto which you may not believe in or, worse, declares something you specifically may not believe. Tough: it's there anyway. Thus, you are not being afforded a right guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution's Bill of Rights, hence: Despite the Constitution, "Freedom of Religion" doesn't include Freedom From Religion.
Readers Comments on the Issue
(Roughly in the order received.)
If you wanted proof that non-Christians are offended by having such things forced on them, there it is. Those who have their rights need to stick up for those who are denied the same rights. Anything else is hypocrisy.
Not all of the Christians in Palos Heights are idiotic hypocrites. I'm happy to send the cards to anyone with enough of a sense of humor -- and comfort in their own beliefs -- to order them.
Oh dear, where do I start?
1) I sincerely doubt the proposition that "all men are created equal" came from scripture; the U.S. was specifically not founded on religious grounds (Source: The Treaty with Tripoli in 1797, which declared that "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." The treaty was written under Washington's presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.)
2) Many of our "founding fathers" were extremely vocal in their disdain for religion. For example: "Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects." --James Madison, 1774 (source) and "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!" --John Adams, 1820 (source), which is remarkable considering the time.
3) Some of the early settlers of this country were puritans who were upset with the official -- government-sponsored -- church in England, which put down other religions as second class. Our forefathers saw how disgusting that was and guaranteed via the First Amendment that it wouldn't happen here. Yet that is exactly what you are trying to do -- make others second-class citizens after you have benefitted from that guarantee. That's surely a classic example of the hypocrisy Jesus himself railed against.
4) I'll bet if your kids had to recite and memorize the Koran, you'd not be too happy about it. Yet it's certainly the scripture of a mainstream, established religion. What makes it any different than Christianity? Nothing but your bias. Whose bias do you want forced on schoolchildren? I say no one's bias is palatable, least of all government bureaucrats' -- and certainly "the majority" is also abhorrent, as the puritan emmigrants discovered.
5) It's interesting that you'd dismiss the majority of the population of the planet as "little whining factions". Perhaps the Christian minority should be forced to shut up? No, I didn't think you'd find that palatable, either.
You are of course correct. What makes the U.S. different is our Bill of Rights. But even with those rights, some would have us be just the same as the countries you cite. What is wrong there is wrong here, too. As the next letter shows clearly.
And all too often, they find it.
See "Hypocrite" and "right and wrong", above. Attitudes like yours are much more damaging to Christianity than atheists ever will be.
Well said, though I think Buddhists and atheists are as deserving of their rights as anyone.
How about "In Satan We Trust", then, Brad? Surely you'll agree that since the kids' daily pledge to "One nation, under God" hasn't worked, we should try a different religion in order to save them.
If you do it, when you get out of the hospital please send me the newspaper clips. I suspect it would all be True material....
I hope you're right, but I fear you're wrong. I'll keep trying anyway, though. If you support that, and don't already have a subscription to This is True, please do show your support by subscribing in the box above.