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bullet  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.

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 Congress passed the Act of April 22, 1864 [to allow the motto on] the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin.... Another Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865. It allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary's approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that "shall admit the inscription thereon."
The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908. A law passed by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-140) and approved by the President on July 30, 1956, the President approved a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress, declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States. IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. The first paper currency bearing the motto entered circulation on October 1, 1957. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was converting to the dry intaglio printing process. During this conversion, it gradually included IN GOD WE TRUST in the back design of all classes and denominations of currency.

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.)

  • Gah, the people [on the City Council] are a disgrace to my religion! (Christianity.) I live in a Muslim country and know full well what it is like to be discriminated against for my religion & race. I'm glad mayor Koldenohoven understands what Freedom of Religion means. The state should be neutral towards people's expressions of faith. An anti-religion state is just as despotic as a state church. A good government needs to walk that balanced line of neutrality. --Ian, Malaysia

  • As an atheist, although I'm fairly tolerant of others' beliefs, having religion forced down my throat does gall me at times. You comment is quite apt. --Riley, California

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.

  • Do not sell any goohf cards to the christians in palos heights. What's wrong with muslims praying inside a building where christians once prayed? As the christians know, it is important for people to gather for prayers. Without a proper gathering place, it is difficult to get everyone together. I am a muslim, and the muslim community here has rented churches before we had our own buildings. We respect them, and expect that they respect us (which they do). --Imran, BC, Canada

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.

  • I'm Jewish. Your first article about a group of Moslems being told (by the City Council no less!) to "Get Lost!" confirms for me why I shudder every time I hear certain (By no means all, just certain) Christians say they want to make this a "Christian Country" or they want to "bring this country to Jesus". God forbid! Literally! I don't want to sound intolerant myself, but I hope those patriotic, hard-working, tax-paying, civic-minded, 1st-Amendment using, Moslems sue the pants off of Palos Heights. --Peter, location not given

  • It is a sad commentary about America when I have to read stories such as those two regarding religion in this country. I wonder what is going to happen when white Christians are no longer the majority in America. --Robert, Missouri

  • The fact that people have forgotten that "In God We Trust" was not added to paper money until 1955 (during the height of the cold war and the McCarthy era) and then refer to its use as "heritage" just goes to show the wedge effect such entanglement can have. --Eric, Michigan

  • Posting scriptures (and such) that those same founding fathers used as the basis for all the original documents hardly is forcing anyone to worship. When you go to a wedding are you having the faith of the presiding pastor forced on you? Posting "In GOD We Trust" won't make anyone trust anything they don't want to. Since when do we have to cater to every little whining faction? You had better be carefull or this politically correct crap will make most of your jokes illegal. --Mitch, Missouri

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.

  • Thanks for running the Palos Heights story. I live in a neighboring suburb. What amazes me most about this issue is that when I talk to older adults about it, their reaction is "yeah...they have a right to...but...," or something to that effect. Incredible! It's really easy to see examples of bigotry in other communities, and I thought that when it came to the surface in my own community, it would be ridiculous and laughable. (No doubt it is to all your readers.) It just doesn't occur to people around here that the thousands of Muslim families in the Chicago southwest area would need a place to pray. I hope that, by bringing this embarrassing story to national attention, you have helped a few Americans discover their own latent bigotry. Thank you for the service you do for the intelligent people of the email community. --Carrie, Illinois

  • I realize that the first story about the Muslims in Illinois was sad, and I will be the first to agree that the actions of the townspeople were wrong; however, to put it into perspective, if a group of Christians wanted to build a church in a predominantly Muslim country, they a) wouldn't be let into the country at all b) wouldn't be permitted to even assemble c) wouldn't be even considered for purchasing an old mosque and d) would probably be beaten or worse for even attempting the endeavor. Muslim countries openly persecute Christians, and there are no laws to protect them. America is not perfect, but no one gets away with mass bigotry on the scale that it goes on in countries like the Sudan, Egypt, or Iran. --Drew, North Carolina

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.

  • I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and the story about the Muslims struck a chord with me. I know a group of Kurdish families who came here to escape persecution in Iraq. They recently bought a secular building to use as an "educational center". A friend of mine who was helping them set up was taken aside by one of them and quietly asked if it would be all right if they used a small section of the building for worship. They were afraid that if they tried to practice their religion, the building would be taken away from them. Ironic, isn't it, that people leave their homelands to escape persecution, but, because of the reputation of the United States, and the South in particular, they come to "the land of the free" fully expecting to find intolerance? --Christopher, Tennessee

And all too often, they find it.

  • I think that it's bad enough that the USA is turning away from God. "Freedom not to worship..." True, but maybe we forgot Whom helped this country get started in the first place. May all the atheists burn. --Marty, North Carolina

See "Hypocrite" and "right and wrong", above. Attitudes like yours are much more damaging to Christianity than atheists ever will be.

  • I'm a regular churchgoer who takes his faith seriously, and I am raising my kids to do the same; I think the values imbued by my religious heritage are crucial to living a decent and good life. But I don't want the grubby hands of government coming anywhere near it with any official act whatever. Will it do anyone any harm to have "In God We Trust" posted in classrooms by government fiat? Indeed it will, very real harm -- but not because it will offend Buddhists or make atheists feel oppressed or any such nonsense. That line of argument misses the point by a million miles. The harm comes from having God, faith and the walls of a public school debased into fodder for the hollow pandering of hacks. Anyone who thinks the craven politicians of Colorado (or any other state) propose these things for any other reason than to cynically curry favor with the religious right is just naive. Even school children will get the real message: "In God We Posture." THAT is the evil (in modern manifestation) that the founding fathers foresaw and tried in the First Amendment to ward off with the establishment clause -- and right they were, though America has only sporadically lived up to the ideal. It's also worth noting that the Bill of Rights isn't the only decalogue of rules that proscribes what Colorado wants to do. Remember the bit about taking a certain Name in vain? --Pat, New York

Well said, though I think Buddhists and atheists are as deserving of their rights as anyone.

  • Nowhere does anything guarantee anyone freedom from religion. In fact, too often, by going so far out of the way to completely isolate someone from religion, we completely step on other's freedom of religion and that is wrong, and that needs to stop. I realize that your one-liners at the end of each of your stories are simply meant to be humorous zingers...and they are. But, this story is an example of this whole problem. Keeping religion out of schools clearly has been a failure, as bullet riddled Columbine High can attest. Bringing God back in would at least be partway toward a solution. --Brad, Arizona

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.

  • Does it really take a Brit to point out that the official motto of the US is in fact "e pluribus unum", which is not only also included on the currency, but fits perfectly with the Jefferson County School Board's aims? --Francis, United Kingdom

  • Down here in Texas we went through this sort of thing with the pre-football game prayer. As I'm sure you know, the Supreme Court struck down student-led "voluntary" prayer before a football game. If it was going to be continued, I was going to try and volunteer to lead a prayer before an upcoming game. I was then going to go to the local mosque and have an Islamic prayer put together and read it at the game. I'm sure that if I would have survived the ordeal, my point on not subjecting a captive audience in a public (state) forum to a different religion would have been lost on them. At least I would have seen the irony in it. --Jeff, Texas

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....


  • As public consciousness is raised about the contradictions between our Constitutional ideals and our actual practices, our practices are getting eliminated to conform with our enshrined ideals. --Dan, Rhode Island

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.

55 Comments on This Entry

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Posted by Nam Malaysia on January 13, 2009:

ian is a very funny guy.

as far as malaysia is concerned, its local councils always act within limits empowered to them. you cannot for instance erect house of worships, temples, mosques, churches wherever you like man..

even renovation to be made on my own house in my own compound need local council's approval.


Let's see... Ian said, "The state should be neutral towards people's expressions of faith. An anti-religion state is just as despotic as a state church." I don't see any suggestion there that anyone should be able to build anything they want without a permit. I don't think Ian's a "very funny guy", Nam. I think maybe you are. -rc

Posted by Ian, Selangor, Malaysia on January 14, 2009:

I agree with Nam that in a properly functioning society, people shouldn't be able to simply build a place of worship or anything else without a permit.

Ah, but there's the crux. A properly functioning society. Or do I have to remind you of what UMNO/BN did to the Catholic church in Shah Alam? After 20 years of struggle, they finally get a permit, sink a million Ringgit into the construction, and are suddenly told to stop and move!

Never mind all the other churches and temples that could not be built without bribing some civil servant or UMNO/BN politician. Why do you think most churches are in shop lots? Because most pastors refuse to resort to bribery, they could not get a permit to build their church, and they have stopped trying. So before the March 2008 election, most churches in Selangor were "illegal".

Thank God for the first time since the British left in 1957, we have a new state government now, so maybe now some churches and temples may be built legally without having to resort to bribery.

For the non-Malaysians who are not aware, the new PR government of Selangor is a coalition of PKR (People's Justice Party), DAP (Democratic Action Party) and PAS (Islamic fundamentalist Religious Party of One-Malaysia).

After the election, the newly-elected state representative from the Islamic fundamentalist PAS did something which no so-called "moderate Muslim" UMNO politician dares to do -- he spoke at that Catholic church that was finally built in another location due to UMNO's religious bigotry:

Proper permits from a racist or religiously discriminatory state is a standard way of legalizing religious and racial discrimination. They simply reject your application for a permit, and suddenly, you're illegal!

Even when a permit is not needed because it was built in native tribal lands, the racist and religiously discriminating state comes in and demolishes. Now the native tribal Christians are trying to fight them in the courts, but they control the courts, and the case keeps getting postponed and postponed, over a year now!

This same UMNO government is forbidding Malay-speaking Christians from calling God "Allah" as they have called Him since before there was a Malaysia! Again, here it is the Islamic fundamentalist PAS that is "surprisingly" defending the rights of the Christians.

I totally agree with what Drew of North Carolina said. What is discrimination happens in USA to non-Christians pales in comparison to what happens to non-Muslims in Malaysia, and the discrimination we face in Malaysia pales in comparison to the outright murder that happens in Muslim Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc, Hindu fundamentalist parts of India like Orissa, Buddhist Sri Lanka, etc.

But what Randy said is true also: evil committed by non-Christians does not justify Christians to commit evil either. The USA has a higher standard, and Christians should live up to that standard.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on February 16, 2009:

As you said, not only freedom OF relgion, but also freedom FROM religion. I'm not an atheist, but to argue successfully, one must embrace the acceptance of their premise. (If you can't agree upon what to disagree, then how can you argue?)

I maintain that Atheism IS a religion. No, not a passive lack of belief in a Supreme Being, but a very real, active belief that there is no such thing. Yet, when I would defend the Atheists to the right to their religion, they would argue with me that they have no religion. In essence, denying themselves the very right that they're demanding.

Really, it is difficult to offer equal consideration to those who refuse it, suggesting perhaps that it's not equality of rights they seek, but the denial of equality to others.

Posted by Wayne, Michigan. on April 30, 2009:

re: Mike from Dallas

Atheism is not a religion, "A religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power or truth." (wikipedia)

I am an atheist, a Humanist, a nonbeliever, I am one of natures many creations, and I accept earth as a natural world, I reject the unproved and primitive supernatural myths about gods, devils, angels, magic, life-after-death and the suspension of natural laws ("miracles") through wishful thinking ("prayer") which most religions include.

On a clear day you can see our Creator, you can feel its touch on your skin, and if you look around you can see its miracles at work, my Creator has the strength of the Stars, my Creator is the Creator of all things in our solar system, my Creator's name is Sol, my Creator is known as The Sun, it is not a conscious being, it is a very small part of the natural evolution of the Universe.

My definition of an atheist is that we are not aliens put here by an alien "God" that holds warrant to a religion. I am an Earthling, born on this earth, of this earth, from seeds of Stardust.

Posted by Ian, Selangor, Malaysia on April 30, 2009:

Hi, Wayne. It depends on your definition, I suppose.

I used to be an atheist before my conversion to Christianity (I guess like CS Lewis you might consider me a "lapsed atheist" :-) so I can see from both points of view.

But the point of this thread was that we should not be unjustly penalizing people for their sincerely-held beliefs. Atheism fits in that category of "sincerely-held beliefs".

I am opposed to state coercion of atheists to believe in some religion, e.g. Indonesia under Soeharto, where everyone had to profess one of the sanctioned religions -- Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and Protestantism. (In case you are wondering, this was a reaction against Communism.)

I am also opposed to the opposite, as per in the old Communist countries, or even milder forms like France and Turkey prohibiting fundamentalist Muslim women from wearing a head covering.

Posted by Mekhong Kurt, Bangkok, Thailand on June 14, 2009:

I was raised Christian, in Texas; unusually enough, I was raised Episcoplian, a compromise between my parents, my Father being a Catholic (though not a life-long one) and my Mother being a Methodist. As a young man, I seriously explored going into the priesthood, though eventually I decided against doing so, mostly because of shortcomings I saw in myself to fulfill that role successfully.

As the decades rolled on by, I not only fell away from the church [Episcopal, I mean], but from organized religion pretty much at all.

It deeply troubles me that some Americans enforce Christianity on others, given the fundamental purpose of Europeans deciding to come to an undeveloped, dangerous place was to escape not only religious persecution but to gain the right to believe as they wished and to practice that faith accordingly.

The motto "In God We Trust" on our currency is especially troublesome. About three years ago a close, and dear, relative and I got into a [friendly] debate about it. I referred her to the U.S. Treasury website you cite, and no more was said. I -- foolishly -- thought she had seen her argument that it has always been part of our currency (and the Pledge of Allegiance) is, simply, historically incorrect. After all, my Mom is educated, to MA level, a retired teacher, reasonably well traveled, etc.

But then I had occasion to visit in person, and boy oh boy, did she ever blow my ears back. She offered two counter-arguments: either whoever at the Treasury wrote the piece was a liar (not to mention anti-Christian) or, ig ther piece is correct, then the motto OUGHT to have been part and parcel of public life, including on our currency, right from the start -- including Continental script.

Needless to say, I dropped it when she demanded I *prove* the article to be correct. I pointed out it wouldn't matter how many historians I cited, she wouldn't accept it, given the, um, firmness of her position. And there the issue remains.

In our society, a fundamental part of the bedrock that doesn't often surface in this context is this: "MY rights end at the tip of my nose -- just as YOUR rights end at the tip of yours."

I have always stood up for the right of any American to believe, or not believe, as he or she sees fit -- so long as that person doesn't to seek that belief/lack thereof on the next person (including non-Americans).

A minor point aside: belief systems such as Buddhism and Taoism are arguably not religions at all, or at least weren't originally. Buddha, for instance, specifically said (so it's claimed anyway) not to make statues of him then or later, yet they abound in some places (such as Thailand). I suppose one can argue, with considerable reason, that such belief systems have *evolved* into religions, whatever the original intent of their founder(s).

In closing, I don't mean to offend anyone. But the state has no role in religion in the U.S., without regard to what occurs in other countries.

Posted by Donald - Cambridge, MA on August 24, 2009:

Well said. I am 61 years old, and I remember when - during what I now know was the McCarthy era - we were told we had to add the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, which we were required to say to start each school day. [By the way, it's always struck me as peculiar that we pledge allegiance to the "flag of the United States of America" rather than to the country itself - another piece of misguided jingoism dating from the late 19th century.]

But Mekhong Kurt's experience, I'm afraid, is all too typical, both in religion and politics. People who believe in mythology, whether ancient or contemporary, have already demonstrated that as far as they are concerned, the truth is irrelevant.

It was interesting to read, during the presidential campaign, the comment that "an atheist could never be elected president" [of the US]. It speaks volumes of the dissonance between beliefs and reality to note that an atheist already was, and he is widely considered to have been not only the best president in history, but the architect of the country as we know it. I speak of Thomas Jefferson.

It is one of the many ironies of our current situation that the Republicans - spiritual descendants of the Federalists, who believed in government by the rich - should have managed to acquire the support of the religious right. I guess if you're willing to believe twelve impossible things before breakfast, you're fertile ground for unscrupulous con men (as many evangelists have demonstrated over the years), many of whom ply their trade in the Republican political apparatus.

Posted by Mekhong Kurt, Bangkok, Thailand on September 2, 2009:

Returning to this thread after about 2-1/2 months was instructive in that it reminded me of the issue again, important to me as I read so much daily (and often comment on what I read) that I had more or less forgotten what I wrote here back in June until I received an e-mail notification of recent additional comments.

I have one close friend here who is Muslim, at least nominally so, a lovely young lady in her early 30's who's the daughter of one of my best friends. If you didn't *know* she's Muslim, you damned sure never would guess it -- she drinks and smokes, for example.

Contrary to what way too many of us in the West who aren't ourselves Muslim, a great mass of followers of that faith aren't bloodthirtsy devils seeking to slaughter anyone who disagrees with them. Yes, there are extremist states, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc.

And such have touched my life; a very dear friend and his two roommates, one of whom I knew fairly well, the other whom I had met a time or two, were all taken hostage in Iraq several years ago and ultimately beheaded. Ditto another guy in Saudi Arabia before that whom I had met. Even the slaughter of Daniel Pearl indirectly touched on my life, as he was the protege of one of my Mother's dearest friends. (Neither Mom nor I ever met Daniel, however, I should add.)

So, sometimes it's a struggle to keep in mind that my own dealings adherents of The Prophet, limited though they've admittedly been, have been positive.

On a larger canvas, it amazes me that the three great monotheistic religions, intimately entwined with each other, can be so antagonistic. After all, Christianity arose from Judiasm, in large measure, just as Islam arose on Judaic and Christian roots.

Think about it: fundamentally, all three faiths worship the same God, though there are vast chasms in beliefs regarding how we're supposed to serve Him. (Or Her or It or whatever.) Yes, that leaves Christians odd man out when it comes to any discussion of Jesus -- but at lest some Muslims acknowledge him as a great prophet, if not the Son of God. (They also acknowledge and admire a number of Old Testament figures.)

I wonder how many people even know that the Muslims had their own "Holy Crusades" about a millenium ago. During those crusades, Islamic troops were under standing orders, on pain of death for disobediance, to give any Christian or Jew an opportunity to renounce his faith and accept Islam. Of course, if the Christian or Jew *didn't* do so, well, it was death for him. But adherents of not one single OTHER faith was even accorded the "opportunity." (Some "opportunity" when you're on your back in the sand, with a guy holding a sword or spear to your throat!)

I guess none of this should surprise us; just look at the serious fractures *within* each of the great monotheistic faiths. In the rural village very near which I grew up in Texas, not only did the various Protestant churches there -- at one point, there were an astonishing 17 -- in a town of about 500 people! -- genuinely believe that Catholics aren't Christians (never mind Jews and Muslims, much less anyone else), but they had serious doubts even about each other, for pete's sake. I'll make up names here to spare the guilty, but it was so bad at one point that members of one church of a certain denomination -- let's call it The First Church of Christ (with apologies to members of the CoC) genuinely felt that members of the congregation at the SECOND Church of Christ likely weren't Christians. At all. And that those Satan-infested demons well deserved to burn in fiery Hell forevermore.

Pretty sad, huh?

The almost complete lack of critical analysis (and the lack of any ability to conduct any critical analysis in any case) is both astonishing and depressing; one needn't be an intellectual giant to follow the plot. On the most fundamental level, isn't the Buddhist idea that one can eventually lose himself back into the Universe (a gross oversimplification, but it'll do for now) basically the same as the belief Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam share that if we're good kids we get to go to "Heaven" and be one with God again? Further, except for nutcase extremists (and they can be found in all religions, and among the ranks of the atheists), most people of any or no faith want the same basic things. In the case of Christianity, the Ten Commandments go some distance towards covering the grounds; most other religions have comparable teachings -- including Islam. Recall the various imams and scholars who've bravely spoken up against the Osama's of the world, saying, "Hey, Dude, don't you be up and hijacking MY religion!" My Muslim friend here sometimes reminds me of something she told me long ago: some of the happiest days of her life, especially since 9/11 (her Dad's American raised-Christian-fallen-by-the-wayside, her Mom's a Thai Muslim) are those when she reads in the news that another Islamic terrorist has been caught or killed, happiest in part because she feels much like those objecting Islamic imams and scholars.

Back to Randy's story. IF we're going to have "In God We Trust" etc. anywhere on or in a state-financed and -supported building, piece of currency, etc., then we ought to inscribe those items and places with excerpts from every single religion, at least those represented in the U.S.

I remember when the first ashram opened up in the county seat of the county in which I grew up, back in the hippy days. Folks went nuts. They could put up with Catholics (just as the Catholics could put up with them), but these foreign notions were beyond the pale. Until the adherents of the ashram opened up a GREAT restaurant, started doing volunteer work, etc. In reasonably short order, they became valued members of the community, even if most folks were still a bit puzzled by it all. And no, the ashram folks weren't all from India; in fact, only a tiny percentage were -- most were locals, mostly university students.

Will Mom ever come around? Probably not, though, oddly, she accepted my heathen (ex-)wife I married in Beijing. Even despite the fact my wife had been a member of the Young Pioneers (as everyone in her school had to be), a communist organization. Heck, even my Dad accepted her -- despite the fact that several of his closest friends were killed in combat with *Chinese* troops during the Korean War.

If my parents could accept the abberation my wife represented in their lives, I don't see why we can't accept flexibility ourselves. Including not cramming "In God We Trust" etc. down others' throats.

As for the argument that Christians are treated far worse elsewhere than non-Christians are in America, an earlier commentator here has already dealt with that: for you to do wrong doesn't give me license to do likewise. Another commentator argues that "freedom OF religion" doesn't mean "freedom FROM religion." I teach English -- and writing -- at university level, and I'm a writer. That argument doesn't wash, especially in light of the fact there is absolutely NOTHING in any formal founding document of our Republic imposing a duty to practice *some* religion. "Freedom of religion" inherently includes the right to decline any religion. Just as it includes a person's right to go out and worship some certain tree, if he or she likes.


Posted by Mekhong Kurt/Bangkok, Thailand on November 7, 2009:

For perfectly selfish reasons, I wish others would post on this thread -- one of the single most thoughtful threads I've ever encountered. Thanks to the rest of you who have commented; you've given considerable food for thought, as did Randy's original article. And I share Randy's anger and passion about this.

Posted by Jorn, DE on January 10, 2010:

Marty, North Carolina said: "maybe we forgot Whom helped this country get started in the first place."

He means the French, right? For, of course, we are all aware of the great debt of honor owed to General Lafayette and his countrymen, without Whom we wouldn't be here to discuss whether everyone deserves the rights we enjoy so much. (Yes, they do). Thank The Allfather they were, because I enjoy being an American. E Pluribus Unum: From Many, One nation, under Odin, with Liberty and Justice for All.

Posted by M, Texas on March 31, 2010:

Putting "God" in classrooms is going to keep a bunch of gun loving, by-bull thumping zealots from any sort of violent acts? Yeah right... That's a zinger if I ever heard one.

Posted by Donald, Cambridge, MA on April 2, 2010:

M, you caused me to think a different way about some of the things going on now. When Sarah Palin was selected as the vice-presidential candidate, one woman in the midwest expressed her reasons for being excited by explaining, "We're the God and guns people." One of the cockamamie arguments for religion (although its proponents consider it irrefutable) is that without religion, there's no basis for moral or ethical behavior. So how does that square with the fanatical social intransigence of the Tea Party adherents? With crosshairs on the photos of Senators on Palin's Facebook page? Is this the "moral" and "ethical" behavior that God will bring into schools? No wonder Columbine - with the history of a child doing just what Palin espouses - refused.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on May 19, 2010:

Regardless of my own religious beliefs, I agree that the First Amendment protects everyone's right to choose whatever religion they want, or even to choose NO religion if that's their inclination. In that regard, Freedom FROM Religion makes a certain sense. But it's an ambiguous phrase. There are increasing incidents where people are suing to be protected from being exposed to any religion.

Not all that different than attempts to pass laws "protecting" people from exposure to offensive speech; offensive in the respect that they disagree with it.

Most recently there was a lawsuit against David Hall in Texas. David Hall owns the only exact replica of the Liberty Bell, with which he tours Texas and nearby states for displays at veterans' events. Hall is not sponsored, nor compensated, in any way by any government agency. He volunteers his own time and expense, augmented by donations by from other individuals and companies. The Ten Commandments are also displayed along with the Bell replica.

The lawsuit alleges that the Ten Commandments violates the First Amendment and that atheists should not be required to view them in patriotic displays. The eventual outcome of the lawsuit was that it was a Frivolous lawsuit and legal sanctions would be applied against the plaintiff if he continued to bring similar frivolous suits to the court.

Still, time and expense was required to defend oneself against the belief that citizens are legally entitled to be protected from exposure to anything with which they disagree.

Posted by Donald, Cambridge, MA on May 19, 2010:

What you describe, Mike, is certainly a little over the top, particularly since Hall was acting in a private capacity. But I can be sympathetic; religion -- and specifically Christianity -- has become so ubiquitous that it needs to be reined in. For those of us who consider religion a matter private to the individual, to say nothing of those of us who are Atheists, and not even mentioning those of other religions, the constant barrage of trappings of ancient mythology -- as if they were symbols of universal truth -- becomes progressively more annoying. And the assumption of freedom to proselytize is beyond the pale. If they took money from me, they'd be legally criminal. My time and my privacy are personal resource like my money; why are they free to demand and consume it? I'm reminded of the quote from David Brin's Sundiver: "You steal my time! Compensate!"

Posted by Becky, Sydney, Australia on August 14, 2010:

A few points:

1. The very nature of "religious belief" is a set of truths one believes is true - including the belief that there is no truth and everybody is right (or wrong). Nobody is neutral, and therefore no government can be truly "neutral", but it can be representative...

2. As a Christian, and an Aussie (Australian) I find the notion of the US Bill of Rights quite interesting. Especially the language of the "rights". As a Christian, the Bible is not about your Rights - it is always about your Obligations. A husband is told to love his wife by laying down his life for her like Jesus did for the church - the wife is not told that she must insist on her right and force him to do so. The wife submits willingly, not the husband subjugates his rights. This is not for all as I recognise that people don't want God to tell them what to do.
Also I DO believe in the human dignity and worth of all humans - this value (to me) is found in the fact that they are made in the image of God. Thus it is right to protect people (especially the more helpless, e.g. unborn foetuses) and give them "basic human rights". But the language of giving everyone rights brings the question - who is obligated to provide them?

3. In the American context, I think Christians need to recognise that the bible itself says people will reject Jesus, and thus freedom of relgion is a very Biblical idea. But I think all need to recognise (possible I have my information wrong) that America as a country is truly built on Judeo-Christian IDEAS/VALUES whether they were Christian or not. E,g, Truth and Altruism. Tribal religions hold family and honour more important than these. Freedom of religion is a Christian notion that all will be held accountable for their choices, whether they accept or reject Jesus - and this cannot be forced by law. People who aren't Christian may hold the same values, and that is good.
It should also be recognised that other religions (e.g. Islam) DO believe that governments should force people to be Muslim. Saying all religions are the same is disrespectful.

Hmm, I don't know what my end point is so I'll just stop here. :)

Posted by Nancy Pasadena Texas on August 14, 2010:

From a slightly different perspective - Madeline Murray O'Hare (not sure of spelling) wanted to be able to walk down any street of any city and not be forced to see any sign of religion. In California a law suit was filed to ban the Pledge of Allegiance because of "Under God" being part of it, now five states are not allowed to use the pledge in schools. Both of these are just as extreme. The pledge could have been modified for those states leaving out "under God" rather than banning it altogether. After all, President Eisenhower put it in. All or nothing is wrong no matter who wants it. Likewise, the quote "fanatical social intransigence of the Tea Party adherents" is just as wrong. I am a Tea Party member and have been to meetings. All we are fighting for is to get rid of politicians who are corrupt and finding ways around the Constitution to tax us to death rather than finding ways to cut spending. As in anything, there are extremists. They are everywhere, and lowering yourself to name calling doesn't help your argument. I still believe the best definition of freedom I have heard is the right to do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want as long as you don't step on someone else's freedom to do the same.

Posted by Mati - Israel on August 14, 2010:

The freedom from religion is often misused. For example, when a Jewish community in A small city (to remain unnamed) was trying to get the municipality to approve an Eiruv (essentially a wire running around the perimeter of the city, allows Jews to carry things on the Sabbath. It was to be built and maintained at the expense of the Jewish communities in the city) the christian population of said city argued that it infringes on their freedom from religion. The same people saw no problem with spending municipal funds to put up Christmas trees and Christmas lights all over the city in December.

I'm not trying to say that there's any problem with freedom from religion, only that it needs to apply equally to all religions one might prefer to be free from.

Posted by robert texas on August 15, 2010:

I will unsubscribe immediately to thisistrue. I have thought your comments for sometime now have been full of anti-AAmerican sentiment and this confirms it. No one is trying to make this a Christian Nation. It already is one and has been since it's inception. Only uneducated (about the Constitution and Founding Fathers) liberal "free thinkers" such as yourself would ever make an assinine statement like "In God we trust" hasn't worked is not well thought out. If America were to turn to God and start practicing and living out the morals of Christianity, there would be no crime. Oh yeah...that's gonna happen one day anyway. I can't believe you morons on the left don't understand that sites like this will be shut down and "free thinking" will be illegal whenever muslims install Sharia law here in the U.S. Good luck to'll need it! I pray for those like you everyday..
(I know, I's not working...yet!) Adios, losers!


Yes, yes! Cover your eyes and plug your ears! No sense in having to think about any of this! Or even get your facts right. For instance, I didn't say the United States was not founded as a "Christian nation", our Founding Fathers did. And I'm so amused when readers think I'm some kind of Lefty: certainly liberals have been plenty upset with me, calling me a "Rush Limbaugh Conservative" for writings like this ("Fornigate") and this (guns). So indeed, cling to your "AAmerican" propaganda and shun that nasty old "assinine" thinking, reasoning, and established historical fact. -rc

Posted by Mike from Dallas on August 15, 2010:

"robert texas" complains you're "Only uneducated (about the Constitution and Founding Fathers)..."

"Uneducated" being the operative word here. Seems he missed something right there in the 1st Amendment. Not to mention that it would take throwing out the entire Constitution, along with all US Code to even attempt to establish Sharia law. Estimates range from less than 3 million to nearly 8 million Muslims living in the U.S., which accounts for maybe 1% - 2.5% of the population. Not exactly invading hordes, really.

Just goes to show that both the extreme Left and the extreme Right have extremely uneducated idiots, who actually sound pretty much the same in their extreme hallucinations. Probably would also help if they actually read the material that they're criticizing, but there goes that "uneducated" factor again. Reading comprehension.


Thanks for helping to prove that not all "texans" are obliviots. -rc

Posted by Ray, Adelaide Australia on August 15, 2010:

As this is an old discussion this may well not be seen, however here in Australia we have our first female Prime Minister (shock, horror!) who has the courage to declare she is an atheist.


She has certainly proven she has guts, which isn't a bad characteristic for a PM. -rc

Posted by Nancy in Pasadena Texas on August 15, 2010:

I am a little confused about something concerning this subject and wish someone would educate me. I have been watching discussions like this on a National level and have run into something that I do not understand. President Obama made a comment regarding building the Mosque near Ground Zero because it comes under the 1st Amendment. He also held a Feast of Ramadan dinner in the White House dining room, and has said they host other dinners celebrating holidays such as Christmas parties, seders, Diwalli, etc. I can accept all of this because the President is our biggest diplomat and uses these events to recognize various groups in our country even though tax payer money is used to some extent. However, in recent years it has become a tradition to recognize a National Day of Prayer and host an interfaith meeting in the East Room and invite protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders. I believe this could be a little more interfaith if leaders of other religions were invited, and it cannot be called a Christian event since Jewish leaders are invited, but this is not my point. My point is that the President did not want to participate in this event this year, nor did he want anyone to represent the White House in this event. This seems to me to be another example of pick and choose, unless I am missing something really important here. Since I am discussing religious events of all types in the White House, what am I missing?

Posted by Ian, Malaysia on August 16, 2010:

Reading the post from "robert" of "texas", it makes me wonder, is this a real guy or a joke?


He's real; it's his education that's a joke. He did come back to berate Mike in Texas, but it was so personally abusive I deleted it after only skimming the first paragraph. I don't mind debate in this forum, but it has to be thoughtful debate. -rc

Posted by DawnMarie, Texas on August 16, 2010:

I am a proud American, Veteran and **gasp** Pagan Voter. My very best friend is a convert to Islam. In the midst of Ramadan, our dinners together have been late, to support her in her chosen path. That aside, just remember the rhetoric, albeit before my time, of the Protestant Christians when we had a Catholic running for, and even better winning, the Presidency.

That was over 40 years ago, and I shudder to think that 40 years from now someone else's beliefs will still be forced upon me, because they think their way is the ONLY way.

I'll see you all in the Summerlands!

Posted by Cheryl, Rochester, NY on August 16, 2010:

I'm a conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian who is an ardent supporter of the First Amendment and freedom of religion (whatever that may or may not be). Thanks for sharing the proof we weren't founded as a Christian nation, Randy. I've long been looking for it, and now I'm sharing it in my livejournal and on facebook.


In my opinion, smart "conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist Christians" should be ardent supporters of the First Amendment and freedom of religion, since that's what allows your religion to thrive. Just like smart liberal, whatever-religion people should. It's the only way we can truly all get along. -rc

Posted by Michael in California (not that one!) on August 16, 2010:

To Nancy in Pasadena, doing a little research on the Internet brings me the information that the ecumenical meetings were primarily under George W. Bush. Pres. Obama has, instead, prayed by himself. His administration has also defended the 1952 law proclaiming a "National Day of Prayer" against lawsuits by groups trying to proclaim it unconstitutional.

The Internet rumor that the "National Day of Prayer" was canceled is just that, a rumor:

Here is a short history of the "National Day of Prayer":

Posted by Luke in DC on August 16, 2010:

In response to Nancy in Pasadena, TX. - Nancy, the Ramadan Dinner was actually started years ago by Bill Clinton and has become a White house tradition just like the Easter Prayer Breakfast.

As to the current Ground Zero mosque controversy, as a Republican, I'm appalled & disgusted by the party's stated desire to gut the constitution. What are we going to change the first amendment to read? "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion with the exception of Christianity, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, so long as you aren't Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or Atheist."?

Where would we draw the line? At Catholics? HELLO!!! There was a reason the Puritans left for the New World! FREEDOM OF RELIGION!!! It boggles my mind that those who swore to protect & defend The Constitution of the United States are the first ones to consider gutting a document that has served us well for over 200 years. I'm guessing that the First Amendment will be the first to go, (with an exception for Christianity & Fox News), then the 14th Amendment (get rid of all those pesky anchor babies like John McCain -- He was born on a Military base, which is covered by the 14th Amendment).

Then there is that pesky 15th Amendment (get rid of all those minorities voting) and the appalling 16th Amendment (no more taxes). Then maybe as the Piece de resistance, we can finally get rid of the 13th and get back to the way life was meant to be.

Please note this is filled with heavy sarcasm as I would be adversely affected by every single one of those amendments... Well, maybe not the taxes :-)

Posted by Frank, Gairloch, Scotland on August 17, 2010:

Get real, the text should read:

"In Murphy we turst".

Posted by Ernest, Junee, NSW, Australia on August 17, 2010:

I found the first story very interesting as I'm a Christian and the attitude shown is so totally against the precepts taught by Jesus. I'm sickened such intolerant people call themselves Christians. A Christian follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and his main teachings were tolerance and to accept people for what they are; he totally rejected intolerance in all forms. It's this form of intolerant distortion of teachings that cause most of today's problems around the world.

Posted by AllanW, Rancho Cucamonga on August 17, 2010:

One of these links goes to a joke, but both of them are relevant to this conversation:

Hillel: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? and if I am only for myself, what am I? and if not now, when?" (Quoted in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Emo Phillips on religious intolerance in Jumbo Joke.

- - -

In the late 1980's some of my family members went to visit Russia. They learned quite a lot there, mostly from the tour guide (who was employed by the Russian government). One question they asked was, "Do Russians have religious freedom?" The guide answered "We're supposed to say yes." Later, when they had a private moment, my relatives pressed a bit. Here's what finally came out: Russians are free to believe in whatever god they wish to. They don't have the right to preach just any religion, or participate in religious ceremonies, or display any religious artifacts, or suggest to anyone else that they ought to consider converting, or even to simply have a conversation about their god... Basically, they can believe in ANY god, so long as they never let anyone KNOW that they have their crazy belief.

I don't know, but I hope that things have changed since then.

Posted by Chris Walsh, Massachusetts on August 17, 2010:

Regarding the mosque in New York: Every time I personally question someone opposed to the mosque, they eventually recognize that the Muslim group has every legal right to build their place of worship. And then the argument shifts, very predictably, to: "But it's such a sensitive area! They should realize they are offending people and just not do it."

OK. Let's assume that given your outrage, the people building the mosque want to accommodate you. (They don't, obviously, but let's go with it to make a point.) How far does your zone of sensitivity extend? Three blocks is too close, apparently. How about four blocks? A mile? Three miles? Can they build somewhere in Albany, or is that too close, too?

Remember the conversations right after 9/11? How should we respond? Some of the advice was trivial crap: "If we stop shopping, the terrorists win." "If we stop laughing, the terrorists win." But fundamentally and quite correctly: "If we stop respecting the rights and freedoms of this country, the terrorists win."

I haven't forgotten that. Apparently those protesting against the constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom of non-Christians have forgotten it, though -- and they've decided to join Al-Qaeda's attacks on the basic fabrics of our country.

9/11 was a national tragedy. But using Ground Zero as a reason to protest against the rights of fellow citizens? Bin Ladin is grateful for the stupidity of the protesters.

Posted by Mike, Worcester, MA on August 17, 2010:

When I took a course in the history of ideas back around 1970 we read many documents from the early settlers and the Founding Fathers. When, for example, the Puritans came to the New World, their leaders said that they were seeking "religious freedom". But to them this meant that THEY would be free to worship as they thought proper; they saw no contradiction in persecuting those who believed something different.

A big reason for the First Amendment's prohibition of an "established" religion (meaning one that is officially supported by the government) is that the Framers of the Constitution realized that there were so many religions and denominations that no one group would have anything close to a majority in the US. The only way to avoid the strife and bloodshed which had plagued Europe for centuries (often over very minor doctrinal differences) was to prohibit preferential treatment for any one religion.

Having said all that, I think it is also fair to say that many of the principles enshrined in the US Constitution and other laws are consistent with Christian beliefs (and those of many others, of course). Things like respect for others' lives and property, governmental responsibility, truthfulness, the desirability of settling disputes peacefully -- all these go back to the Ten Commandments and/or the teachings of Jesus. Again, these are not unique to Judaeo-Christian thought, but it is reasonable to assume that the Framers were familiar with and inspired by these principles; they were, after all, the philosophies to which they had most been exposed.

One other thing about the Bill of Rights -- all the rights guaranteed there are a response to abuses the Framers had seen, and which they wanted the new country to avoid.

Posted by Nancy in Pasadena Texas on August 17, 2010:

Please let me clarify what I said since a few people seemed to misunderstand what I was asking. I did not say I was opposed to the Mosque, or that the National Day of Prayer was canceled. What I was asking was why, after all that he has said to defend the 1st Amendment, did he cancel the interfaith meeting in the East Room. I still feel it could be expanded by inviting leaders of more faiths, and could even be truly interfaith if a leader of Islam was invited, but I just thought it strange that the articles I read said he canceled the East Room meeting because he prays alone. I just wondered if this pick and choose because he hosts so many others, but canceled that meeting, and the papers said no one was allowed to represent the White House. I know how rumors start and do not know if they really were or were not allowed to represent the White House, I just thought it was a strange message to send to the nation after all he has said in defense of the 1st Amendment, and all the other meetings he has hosted in recognition of everyone in this country. I was simply wondering if there was something I missed because this was supposed to be for the nation, not about him, and saying he prays alone seemed a poor excuse for canceling the meeting.

By the way, the law formalizing the National Day of Prayer was in 1952, not the Bush Administration:

Posted by Don, Cambridge MA on August 18, 2010:

Interesting, Nancy -- so the National Day of Prayer was part of the McCarthy-era imposition of religion into public life, like the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance (1964).

That alone would be reason enough for Obama to cancel it. I'd like to think he takes the Constitution seriously, and has no interest in governmental religious display of any form. He clearly considers religion an personal matter, rather than an opportunity for public display. I admire him for that.

I do not understand why people think religion should be a feature of government or public function. For instance, Massachusetts courts still use "so help me God" in the swearing in. Why? I'm promising to tell the truth - either my word is good or it's not. What kind of message does that send to a Cambodian, a Hindu, or even someone who believes that belief in ancient mythology (steadily manipulated for political reasons) has nothing to do with civic responsibility.

Posted by John in Sherman Texas on August 18, 2010:

Wow! I just spent the last hour reading the original story and all these comments made over the last year and I must say it has put me in a very somber mood, to say the least.

What lured me to read this, beside the fact that R.C. brought it to our attention, was a conversation I had with a fellow employee the other night. He asked what I thought about the building of the mosque near "ground zero". He said that while he understands the "whole freedom of religion thing", that it still wasn't right, that he couldn't reconcile the fact that it was muslims that attacked our country and now they want to build a mosque near where the towers went down?!?

I told him I understood, and that I had mixed feelings about it too. I'm a 20-year Navy Retiree and what those people did to my country was an abomination. I have deep feelings about how "they", them Muslims, should be treated, and it ain't pretty.

But in service to my country I swore to uphold the right of every American, no matter their beliefs, to worship whomever and wherever they wanted. It's been over ten years since I retired and I still hold that belief. Hence the mixed feelings, and I don't think it's necessarily wrong to feel that way. However, I do think it's wrong to lump ALL Muslims into one group.

Just as there are radical Muslims, there are so many other radical groups proclaiming to be a messenger of God, Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Ahman Ra, etc.

I think Mekhong Kurt from Bangkok, Thailand said it best in his post of September 2, 2009: "On a larger canvas, it amazes me that the three great monotheistic religions, intimately entwined with each other, can be so antagonistic. After all, Christianity arose from Judiasm, in large measure, just as Islam arose on Judaic and Christian roots."

If one looks closely at the three great religions, they're all basically the same when it comes to core values as a human being, and to me that equates to "treat your neighbor as you would have him treat you". That's highly simplified, of course, but true in my book.

So why the animosity between the religions? Because someone back down the line, (probably a politician or spoiled member of a royal family), didn't get treated like he wanted to be treated. It's been gathering compound interest ever since.

Just my two cents.

Thanks, RC. I'll be sharing this discussion with my coworker. He seemed genuinely perplexed by the situation.


You're very honest to admit you have mixed feelings. And I appreciate your dedication to the ideals of the country, as expressed in the Constitution. As for your co-worker, you might spend some time learning about the proposed project: it's not even a mosque, and it's not even visible from, let alone "in", the Ground Zero parcel. -rc

Posted by Mike from Dallas on August 18, 2010:

It wasn't the Muslims that hit the World Trade Center. It was Arabs. They just used Islam as their excuse for engaging in a murderous rampage. The dictates of the Koran, as they're using them, are about as relevant as many of the dictates of the Old Testament, items only used by American Taliban such as Falwell, Robertson, and that idiot out of Kansas, Westboro something.

I've been to Indonesia, a Muslim country, a number of times, and I've never heard the hate and rhetoric there as these so-called Jihadists spew. Why does everything, I mean everything, have to be a religious conflict? The Irish and the Brits just plain don't like each other. Catholic vs Protestant didn't have a thing to do with it, but it made good press, so that's what everyone hears.

It's the Press that stirs everything up. "You supply the pictures; I'LL supply the war!" ~William Randolph Hearst (1898)

Posted by Laura, Maine on August 24, 2010:

In response to Becky, Sydney, Australia:

"The very nature of "religious belief" is a set of truths one believes is true - including the belief that there is no truth and everybody is right (or wrong). Nobody is neutral, and therefore no government can be truly "neutral", but it can be representative..."

Are you saying that perfect neutrality isn't possible because governments will never be perfect? That doesn't mean that neutrality isn't something to strive for. I doubt we'll ever have a zero crime rate, but we can still do things to reduce it. We may never achieve true neutrality, but I think we can do better than simply favoring each religious group with a weight based on the percentage of the population they amount to. Governments are made by people, but they aren't people themselves, so I think it's at least possible for them to come closer to neutrality than an individual person can.

Or are you saying that by trying to be neutral, governments are taking the position that "everyone's right"? I don't think so. I think they're taking the position that "the state shouldn't get to decide who's right, and everyone deserves to make their own decisions."

Posted by Ian, Philadelphia on September 18, 2010:

Given the indoctrination most all children receive, regardless the culture in which they are raised, it is not difficult to understand how nations reflect their religious majority.

The problem of making a free decision with regard to any religion is that for the most part indoctrination begins shortly after or in some cases at birth. People are not allowed to grow before their minds are instilled with the trappings of their family's culturally shared belief. This of course has gone on for decades even centuries in some countries. This is not only acceptable but also urged by others in the society and leaves the child with no alternative but to be included or suffer some sort of ostracism.

The learning curve in virtually any society is suppressed and contorted by the preconceptions inherent to the majority's collective beliefs. People born in any culture with a dominant religion are most likely to be raised with and consequently follow the beliefs of that religion.

It is clear that the society is only a part of this milieu but it is a major factor in the way all of those who live within its' social boundaries carry on their daily affairs. For over a century coinage in the US has carried the words "In God We Trust" regardless that some citizens do not.

As I see it, the major problem with religious belief is not so much that it exists rather that in the majority of cases it is not open to selection let alone rejection. Even adults, given the freedom of choice not offered to the formative minds of children, are more likely to change religion than to deny belief. In this way even a loose definition of so called free choice is based on improbable suppositions.

Another and perhaps more disturbing problem here is the social benefit awarded to religious groupings in the form of tax relief, zoning permits and land use. While it is true that there is an occasional public outcry, such as is being witnessed in New York City, there is rarely sustainable opposition to the construction of any church or place of worship. Of course this outcry might be more of a visceral response to the 9/11 attack which is attributed by some to adherents of the Muslim religion.

Although there is a declared freedom of religion in the USA the fact remains that until children are raised without the influence of familial and/or cultural practice of religious belief there is no, nor can there be any, freedom from religion.

Posted by Ian, Malaysia on September 20, 2010:

Hi, Philadelphia Ian. Malaysia Ian here, who was the first person to comment on this story (years ago, now?)

Anyway, indoctrinating your children in non-religion is also indoctrination, and your children have the same free will to change their minds :-) I'm a testimony to that -- growing up, my atheist father would regularly make derogatory remarks on religion and religious belief, but I ended up becoming a Christian anyway (in spite of being in a Muslim country.)

Freedom from religion, if enforced, is no freedom of religion. Freedom of religion, if enforced, includes the freedom to have no religion.

One of the things I admire about the USA is that your country has one of the best balances on this matter that I have personally seen. (Not a perfect balance, mind you, but a pretty decent one.)

Posted by Ian, Philadelphia on September 21, 2010:

Just for the record while I do not accept any of their tenets I do not denigrate or disrespect any religion.

Clearly my children were not exposed to overt religious thought but as well were aware that I would take them to any church service they wished to attend.

They were exposed to both my atheistic and their mother's Christian thought but there was never an indoctrination of any sort.

In fact I am somewhat chagrined that my oldest son of nineteen has been attending Mormon church services for the past few months.

A line must be drawn as belief and demonstrable fact are two entirely different things that must remain so if the society is to be free.

That you reside as a Christian in a Muslim country speaks well for the prevailing thought in your nation, but this is not the case in all countries with a predominate religious belief.

There should not be an allowance for or against religious belief. It is as difficult to accept the ancient Roman mindset as it is the contemporary Saudi Arabian.

Posted by tom, north carolina on March 10, 2011:

Even as a Protestant in this USA, I still get scared sh--less when freedom of religion is threatened. We all have to protect it.

Why, you ask?

Because if we ever get an official state religion, odds are, it probably won't be mine. Odds are, it probably won't be yours.

Wait, you say. You're a Protestant, a Christian, right? So you'd probably be safe?

No way. Remember, there are at least fifty denominations of Protestantism. And the Catholics have a bunch of different flavors, with the different Orthodox churches thrown in. Count in the Mormons, but there are schisms there, too.

Out of all those, what are the odds that MY denomination is going to be THE one? Or that YOURS will be?

I also have to thank Mike from Worcester, MA, for pointing out the example of the Puritans. They risked their lives for their religious freedom, because as Protestants, they could not conform to the Protestant church in England, or the one in Holland. So they came here, founded the colony around Boston...

...and began persecuting their citizens that also wanted to be Protestants, but not in exactly the same way. Roger Williams had to leave the colony, go found another, and start the Baptist church. (I have lost count of how many different Baptist denominations there are.)

Again, I thank Mike from Worcester for a great example of what happens if one doesn't get their "religion" exactly aligned with the "official" religion. It's not going to enough to be anything but the right denomination, with all opinions alighed with dogma.

So, with perhaps over a hundred denominations, religions, cults, and aetheism to choose from, if we ever lose religious freedom, odds are, the "official" religion won't be mine. Odds are, the "official" religion won't be yours.

That's why I think I'd go to the wall to protect religious freedom. It is what makes it possible for me to choose ny beliefs. (Instead of it being against the law to even wonder if God ever trims his beard.)

(A Mosque? An Ashram? The city council should just be glad the building isn't going to be used as for a coven of Satanists, with a big neon dancing Devil on top.)

ALL religious positions must be tolerated. Anything else is a slippery slope to another Inquisition.


Good points. Frankly, anyone who doesn't agree with your basic point just hasn't thought about it enough. -rc

Posted by Nancy from Texas on March 16, 2011:

Prejudice is so sneaky. It is easy to see in others, but difficult to impossible to see in ourselves. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about religion, people, or something else. In my Psych 101 class the professor pointed this out to us with a story of a hunting guide he and a group hired in another state. The guide left Texas because the prejudice against blacks and hispanics made him sick, and he didn't want to hear it anymore. On the return from the trip they saw an accident, but the guide didn't want to leave someone to watch the bodies because they were native American, and therefore animals, not human. He had become the very thing that had made him sick enough to leave where he was originally, but couldn't see it.

If we aren't vigilant and watch what we believe, we can easily become what we hate most. I admit to occasionally making mistakes like this myself, but try to correct myself when I do because I try to think about things I have said later if I don't catch myself when talking. I'm sure I don't always succeed because it is sometimes difficult to see your own mistakes, but I do try.

Posted by Archaya, Indonesia on April 25, 2011:

Stumbled on this old article by chance.

Broke my heart that my fellow Muslims were treated that way...but it hurts more that, contrary to the wishes of our Prophet Muhammad, the reverse would occur should you Christians attempt the same thing here in Indonesia.

Yes, we allow you your churches, your temples, etc...but Allah's wrath (or to be more exact, the wrath of the blasted locals) if you should even THINK of getting the remnants of an old, broken-down mosque that nobody'd bother to visit to build a church or temple or other unwholesome buildings like that.

Buildings that serve consumerism and waste, or that is a future rotting monument (read: malls, high rise apartments, parking lots etc.) are most welcome, however.

Thanks for bringing this sort of tragedy to my knowledge, and thanks for helping to reduce the injustices we find -- one at a time. Hopefully in time I might do the same when another faith gets attacked, no matter what way.

As per the second article, let me just say that I learned something today. I really DID think that "In God We Trust" was just a shorthand for some belief in a Higher Power.... Well like that Pat of NY says, I know that it is mere posturing...not that pernicious though....

Thanks again for setting me straight.

Posted by Ian, Malaysia on April 26, 2011:

Archaya, yes, unfortunately, many radicals in Indonesia have been attacking Christians, making up false charges, burning churches, preventing Christians from meeting for worship, and even murder and attempted genocide.

Just this month, the mayor of Bogor again prevented that GKI church from building their building and meeting, in spite of the Indonesian Supreme Court declaring that they had the right to do so, and someone tried to blow up a church of 3000 people in Serpong on Good Friday (which was fortunately prevented by the police.)

And last month, the people who stabbed the church leaders in Ciketing got off with a slap on the wrist. Indonesia must take a firm stand against these radicals or they will just take it as license.

And earlier this year, a thousand Islamic radicals stormed a courthouse and burned churches in central Java.

However, with more Muslims like you, and the late Gus Dur, and the Nahdlatul Ulama, there is hope. But both the government and larger Muslim ummah need to stand up for what is right -- "There is no compulsion in religion," as your Holy Quran says.

Show the radicals that Pancasila means that EVERYONE's religious freedom should be respected.

Posted by Miguel, CA on July 31, 2012:

One of the best ways to support religious tolerance is to learn about the different religions that people follow. I've learned wonderful insights into humanity from this and learned to see beyond unfamiliar customs to see who the people are beyond various faiths and creeds (including atheism). You don't need to convert to another religion to see that it has value.

Just a few of the lessons are: Christianity can teach you about the nature of sacrifice for another. Islam shows the importance of making your faith a continual part of your daily life. Buddhism teaches us that many of our problems come from within ourselves. Wicca makes us think about the way we influence those around us. Judaism reveals how important it is to study your traditions and interpret what they mean in the modern world. Athiesm shows that it's important to consider how you treat others in this world. Discordianism teaches us to appreciate the absurdity inside all of us.

I encourage, no -- I challenge all of you to learn about a religion you don't know much about (and even scholars can always find a new faith out there). For those involved with an organization of faith, reach out to another community and ask them to speak to your congregation and you can speak to theirs.

Ignorance breeds intolerance. Luckily ignorance is curable.


There's a lot of wisdom in very few words, here. Thanks, Miguel. -rc

Posted by Carmen, SC on October 22, 2012:

Hugs for everyone here that has been able to keep this a civil discussion. Extra hugs for Randy for deleting that bad one and the efforts he puts forth to make us think and laugh.

Extra for Miguel as well for his wisdom. I so agree with you Miguel, Ignorance does breed intolerance. Having grown up in a home that practiced no religion to speak of, I have searched high and low over the years to find something to believe in. I have books on all the different religions, have attended several Churches, and have been known to walk out in the middle of the service when the person at the front was not teaching what they claimed to believe in.

My husband and I have been "discussing" all the points here and more, I keep saying if you're willing to believe one thing, then be willing to explore the opposite side. Tonight we finally came to a truth, he isn't willing to consider anything but his negative attitude towards people who are of different cultures and religions. Now that is something I can accept and understand. Now to work on the don't try and shove something down my throat that I personally find deplorable, ie: religious and cultural bigotry.

Thank you all again.


You said you've been searching for "years to find something to believe in." I suggest you stop looking at books and such, and look within. It sounds to me like everything you need to know is already there. -rc

Posted by Dieter, Toronto on July 6, 2013:

I know this is an ancient post but I have always wanted to comment on the "In God we trust" that is on the banknotes. Perhaps I am getting too old but I have always had a lot more faith in banknotes when it said " I promise to pay the bearer on demand". I can't remember if the God part was on it at the time, I always thought they replaced silver with God.

Posted by Ian, Malaysia on August 12, 2013:

Recently, some Singaporean Buddhists who were staying in a hotel in Malaysia needed a place to meditate, but the general hall was occupied.

The Muslim manager of the hotel kindly allowed them to meditate in the hotel's Islamic surau (prayer room), which was not being used at the time.

That manager has been arrested by the Malaysian authorities!

Reader comments on the above stories have been generally condemning of the Malaysian authorities' position:

One cool thing in the above comments was a link to this article in a Muslim newspaper about this cool event: A church gives space for Muslims to pray:

Posted by Dieter, Toronto on March 1, 2014:

I rarely go to the States, though I did use US dollars quite often before I came to Canada, and I must say that I very much preferred the US Dollar before it put its trust in God, when it said "I promise to pay the bearer on demand".

Posted by "Fish", WA on June 10, 2014:

Personally I prefer our country's original motto: "E pluribus unum" (Latin for "Out of many, one") because it is a very UNITING motto. It brings us together and unites us as one people, regardless of our differences, whatever they may be.

Our current motto however, "In God We Trust", is absolutely deplorable in my opinion for the very opposite reason: it fails to unite us and instead on serves to divide us into two completely incompatible camps: those who believe in God and those who do not (along with the none too subtle message that those who do not are not welcome here).

One motto -- E Pluribus Unum -- binds us together (i.e. strengthens, or unites us).

The other motto -- In God We Trust -- on the other hand, only serves to divide (and thus weaken) us.

E Pluribus Unum -- our country's original motto -- is one we should ALL embrace as the one that best reflects what our great country stands for: the freedom to believe (or not believe) whatever you want. The concept that ALL beliefs (i.e. ALL peoples) are welcome here.

We are after all the UNITED State of America, and not the Divided States of America.

Aren't we?


Posted by John, Manning SC on September 2, 2014:

What I don't see any comments about is the fact that President Obama is doing a better job of following Jesus's instructions about prayer than any of the groups who insist on forcing their prayer on others.

Jesus directed that we should not pray publicly but we should pray privately (Matthew 6:6).

He also berated the very public pray-er who berated the poor man next to him while boastfully praying loudly to God that he was nothing like that man (Luke 18: 9-14). Sounds an awful lot like these public officials whose prayers are better than the other "poor" people in their districts.

Posted by John, Muskegon, MI on January 20, 2015:

I absolutely agree that our country wandered off the tracks in relation to the government's responsibility to religious freedom as set forth by our constitution. Randy, I am of your same frame of mind. What could I do to possibly affect the political and social morass that we find ourselves in as regards to religion & government?

Your statement "But alas, nobody asked me" struck a chord. Exact same thing I would say. But then that would be two of us. I am willing to bet that maybe a few others agree. And I am sorry to say that you have a decent forum to reach a large number of (what I would call) reasonable people (citizens). Shall we make a call for true religious freedom? Can we do that? Freedom of religion is so strongly connected to others that we seem more comfortable with; freedom of speech, freedom of press, the right to assemble (all in the 1st amendment), the right to due process, all apply to the separation of The Church from The State. Can we just make a plea to return to true constitutional guidelines on what have become social issues?

I am the same. "Nobody asked me". I vote but I have not bothered to educate. I am asking you if it is possible for you (having the "bully pulpit" of sorts) to help in actually educating the masses in hope of some material change in national philosophic attitude (yes it's all about attitude).

This is all a hypothetical question. My upbringing does not allow for a call to action.


John refers to a follow-up, of sorts, to this page in the 18 January 2015 issue.

Can we call for true religious freedom? Certainly: as you point out, we both have freedom of speech. But even my platform is still tiny, especially compared to those who would scream about there only being freedom for their religion -- they won't see the irony or the hypocrisy of that. Few have. Even cases that have wound through the court system have done little to get back to the Founders' Constitutional ideas. But that's probably where we should try again and again, because Congress is surely never going to act. -rc

Posted by Eileen in San Jose on February 7, 2015:

While reviewing this thread, I recalled my church-going as a kid in Albuquerque in the 1960s. We were a military family. There was a chapel on the air base that was called the "non-denominational" church. There were many different kinds of services held there...Catholic, Protestant, Jewish. I don't recall if there were Muslim services. To my recollection, there was not strife about the building itself. The chapel was very pretty...the stained glass windows had a geometric pattern and the religious trappings were changed out to the appropriate groupings for the scheduled service. (I wish I could go back and look at the store room...crosses right next to stars of David, oh my!)

This seems to me, as an adult looking back, a good way to utilize resources to serve the needs of a diverse populace. I'm told that the military clergy learned the rites and rituals of "other" religions than their own so that they could perform marriages and death services when needed. Bravo! Let's blend and mix and be tolerant of would be SO boring if we were all the same.

Just saying....

Posted by David, Alabama on July 13, 2015:

The 1st Amendment to the US Constitution says "Freedom OF Religion." That means to me that ALL of us REGARDLESS of who or WHAT we worship should have the same rights, but we don't.

I am writing this 5 years after the 10-year 'anniversary' of the original article and 15 years since the original article was written. As a Christian I respect the rights of other religions to worship as they please, but let's face it folks--Islam's STATED objective is to have EVERYONE convert to Islam or DIE! I am not trying to single out a particular religion but that is what the Quran teaches.

Today the problem I also see is that Sexual Deviancy has become a religion and the people who practice demand 'tolerance' but, just like Muslims say "Convert or Die," this new 'religion' basically demands that we bend and respect them but with no concomitant respect back--that is NOT tolerance! Furthermore, the 1st Amendment is being violated DAILY by the Government, Federal and State. Refuse to bake a cake for a 'wedding' on religious grounds and you lose your house, your business and your right to free speech! Refuse to offer health insurance that FORCES abortions because it violates your religious views and you can lose your business, refuse to BUY the same insurance and the IRS will be breathing down your neck forever because they were given enforcement power. But all of these fates ONLY happen to CHRISTIANS! Islam does not approve of sexual deviancy but they get a pass when THEY refuse.

I have no problem coexisting with other religions as long as the playing field is level.


The phrase you quote is not in the First Amendment, which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." -rc

Posted by Miguel, Irvine CA on July 14, 2015:

Hello David,

You are not being asked to bend or respect other people's choices. You are merely asked to accept that these exist.

If you bake wedding cakes, bake them for everybody. You don't need to support their marriage to bake a cake. You can even say that you disagree with their marriage when they place the order. If you want to only bake cakes for certain people, start a private baking club.

No health insurance forces abortions, but others will pay for it. This is another person's health care. You don't want my choices limiting what health care you get, do you? If I say I don't want you getting treatment for cancer, then why do I have control over your life?

I know Muslims that don't want to take over. Perhaps speaking to actual Muslims instead of people trying to incite fear would change your mind. As for what the Quran teaches, remember that there are lots of things in the Bible that sound wrong when taken out of context. It's been used to support slavery, communism, and many other things. That doesn't mean all Christians are like that.

Your freedom to choose ends at your own choices. Choosing for another is wrong. Yes, some people will do things you consider sinful. That has always been the case since day 1. Accept this, perhaps say your peace about it, and move on.

Other people have the same obligation. To accept Christians' right to exist and not to block their rights. It's perfectly fair.

Posted by don in wisconsin on November 21, 2015:

Well said RC! Sounds like you might becoming one of us.

Say, is it alright for me to share you blog above with the folks at and my local group of freethinkers

thanks and i enjoy your blog and comments on life.


I'm not sure what I'm becoming, but note that this essay was written in summer 2000. And you're welcome to share the URL for this page anywhere you think it will be appreciated. -rc

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