Op Ed for Americans United

The religion clause of the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The First Amendment also protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, and redress.

The religion clause has been interpreted over the years by scholars and the Supreme Court to mean that the state shall not interfere in the realm of religion nor shall religion interfere in governance by the state.  Many scholars, including Thomas Jefferson, have called this the wall of separation between church and state.

The religion clause of the First Amendment says: “Congress
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
free exercise thereof.”  The First
Amendment also protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, and redress.

The religion clause has been interpreted over the years by
scholars and the Supreme Court to mean that the state shall not interfere in
the realm of religion nor shall religion interfere in governance by the
state.  Many scholars, including Thomas
Jefferson, have called this the wall of separation between church and state.

The Central Savannah River (CSRA) Chapter of Americans United
for Separation of Church and State (AU) has been formed to affirm the First
Amendment.  Our concerns center on public
education about religious liberty, protection of religious diversity and
freedom from theocratic interference in governance.

  While there are some
limits on the practice of religion, the freedom to practice one’s religion is
one of the most fundamental rights of citizens of the US.  There are many religious communities in the
CSRA: the more common Christian, both Protestants and Catholics, the less
common Jewish and Muslim, but also Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Pagan, B’hai, Jain,
Agnostic, Humanist, and others.  The
Constitution guarantees the individuals of all these religious affiliations, or
indeed non-affiliated individuals, the right to practice religion as each sees
fit within the confines of the law. 

In order to protect religious freedom for all, education
should include comparative religion so that voters understand the tenets of
different belief systems and how each belief system can be accommodated wisely within the confines of protecting
individual liberty.  The proposed
education is not indoctrination into a specific religion, but an education
about the general tenets of each religion, recognizing that within each religion
there will be a number of sects that exhibit subtle differences from the common
tenets.  Indeed, it is likely that
individuals within those sects will exhibit subtle differences from the
professed beliefs of that sect.  All of
these religious beliefs are protected by the first amendment as long as the
practices that they promote do not interfere with the rights of others.

Over the years there have been attempts to use government
resources to promote specific religious ideas. 
Most recently efforts have been directed toward the teaching of Creation
Science and Intelligent Design in public schools.  These ideas have been proposed as
alternatives to teaching the process of evolution. Both ideas originated as
religious tenets and were dressed as science for presentation to the
public.  There is no scientific evidence
for either. While we believe that anyone has the right to believe those tenets
if they choose to do so, government resources should not be used to promote
either Creation Science or Intelligent Design because both are fundamentally
religious.  They certainly should not
supplant the teaching of evolution, since there is considerable scientific
evidence supporting that process.  Nor
should government funds or property be used to support the posting of the Ten
Commandments because they are fundamentally religious in nature, dealing only
cryptically with governance issues (commandments 6 thru 9).

The religious clause of the first amendment also guarantees
that the dominant religion will not bully minority religions into
submission.  Human history is replete
with examples of such bullying.  It is
time to recognize that individuals have a right to their own religious views
and that neither the state nor a religious corporation has a right to impose
religious beliefs on any individual.  The
best way to guarantee both religious freedom and the neutrality of government
is to keep religion and government
completely separate.  It is our job as
the CSRA  Chapter of AU to educate the
public that complete separation of church and state is desirable, beneficial,
possible, and, indeed, imperative.

 

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