Freedom Of and Freedom From Religion [OPINION]
Recently, I came across a religious statement that left me a little confused. My wife and I encountered an elderly couple in the elevator on our way to the Obstetrician’s office, both of whom were wearing jeweled crucifixes bigger than you’d see a Rap singer wear, and matching shirts saying “Its Freedom of Religion, not Freedom from Religion.” Why was I confused? Well, this was a statement I’ve never encountered. As a non-Christian, the idea of Freedom of and Freedom from religion have always been important to me. I’ve always considered those ideas linked, the opposite sides of the same coin. But I was so interested in understanding this idea that I looked into it the moment I got home.
In researching Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom from Religion, I found a multitude of articles, some respectful, others bashing and immature, written by those of faith and those not. Among the articles in opposition of Freedom from Religion were several accounts of non-Christians, mainly Atheists or Agnostics (not the same thing), taking legal action against personal religious displays on private property. I have no problem admitting it, I’m Agnostic. And I was completely ashamed to read what these idiotic people tried to accomplish. I may not be religious, but I’m never going to tell anyone they can’t have their own personal religious expressions on their property. So in this case, I agree that the Freedom from Religion doesn’t apply and I can understand one’s opposition to it.
I also came across several articles against Freedom from Religion that based their argument in that the Freedom of Religion only applies to Christianity as we are a Christian nation, and therefore Freedom from that Religion shouldn’t apply. The big question to ask here is, “Are we a Christian Nation?” Well, it depends on the criteria one looks at. Is a majority of our population Christian? Yes. Were our Founding Fathers primarily Christian? Yes they were. So by looking at the majority of our country, a country where majority rules, and the majority of our Founding Fathers, one can make the argument that we are a Christian nation. Unfortunately for those who use those criteria, there is a major flaw. Using the same criteria, one can make the argument that we are a White nation too. Our nation is primarily Caucasian, as were our founding fathers, but to say we are a White nation, implying the publically and politically accepted superiority of whites, is racial bigotry as we live in a nation of equality for all citizens. So if using thiscriteria in terms of ethnicity is racial bigotry, is using it in this argument considered religious bigotry?
Let’s ask that question again; are we a Christian nation? When you look at the Constitution, many say we are not. The Constitution does not mention Christianity itself, and the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Though debated countless times, the generally accepted meaning of that statement is that our nation does not and will not recognize and mandate an official religion for its citizens. Many have argued, and rightly so, that Christian ideals helped shape the origin of our nation, but some Founding Fathers and architects of our nation were Deists and Atheists. The Declaration of Independence does make two references to a deity, but doesn’t specify a religion from that deity. Possibly the most famous document from the early days of our nation that specifically refers to Christianity is the Treaty of Tripoli (1796) which states,
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
The existence of an idea like Freedom from Religion has been interpreted as an attack against religion, but actually it is necessary for anyone claiming religious freedom. For a Christian to have the ability to worship freely, he/she must be free from the restrictions of other faiths such as Judaism and Islam. Likewise, a Muslim American cannot be free to worship if he/she is required to recognize the Christian God or abide by Buddhist teachings.
The more I looked into this situation, Separation of Church and State came up many times. And before anyone says it, allow me: “Separation of Church and State” appears nowhere in the Constitution. It was coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a church responding to their request that he mediate a dispute within the church. But something else of interest came up a few times in response to that. Let’s look at a few of the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights…
4th Amendment - The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
5th Amendment - No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
6th Amendment - In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
7th Amendment - In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
8th Amendment - Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendments four through eight in the Bill of Rights lay out things such as the right to a speedy trial, a trial by jury of your peers, no double jeopardy or self-incrimination, and other aspects of legal proceedings. But something that is not stated is the words “Right to a Fair Trial”. Though those words do not appear in the Bill of Rights, these Amendments define the qualifications for someone to receive a fair trial, such as many consider the First Amendment to define the Separation of Church and State without using that phrase.
As many aspects of these debates are repeatedly in contention, for a moment let’s operate under the standpoint that we are a Christian nation, or at the very least on our way to becoming an officially recognized Christian nation. If that were the case, would we have Freedom of Religion? Well, in a way, yes. Citizens would have the freedom to be Christian. As many citizens are already of a faith recognized as part of Christianity, that wouldn’t seem like much of a change to current daily life. Our government would be centered on God and Christianity, as well as our schools. Many religious leaders and politicians, such as Mike Huckabee, have recently expressed such desires after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., citing that such a country would result in a higher moral fabric for society. Placing aside the fact that being religious, no matter the religion, doesn’t immediately equal being moral, there’s a major downfall to such a country: no true freedom of religion. Though citizens would have the “freedom” to be Christian, non-Christian citizens would not have the freedom to not be subjected to it. It would be taught in schools as the ultimate, non-debatable truth, and would be a central part to our government. Recently I heard people express such a wish for our society, but then follow up that such an arrangement would not be forcing Christianity upon people. Please consider what would happen if the opposite were true, and America had another religion, say Islam for example, that was to be taught as truth to children in public schools and be the focal point of our government. Would you then feel your freedom of/from religion to be violated?
To look at the flip side where we are not a Christian nation, does that mean Christianity is not allowed in school? Of course not. Though there have been cases where public schools told students they couldn’t’ pray or have their bibles, these were direct violations of the students’ First Amendment rights. No school is allowed to tell its students they cannot pray nor have the religious texts of their religion, placing all religions on equal standing. While attending school in Texas, I never once saw a request for prayer, either personal or group, go denied. I was invited to join, but never forced. So at least from my standpoint, I cannot understand the claim that not officially recognizing Christianity results in Christianity being kept out of schools. There’s a difference between refusing it in schools and not requiring it.
What do you think about the idea of Freedom from Religion? Can we truly call ourselves a religious nation and still have the freedom for all religions for all citizens?
Note from the Author: This is a very controversial topic and I know my standpoint to such an issue is very controversial, especially in a conservative area like Northern Texas. It is never my intention to offend or insult, but to offer a differing opinion and a respectful open discussion, something I think is highly lacking in today’s volatile political climate.