Monday, June 27, 2005

"Free speech - to everyone who agrees with us!"

Over the past few weeks, I've been getting into conversations with friends and colleagues about the role of religion in government. Certain things tend to spark this:

1 - The insistence of some people to hold on to the "Under God" segment of our Pledge of Allegiance,
2 - Attempts to justify, by these same people, the presence of the Ten Commandments in public structures, and
3 - Any discussion of separation of church and state.

My position, in a nutshell - As soon as government does anything that has to do with religion, other than guarantee its free practice, government has overstepped its stated authority.

Why? Well, basically because that's the entire premise the United States was originally founded on. English Puritans were sick of religious persecution at the hands of government, so they braved the rather rotten trip across the Atlantic Ocean and started up their own country here (after displacing some pesky natives).

Let's skip the colonialism issue for now.

In the United States Constitution, the word "God" does not appear. Not even once. Nowhere. I've looked. Is that because America was founded by a bunch of godless atheists? Not remotely - in fact, the cultural sting of Puritanism can still be felt today (try buying a fifth of Jack Daniels on Sunday).

The point was to distance the practice of religion as far from the exercise of government as possible, thereby ensuring that both were free to operate in their respective fields. Government would look after the safety, well-being, and liberty of its people, and religion would provide them with the transcendence sought by each faith. "...And never the twain shall meet," or something along those lines.

Fast forward about 150 years to the big Pinko-Commie-Red Scare, which happens to be around the time we inserted the words "Under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. That lasted until around now, and kids such as myself grew up happily repeating the Pledge at the beginning of school without having even the vaguest notion as to what it actually meant.

Which brings us to issue number one - "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why does that three-syllable phrase so desperately have to stay in the Pledge, according to some corners? I can't get my mind around it. If you're stringently religious, what difference does it make to your own experience of faith whether the word "God" appears in a compulsory pledge or not? Does the presence or non-presence of the word "God" have any impact whatsoever on your faith? Tell you what, don't answer that yet.

Same argument for the Ten Commandments, which are upheld in one form or another by all religions that cite what's known to Christianity as the Old Testament. Members of those faiths who have the devotion enough to be activist about their beliefs certainly don't need their faith validated by the presence of the Ten Commandments on state or federal property, correct? Surely, the faith of those pushing for placing the Ten Commandments in and around state property is strong enough to withstand not seeing them when they go to pay a traffic ticket.

And I think it's safe to stipulate on both these points that there is a certain section of the population that does not believe either in God or in a set of Ten Judeo-Christian Commandments.

But even if there wasn't, who cares? Why do religious symbols need to be present in governmental pledges, buildings, or parks?

I've thought about this a bit, and I think I've figured out the answer. It's a collective, grassroots, and perhaps unconscious method of alienating people with different beliefs. I'd wager that no one behind movements to put prayer into schools or the Ten Commandments into our courthouses actually thinks that the outcome of their lobbying, successful or not, will have any impact on their own individual faith. But they do know that some people don't share that faith... and maybe by asserting their ability as the majority to get what they want, they can keep "outsiders" out of sight.

Personally, I've been religious all my life. I grew up in a very Catholic family, and I've come to realize that the exercise of religion is only really valid when it's a free choice that's made by an individual, without coercion of any kind.

That means I don't want the government involved in anything that has to do with God. And it's not just because I want to practice religion freely, it's also because the government has no damn business meddling in religion. Religion, as it is practiced, is outside the government's - any government's - authority. And any time the government does anything with regards to religion, other than make sure that each and every one of its citizens are able to practice it freely, they've overstepped that authority.

So keep the Ten Commandments out of the public schools, courthouses, and parks. And while we're at it, let's ditch the Pledge of Allegiance altogether. There's no sense in making anyone repeat some mindless oath when the only people to whom it means anything already are faithful to their country.

And, wrapping this all up, is anyone else slightly bothered by the fact that at the same time that different courts are giving the go-ahead to certain communities (in Texas, surprise, surprise) to post the tenets of a specific religious code on their public buildings, Congress is pushing through a proposed amendment to ban the burning of the American Flag?

I realize these are two separate bodies, but the trend is slightly frightening. Banning flag-burning only cheapens the act of not burning a flag.

I can't help but hear the message: "Free speech for everyone who agrees with us!"

That's not the country I signed up to help defend.


Attempts to get traffic from The Mudville Gazette, Michelle Malkin, and Power Line.