Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Freedom to Pray; Freedom from Prayer

I've seen a number of posts in various journals this week about the efforts of a group called the American Family Association to attack a reading assignment of the Q'uran during a student orientation at the University of North Carolina. I went and paid a visit to the website for the American Family Association, including pages for its legal action group. The statements and descriptions there made me remember why we must never be complacent about our freedom. Anyone who wonders about the true agendae and compassion of these groups need only read the attacks on people of other views contained in those sites.

I believe strongly in the freedom of religion. I believe that neutral and free expression of religion or the lack thereof by priviate citizens is a key value. However, the religious right has taken a curious two prong attack upon our First Amendment liberties. The first prong is a repeated attempt to establish the Christian religion in our institutions. The second prong is a repeated attempt to attack any expression of non-Christian ideas through attempts to use the First Amendment in litigation.

The First Amendment has two key concepts in dealing with religion. One is that no state religion should be established. The other is that each individual should have freedom of religion. I support litigation which achieves either of those goals, such as the efforts of prayer groups to get equal treatment with bowling clubs and young Republicans in using school rooms after hours. But the right wing dual attack on the First Amendment freedom irritates me no end. On the one hand, repeated efforts to establish the Christian religion are made. One example is the series of statutes, all struck down as ignoble and obvious attempts to establish religion, that tried to force schools to teach "creation science" as an alternative to the theory of evolution. Right wing legal advocacy groups pushed hard to argue that such obviously religious teachings were "neutral". The current movement, in which right wing advocacy groups attempt to argue that any mention of any non-Christian religion, no matter how non-establishmentarian, is a First Amendment violation, is similarly without basis or nobility. In essence, the right wants us to freely air the Bible in public schools, but suppress any mention of any other scripture. As a member of the "religious left", I am deeply troubled by this.

The bottom line is that the religious right does not believe that the First Amendment means what it says. They imagine that Thomas Jefferson, who drafted it, would have insisted that they have the right to suppress other faiths while assidiuously promoting their own faith. They conveniently ignore Jefferson's own take on matters of faith and religious freedom. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson's views on matters of faith and separation are a far cry from the religious right's. The same people who argue for following the framers' "original intent" ignore altogether the broad support for freedom of religion held by many Deist framers.

I find offensive the conduct of liberal Senators and Congresspeople who leaped to joined the misguided effort to criticize the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals' decision that the use of "one nation under God" in the pledge of allegiance was unconstitutional. The record in that case clearly indicated that President Eisenhower signed the bill adding the phrase to the pledge with the express intention that children have to recite a belief in God. Although cases such as the pledge case, which involve "traditional" recitals, do not interest me very much, the Ninth Circuit's result was essentially right, and the election-minded legislators are clearly wrong when they denounce it.

One thing September 11 has taught us is the need to protect religious freedom from those who do not respect it. This is a need which requires all of us to stand up for freedom of religion, freedom from governmental imposition of religion, and freedom not to practice a religion at all.

When I see well funded conservative groups trying to dismantle our Constitution, I am reminded that the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance. I must figure out what I can do to try to help protect the freedom of religion, including the freedom from religion.

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