I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State -Thomas Jefferson
Many of our citizens have little or no understanding of the purpose behind the American Revolutionary War. They do not understand why we endured those bloody battles or the reason we decided that we could no longer be part of the Monarchy of United Kingdom in it’s form at the time. There are many in this country that have either chosen to ignore, were taught incorrectly or simply were never told why we felt it mandatory to dissolve our connection to the British Monarchy and it’s history of repeated violations to the basic human rights of those under it’s rule.
Perhaps these people need to be reminded that those under Crown rule at that time were the subjects of absolute tyranny, and that the Monarchy was hostile to what was wholesome and necessary for the public good. Perhaps they forgot that the residents of the original thirteen colonies were denied protection unless they agreed to relinquish the right of representation. Perhaps they forgot how fortunate we are to have a representative government that checks and balances itself and does not allow for entire legislative bodies to be relieved of their duties because they are not in agreement with a supreme ruler. Perhaps they do not realize what it meant to be under martial law, even in times of peace, and that the members of a standing army were held immune to prosecution no matter how heinous the crimes against the Subjects of the Crown were.
Contrary to what many believe, the American Revolution was not about taxes alone and it had nothing at all to do with establishing a Christian nation. As the Declaration so aptly states, it was about being deprived of such things as the benefits of trial by jury, for taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms government without any input from the people. It was about the Crown suspending it’s own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate in all cases whatsoever. It was about the ability of the Monarchy to wage war on it’s own citizens and, without reservation, to plunder our seas, ravage our coasts, burn our towns, and destroy the lives of our ancestors without any judicial or legislative regulation.
The list of charges levied toward the Monarchy, and specifically King George III, in the body of the Declaration are numerous and largely unknown by our own citizenry. The crimes against humanity that were committed by the Crown were egregious and many. But instead of recognizing the Declaration of Independence as an important document stating our insistence to individual freedom and a government of the people, by the people and for the people, it has been relegated by the religious right as a weapon to promote their desire to bring the United States back to a form of government that is almost identical to the one we originally fought so hard to be free of.
The sole purpose of the Declaration was to “dissolve the political bands”, not to set up a religious nation. Its authority is based on the idea that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” which is contrary to the biblical concept of the Theocracy that the Religious Right would impose upon us.
Fundamentalist Christians work hard to convince us that the founding fathers intended to establish this country on “biblical principles.” History does not support this. Many of the men who signed the Declaration were not bible-believing Christians, we are governed by the Constitution, which is a secular document and very purposely begins with “We the people” and of equal purpose does not contain any mention of God or Christianity. Its only references to religion are exclusionary and the very first amendment made to our constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In fact, the presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase “so help me God” or any requirement to swear on a bible
The 1797 Treaty with Tripoli declares that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” and was approved by the Senate under John Adams. In fact, the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, was a Deist and vehemently opposed to orthodox Christianity as well as the supernatural. The famous quote of Thomas Jefferson, which includes the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” was part of a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. They had asked President Jefferson to explain the First Amendment, to which he replied, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions”.
Our government has no right to promulgate religion. The Supreme and lower courts have used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase repeatedly in major decisions upholding neutrality in matters of religion.
In 1971, referencing the Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, the Supreme Court forged what is known as the “Three Part Lemon Test” to determine if a law is permissible under the First-Amendment religion clause.
- A law must have a secular purpose.
- It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
- It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.
The billboards that are popping up all over the country that exclude “Under God” from a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance are very patriotic and true to the principles that our country was founded upon, which is contrary to the propaganda of the Religious Right, many in the GOP and just about all of the Tea Baggers. The United States of America is not one nation under God, but one nation under a Constitution. The Declaration of Independence served an honorable purpose and paved the way for the drafting of our awesome Constitution, which was immediately and specifically amended with the Bill of Rights to uphold individual and minority rights. The fact that a majority of our citizens are Christian does not make us a Christian nation and on constitutional matters there is no majority rule. The majority has no right to tyrannize the minority on matters such as race, gender, or religious belief or the lack of religious belief. The wisest policy is the constitutional one, and that is neutrality.
The religious right are behaving like petulant, spoiled children. Nobody is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt religious organizations are everywhere. The state has almost no say about private religious beliefs and practices. The Christian Fundamentalists are behaving like the Monarchy was in the Revolutionary days and they cannot even see it because they are blinded by their own ignorance. They seem to have forgotten that the “due process” 14th Amendment assures no public official from the governor all the way down to the public school employee may violate the human rights embodied in our Constitution. At every level, the government must respect the separation of church and state.
Billboards that remove “under God” from the Pledge reflect fact. Those words did not appear until 1954, under McCarthyism, which was not one our finest hours. Likewise, “In God We Trust” was absent from paper currency before 1956. Our original motto chosen by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson was “E Pluribus Unum” (Of Many, One) and was meant to celebrate plurality, not theocracy.
I also remind those who believe that our laws are based on the Ten Commandments that the first four Commandments are religious edicts having nothing to do with law or ethical behavior. Only three (homicide, theft, and perjury) are relevant to current American law, and have existed in cultures long before the fictional character of Moses was invented. It’s ironic that during this recession if we honored the commandment against “coveting,” it would cause our entire economy to completely collapse.
Our secular laws are based on the secular humanist principle of “justice for all” and they provide protection against crimes that our secular government enforces through a secular criminal justice system. The religious fanatics are ignoring history, law and fairness in their efforts to turn America into the Christian nation that it never was. Fundamentalist Christians would like nothing more than to deny the constitutional freedoms that are guaranteed to all Americans, including non-Christian religious minorities and unbelievers. What they refuse to acknowledge is that history shows that only harm comes of uniting church and state. The aforementioned actions of the religious right are mirroring the tyranny of the 18th century British Monarchy only prove that ignorance of history results in it’s repetition.
America has never been a Christian nation. It was not founded on Christian or Biblical principles. The founding fathers were not all Christians. We are and must remain, at all costs, a free nation. Anne Gaylor, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, points out: “There can be no religious freedom without the freedom to dissent.” As Americans, we must continue to uphold the principles of individual freedom that our country was founded upon. As Atheists, we must work against the real enemies of the state, those who would see our great Nation transformed into a Theocracy.
It would do good to remember that the “blessings” we enjoy as Americans do not come from some imaginary skydaddy. We are a secular nation and the freedoms, rights and privileges we enjoy come from the guarantees that are set forth in our secular constitution.