Keep Us Safe. Keep Us Secular

(Part One)

Did you hear the one about the frogs in the pot of water? They were swimming contentedly. Somebody turned the heat up under the pot. The frogs didn’t notice the temperature rising, until they were cooked.

We’ve been very comfortable and even quite smug about our religious freedom. The heat however may well be rising.

The most wonderful thing about this great country of ours is that our founding fathers had the foresight to separate church and state. That was a monumental achievement in the days when religious leaders essentially ran most other governments.

Tell me about frogs. It only takes a few small things to erode away our precious freedom from religion in our government. In the fifties, the red scare era, the McCarthy era, our government chose to change our pledge of allegiance to include reference to God and remove "E Pluribus Unum" from our coins, replacing it with "in God we trust".

Now some influential folks have voted to strike the reference to God in our pledge. Some other highly influential folks in our government are having a hissey fit. Do you think we might be going to war over the issue? Could we become another Northern Ireland? Were we frogs in the pot when references to God sneaked into our pledge and our coins in the 1950’s? Are we frogs in the pot now?

Look what happened when the Soviet Union’s government meddled with religion. Communist leaders tried to legislate against religion, from the other side of the coin, so to speak. They thought the answer was to outlaw religion altogether.

In this country, parents are free to raise their children in any faith they choose, or to raise them to be skeptics, even Atheists. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Whatever religion you choose to practice, or not practice, the folly of mixing religion with government is downright dangerous.

If you’re a Catholic, do you want your tax dollars spent on sending kids to a Baptist school? How about a Jewish school? An Islamic school?

Certainly our educational system is in need of reform. Some might even argue that the government ought not to be in the business of education in the first place. Maybe so. Maybe not. But the reality is that we have agreed to spend our tax dollars on the education of our young people. It would certainly take a revolution to change that. Unless, of course the money designated for a public, government subsidized school system is siphoned off to provide religions education instead–slowly, over time.

Right now Christianity might be the major religion in our country. The religion of Islam, however is growing, and growing fast. One day, Christians might be in the minority. They might not be too happy about subsidizing Islamic schools. Do you believe that Islamic people are going to subsidize Jewish schools?

The school voucher system is a step toward polarizing us into religious factions fighting to take over more and more control of our government’s functions.

The best way to avoid having religious wars on our soil is to keep religion out of our government, mandating neither for nor against it.

The temperature is rising. Keep us safe. Keep us secular.

(Part Two)

A concerned reader asked me to clarify some of the statements I made in my previous essay. He wrote, "You cite that our forefathers had the foresight to separate church and state. Could you tell me where in the Constitution or what amendment in the Constitution made that separation? Help me out please?"

The founders of the new nation of the United States of America, were conversant with extreme religious intolerance and violence in the colonies.

Roger Williams' Providence settlement founded in 1656 expressly guaranteed religious freedom. The Pilgrims originally were a tolerant people, when they founded Plymouth in 1620. But by 1691, the Pilgrims had adopted the theocratic, intolerant Calvinism of the Puritans, who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628. The Puritans came to this land expressly to establish a bible commonwealth, and banished "heretics" and dissenters. In Virginia, heresy was a capital offense punishable by death by burning. Quakers were particularly persecuted. People who were not orthodox Christians were not legally protected, could be denied civil rights and jailed.

Our forefathers were determined to put an end to religious intolerance.

The U.S.A. was the first nation in history to draft a constitution that made no reference to God. It begins with the words, "We, the People", not "We the People under God," and there is no mention of God in the Declaration of Independence. Our Constitution was clearly meant to establish a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The First Amendment to the Constitution does not mention God, but it does mention religion. It has two relevant clauses: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. It begins with these words: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . ."

In 1797 the United States entered into a treaty with Tripoli. It declared:

"As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity, it is declared that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

This treaty was written under Washington's Presidency, ratified by Congress under John Adams, and signed by Adams.

President Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase "separation between Church and State in a carefully crafted letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802. "I contemplate with solemn 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 a wall of separation between Church and State." Both sides of the issue have interpreted Jefferson’s intent and the letter has been used to argue both sides in major Supreme Court decisions.

We can second-guess the intent of our founders until the end of time. But they stated it very clearly. Just say no to religion in our government. The State does not have the right to require its citizens to practice any religion, period. It also does not have the right to stop its citizens from practicing the religion of their choice, period.

The U.S. Constitution says there shall be no religious test for public office.

Article VI:
"... but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

      The oath of office does not mention a deity or the bible.

"Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: 'I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.' "—[U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1]

      This is the only oath given in the Constitution, and it is entirely secular.

I support our right to practice the religion of our choice or to practice no religion at all. However I oppose imposition of the practice of religion by the representatives of our government.

Keep us safe. Keep us secular.

—M. LaCourt

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