Religion in Politics
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution — the very first one! — says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
But even before the First Amendment there was Article VI, Clause 3 — known as the “No Religious Test Clause” — that says, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
These two Constitutional mandates pretty much say it all, don’t they? I mean, I don’t know how the old dudes could have been any clearer: THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE A NATIONAL RELIGION. PERIOD. END OF STORY.
…and every single one of us should be exceedingly grateful for this, because our freedoms are the most valuable currency we have. Please believe me when I say this is not a thread we should pull on. Our Constitution was written by men who witnessed and experienced religious tyranny and, therefore, knew there was a better way.
Despite the Constitutional clarity, the overriding narrative of many of today’s Evangelicals is one that positions America as a “Christian nation.” Their logic seems to be that, since the Founding Fathers were Christians, their intent was that every American should be one too. This premise is 1000% false. In fact, the intention of the Founding Fathers was exactly the opposite…and they were not ambiguous about it in the least.
The Treaty of Tripoli — written, negotiated and approved during the presidency of George Washington then signed by President John Adams — includes the statement, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
In 1785, in response to Patrick Henry’s bill for federal tax-supported religious instruction in Virginia, James Madison (the “Father of the Constitution”) wrote Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, in which he presented to the Virginia General Assembly specific reasons why religious liberty in America is an unalienable right and why there must be complete separation of church and state. He also shot down the idea of chaplains praying before congressional proceedings.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut that said:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, 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.
And, by the way, many of the Founding Fathers weren’t even Christians in the first place. At least four of the big guys — Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe — were Deists. Deism is a religious philosophy that believes in a creator, but that this supreme being does not interact or intervene in the universe.
In any event, the bottom line is that the First Amendment does not say: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances — unless those rights make you uncomfortable.
If you don’t remember anything else from my brilliant writings, remember this: It’s all fun and games until it happens to you and your religious beliefs.
Every time a friend of mine, who is Christian, expresses her outrage that her kid doesn’t get to pray out loud in public school, I say, “Well, little Johnny should get to pray in school...as long as he scoots over a little for Naveed when Naveed lays out his Muslim prayer rug during school prayer time.” Which totally freaks her out and quickly ends the conversation.
< Not for nothing, but I have been to this friend’s home around little Johnny’s bedtime and have never seen her put her wine glass down to rush into his room for a prayer before bed, so I suspect this conversation is not really about school prayer in the first place. >
This section is going to cause me trouble, but I can’t help myself. It has to be said. This is not a comprehensive rant against the so-called “religious right” as a whole. I recognize and respect that there are many committed people who fight for issues they wholeheartedly believe in and, whether I agree with their position or not, I fiercely support their right to do so.
Unfortunately, mirroring the political arena, it seems the most fanatical and misguided of the religious right are the loudest, creating the erroneous (and unacceptable) perception that they speak for the entire Christian faith.