Monday, September 26, 2005

Freedom for all Americans: Role of God in Government

This is a picture of Ketchikan, Alaska.




Yesterday, I had a column published that I would like to share with you from the SitNews site from Ketchikan.

Freedom for all Americans: Role of God In Government
By Robert J. Freedland




September 26, 2005
Monday


I have read with interest the opinions expressed here on SitNews regarding the role of God in government and in the Pledge of Allegiance.

On the one hand, we have Frances Natkong (SitNews 9/16/05) who "cannot believe it", regarding the Judge who declared the inclusion of "Under God" in the Pledge was unconstitutional. She explains: "The majority of the people in the world believe there is a higher entity so why take the few who don't believe and make choices for us that do believe?"

This view is expanded upon by Marie L. Monyak (SitNews 9/19/05) who writes "Our society is still a Christian majority. There are other religions that believe in a higher power. Why then should we, as Americans, have to change to please an atheist?"

And finally, Richard Cropp (SitNews 9/20/05) explains "The U.S. Constitution from beginning to end is replete with references to God. Not some God of mystery, not some God of ones choosing, not some God "in concept". The God mentioned in the U.S. Constitution is the God of Abraham and Isaac, the god of all mankind, the God who delivered unto us a Savior in His Son Jesus Christ. He is not Allah, not a special tree, not a stone statue." Clearly, Mr. Cropp believes that the Founders intended us to believe that this country was founded by a Christian God alone.

Mr. Cropp writes in some detail about a solution to those who choose not to believe as he does, he explains, "If you do not want God mentioned in any government document, building, or principle, then you also have a choice, you can move to a country that was not founded and based on the belief in God." In other words, Mr. Cropp's suggestion is to "Love it or Leave It!"

Only Ben Rosenfeld (SitNews 9/19/05) responds with: "It is every American's right to believe that there is a god, not a god, or gods, and it is not the responsibility of the state to tell them what to believe." Mr. Rosenfeld believes that everyone in America should choose to have the freedom to believe in God without government entering into that decision.

How are we to reconcile these diverse and opposing views? Is there room in America for devout Christians alongside skeptical atheists?

Sometimes as we look to the Constitution for guidance, it is helpful to read what the founding fathers actually wrote to determine what they intended for the 1st Amendment and all of the parts of this document.

In 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote in his autobiography about the importance of religious freedom for every individual:

"[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom... was finally passed,... a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67

Clearly Jefferson did not believe that Virginia, or America, was intended to be a Christian country. He believed that a free America was one that showed the greatest respect and tolerance for the diverse views of all Americans.

It was James Madison who introduced the first draft of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

James Madison wrote about the Separation of Church and State in the 1822 letter to Edward Livingston:

"Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Govt. & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst."

Insofar as Cropp's reference to the Constitution, his assertion about the Constitution being "replete with references to God" is far off the mark. In fact, I suspect to Mr. Cropp's credit, he is referring to the Declaration of Independence which does refer to "Nature's God", and "Creator", and "Divine Providence", but certainly doesn't mention the Christian God as he suggested.

Looking directly at the Constitution, we can only find references about protecting religious freedom and not advocating the belief in God. The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

The other refernce to religion again protects religious freedom in America, by denying government the right to utilize religious tests for holding public office. The Constitution states in Article VI:

"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."

Clearly, the founders of our Constitution, and the very document itself, intended that there would be a religious plurality in America, that every American, regardless of their belief would enjoy all of the "Blessings of Liberty" regardless of their religious view, and whether or not they even believed in God.

In a larger sense, regardless of the words we can argue, the bigger question still remains, "What kind of America do we wish to have for ourselves and our children?" Do we wish to have an America that I envision, that works to provide the greatest degree of freedom for every citizen, or should we advocate an America that protects the civil rights of just the majority views?

I love our country because of the freedom that we all enjoy. While many of us will find it difficult to understand religious views of Americans that are contrary to our own perspective, that failure does not justify intolerance or an assignment of any less value to that perspective. These views are merely minority views, not incorrect ideas.

We cannot have freedom in America unless every American enjoys the greatest liberty that our founding fathers envisioned. While we may struggle to understand why anyone might not believe in God, it is their American right to hold that view and our government should act to protect the civil rights of each and every American. Instead of asking why anyone would want to remove "Under God" from the Pledge, ask yourselves if it was necessary to insert that phrase into the Pledge in 1954. Is it appropriate or even necessary to have the United States government take sides in the belief in God? Isn't it the role of government in America to provide for the freedom of all Americans.

Adding religion to our American government will not add to our freedom in America but it shall threaten the integrity of both Institutions.
Freedom is something none of us can take for granted. In every generation, there are those who feel they know better for us how we should think, how we should believe, and how we should behave in even our private lives.

3 Comments:

Blogger Todd Mitchell said...

Bob, great post. People tend to forget that the "under God" insertion into the Pledge was made at the height of Cold War mania to show "those Godless Russians" a thing or two. It was an obvious violation of the Establishment Clause, and something Francis Bellamy, author of the pledge and an avowed socialist, probably would have cringed over (even though he was a minister himself, Bellamy said the Pledge was about uniting the country "one nation, indivisible" post-Civil War). How could a religious reference in a country built on the idea of freedom of religion (or lack therof) be "inclusive"?

11:45 AM  
Blogger IFK Editor said...

Great post and loved the pics from Alaska? did you take those? It reminded me of my trip there. Seward is a beautiful little town. Amazing scenery.

11:56 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Great read Bob! But I knew you were good the first time I visited here!

7:38 PM  

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