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“Under God”: What is Religion’s Place in our Society?

Religion is understandably one of the most sensitive and divisive topics of discussion. The implication of religion on an individual’s present life, and in some cases their afterlife, is only one reason why a topic about religion can cause those involved in a discussion about faith to become personal and sensitive about their respective faiths. Additionally, those who hold no faith can feel marginalized by a society in which the majority of citizens identify as religious. If you need more evidence of the schismatic nature of a religious discussion, try bringing the topic up at your next Thanksgiving family dinner. The personal aspect of religion can be argued from sunrise until sunset with no compromise or further understanding gained, but the legal aspect of religion is clearly spelled out in the constitution of the U.S. constitution. However, the personal importance of religion still continues to override the law of the land in many aspects of our society. These infractions of the law infringe on the rights of U.S. citizens who are supposed to be protected from any form of a state sponsored religion. Freedom of religion is written into the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, freedom of religion has limitations in our society.

First and foremost, a dichotomy between religion and the state is clearly written into the U.S. Constitution. The United States Constitution’s 1st amendment states that government shall make no law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. (US Const. amend. I)” Article VI, paragraph 3 states no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States (US Const. art. VI). These amendments and articles were written into the foundation of our nation with a specific purpose; to deny any type of religion or personal belief from trumping the personal rights of United States citizens. Having one’s rights at the mercy of the religious ideals of a majority is only one of the many problems that arise when the aforementioned pieces of our constitution are ignored. Allowing a belief system to govern the lives of believers and non-believers transforms a nation predicated on democracy into a nation that becomes a theocracy. Some will argue that the first amendment of our constitution allows for free expression, which includes the free expression of religion. While this is true, it does not state that the free expression of an individual can supersede the rights of other citizens.

There needs to be a clear separation between factual sciences and faith when it comes to the education of children in our school systems. Teaching one religion in class would be unfair. Having to teach all religions and belief systems is unrealistic and would take up valuable teaching time. Students attend school to be taught facts that will help them in their educational futures, not to debate ideologies or be indoctrinated by one teacher’s point of view. It’s understandable that there are some people believe that in order to teach U.S. history accurately, one must also teach the influence that Christianity has had over the U.S. society. There are some other who claim that if science can teach theories that are not infallible, then the contrasting view of faith should also be taught as an alternative explanation. In 1981, the state of Louisiana approved legislation that mandated the teaching of “creation science” alongside evolutionary science. The law required both that both be taught “as a theory, rather than as proven scientific fact” (Norman). When brought before the Supreme Court of the United States, seven of the nine justices said that the purpose of this legislation was to try to discredit the factual science of biological evolution, and supplant the factual information with faith-based explanations of biology. This scenario is a sterling example as to why the limits of faith in our society include the classrooms of public schools.

Religious dogma can be, and has been, used to discriminate against groups of individuals. The bible was used to support the enslavement of black americans and the implementation of Jim Crow laws that were enforced across many regions of the southern U.S. up until the late 1960s. The bible is also used to support discrimination of homosexuals in the present day, including the recent news of a Florida county clerk who refused to issue same sex marriage licenses. Other religious text, such as the Quran and Bhagavad Gita, are used to discriminate along class and gender in countries such as Saudi Arabia and India. Many argue that we have gotten many of our moral guidelines from the religious text. I would ask the same people how discrimination based on one aspect of an individual’s life can be considered a commendable example of morality. the religious right in the United States has expanded its influence in the political sphere, and now influences or controls many decisions within the Republican Party (Boston). This is alarming to those who do not want laws they’re forced to live under influenced by a belief system they do not care to associate with. Many of our founding fathers were religious and used that religious background to establish the U.S. Constitution, but the same founding fathers also realised that their personal beliefs should not be used to govern the lives of those who might hold different beliefs.

Lastly, allowing state sponsored religion in any form opens the door to legislation that grants special rights to those who hold religious faith over citizens that have no faith. One glaring example of this issue are the Religious Freedom Restoration acts (RFRAs) that are being passed in various states across the United States. The Religious Freedom Restoration act claims to ensure that the protections associated with religious freedom are not being marginalized. However, this act is discriminatory and blatantly affords special rights to religious organizations. For instance, the RFRA could allow particular sects to use drugs that are outlawed for the rest of the population (Institute for Humanist Studies). One version of the RFRA was passed in 1993 after two Native Americans were fired from their jobs and denied unemployment benefits because they used peyote, an illegal drug (Melling). Had the Native Americans involved in this incident been non-religious, this case would not have garnered any sort of controversy. This double standard is one that would not be allowed if the roles were reversed and non-religious citizens were awarded special rights over religious citizens.

Our founding father wrote the separation of church and state into our constitution for a reason. The clear instruction that state sponsored religion goes against the founding principles of our nation is one of the strongest points that support the separation of church and state. Additionally, how we educate our children is directly correlated to the success of future generations, and misinforming our youth with faith-based education does more harm than good. Religious legislation has been used to discriminate against minority groups. Having a state sponsored religion turns our democracy into a theocracy.

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