God & Government

Keep religion out of state business

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

The first 16 words of America’s First Amendment were written to prevent Congress from advocating for one religion over others, and to prohibit Congress from impeding on an individual’s religious practices. More than two centuries later, somehow the United States has regressed from a nation that was intended to be a haven of religious liberty, to a nation that shoves religion down everyone’s throats.

Religion is on our money. It’s in our national anthem and pledge, and it’s in our politics — but it shouldn’t be. The United States sees itself as a secular nation, but how can that be true when we so obviously favor Christian religion over any other, and religion in general over secularity?

There’s nothing wrong with individuals practicing their religion as they choose, but when they begin to slip those practices into public spaces — like prayers before school functions such as graduations — then it becomes a problem, because it takes away everyone else’s choice.

I’m not a religious person, yet during my high school graduation, I was subjected to five minutes of prayer. Why is a religious students’ freedom of religion more important than my freedom from religion?

It wasn’t like I could leave for a few minutes and come back when it was over — we weren’t allowed to leave our seats. It would’ve been fine if there was just a moment of silence, that way everyone could do their own thing. That is what we did every morning for four years of high school.

Also, the only prayer said was a Christian one. There were no prayers for Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other students. I went to a public school — where a variety of students from different religious backgrounds were ignored. So, if we are going to have religion in our schools, why don’t we have every religion?

Now, that seems pretty complicated, so let’s just do what’s easier and more ethical, and eliminate religion in public schools if there isn’t consent from every student.

If students want to participate in a prayer before a football game, or any other school function, that’s fine. What’s not fine is when it’s assumed that all students want to participate without them explicitly saying so. Religion that is not academically based needs to stay out of public schools.

If a public school offers a “Bible study” course, then it is the school administration’s responsibility to make sure that the teacher is teaching the subject only through the lens of academia — not through preaching.

It is not appropriate for teachers — or anyone for that matter — to enter a public school and advocate for their religious beliefs. Students are there to learn the school curriculum, not attend Sunday school.

If we are going to say we’re a secular nation and claim to be the “land of the free,” then why don’t we practice what we preach?

According to USHistory.org, in 1954, “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in response to McCarthyism and the Red Scare. At the time, Congress members wanted Americans to be separate from “godless communists.” I guess they forgot that there are godless Americans, too.

The Pledge of Allegiance, in and of itself, is problematic. In a republic, why should people be pledging allegiance to the government? To make matters worse, God is involved.  Soldiers are forced to salute the flag during the pledge, irrespective of their own beliefs.

In school, if we didn’t stand for the pledge, we could expect to be berated by classmates and even teachers, sometimes resulting in punishment, even though the school couldn’t legally make anyone stand for it.

UPbeat_sp19_God.jpg
UP illustration by Olivia Malick

It’s not disrespectful to not participate in something you don’t believe in. It is disrespectful and harmful to indoctrinate children from a young age with the belief that blindly promising obedience to a government is equal to being a “good” American. It’s amazing to think that when my grandmother was born, in 1932, America was more secular than it is now.

In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, “In God We Trust” the nation’s motto, replacing the former “E pluribus unum” or, “Out of many, one.”

“In God We Trust” was first used on American currency in 1864 on the two-cent piece, when the United States was embroiled in the Civil War, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It made its first appearance on paper currency in 1957.

If the government isn’t trying to force religion on its people, then why is it on our money? Seeing “In God We Trust” on money every day of your life is a subliminal message that if you don’t agree with the ideology, you are out of place.

Why doesn’t our money say, “In Gods We Trust” or “In Allah We Trust?” Again, this is the government giving preference to monotheistic, Judeo-Christian religions.

God on our currency and in our pledge is a violation of accommodationism, the judicial interpretation that the government may support or endorse religious establishments as long as it treats all religions equally and does not show preferential treatment. Including “God” on our money, therefore, is a constitutional violation.

There should be no mention of religion when it comes to government business. Individual politicians can have their own views and they can talk about them when it’s appropriate.

Taxpayer dollars should not be used to fund church projects — it goes against the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making any law that favors one religion over another, or religion in general over non-religion and vice-versa.

Public funding should not be spent on private religious schools, nor should it be used to pay the teachers at those schools. The Ten Commandments should not be displayed in front of court houses, city halls, or any other government-related or public property. Even if it’s erected and paid for by citizens and not government officials, the commandments have no place in government — they are not law.

The separation of church and state has to have an all-or-nothing approach — either every religion has to be represented everywhere, or none of them can be.

This isn’t a takedown of religious practices or the people who subscribe to them. Atheist, agnostic, humanist and other non-theist people have the same rights to freedom from religion as everyone else has to freedom of religion. The fact is that America is not a Christian nation.

I’m proud to be an American, but this country is supposed to be for people of all races, beliefs and creeds —and it isn’t. It’s time for America to join the 21st century. Let’s be the secular nation we were meant to be.

Religious liberty — in all its forms — is a fundamental human right, and it’s about high time America respected that.

Commentary by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor

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