Just as I Was about to Covet My Neighbor's Maid Servant...the Case Against the Church of America
Are we a religious country?
Should we be?
Are we a Christian country?
Should we be?
Here are my answers.
I’ve always found a lot of the explanations for why we are a religious country to be a bit soft. So, okay, our money says “in God we trust,” yes, the houses of Congress and the military each have a Chaplin. Sure, congressional sessions are opened with a prayer, and yes, our Pledge of Allegiance was amended to include “under God.” Still, for each reference to support a vision of the United States as a religious country there is countervailing evidence of a desire to avoid the mistakes we left behind in merry-old England by not establishing a national religion.
My favorite countervailing evidence is the First Amendment of the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
A lot of people conclude that it means that the government should not establish, support, or otherwise involve itself in religion, but I think that’s a wee bit overstated. To me, the 1st Amendment prohibits the government from establishing a national religion, and protects the individual's right to worship, or not worship, however the individual sees fit (within reasonable limits. Ask any Mormon or any snakecharmer).
For some reason, my Christian brothers and sisters have started to get fairly aggressive when it comes to the inclusion of Christian symbols in public settings. Most of all, they love to post the Ten Commandments in parks, public squares and court houses.
Some people claim that posting the Commandments provides a great guide to ne’er do wells and scofflaws who might otherwise become total sociopaths. I can’t dispute this. In fact, I was recently in a public park, and the only thing that kept me from coveting my neighbor’s ass was a centrally placed admonition against such ugly acts contained in a standard rendition of the Ten Commandments, beautifully carved in Minnesota’s classic dolomitic limestone.
In all seriousness…most people already know the Ten Commandments. For those who don’t, well, hanging it up in a courthouse is not going to reach them. I also wonder if posting it in a Courtroom isn’t a bit late for those who supposedly need the message most. And forgive me if I think that more than posting sections of the good book are required to trumpet a return to a more “moral” nation. Nevermind the pesky question of whose morality should be trumpeted.
We are a Christian nation to the extent that the majority of Americans are Christian. Past that, forget it. And two points must be acknowledged. First, it is clear that the founding fathers wanted to allow for the free exercise of other religions (there were Quakers and Unitarians among the founders, BTW); and second, a significant number of Americans are not Christian. In fact, significant enough (and I would argue that one person is all you need in order for the number to be qualitatively significant) that it is just plain inappropriate for our country or states or counties or cities or civic organizations to promote the symbols or tenets of one religion in public places. For Christians who find this difficult to understand, please let me know how you would feel if Wiccan symbols or tenets were erected in our courthouses and parks. Come to think of it, that might be rather cool. We could put pentagrams in our parks, and we could close our schools and commercial institutions for every solstice to allow people adequate time to worship the four winds. Blessed be.
For non-Christians living in a country where we are told that we are free to worship as we would, it makes no sense that one religion (representative of the majority or not) would be the primary one represented in buildings that are used by all and paid for by all. When the ten commandments are put in our courthouses, the money used to buy the granite and to install it, comes from people whose religions include other (or additional) commandments, and it comes from people for whom such prescriptions are anathema (pun intended). When the commandments of one religion are posted four thousand times, but the tenets of other faiths are not posted at all, to me, it starts to sound like one religion is being established .
So, in my view, the Supreme Court’s decision today is disappointing. There was an opportunity to recognize the need to move away from this unworkable brand of religious favoritism, and we missed it. Instead, a murky and difficult to apply “case by case” standard was born.
In other words, the decision was deferred to another day. Because it is inevitable that the problem will only worsen and that a true solution (needed enough today) will some day be mandatory if we are to save our imperiled but noble republic from complete ruination!