The United States was colonized by people seeking a place to practice their religion free from persecution. The First Amendment to our constitution guarantees that the government will not force a religious view on us and will not interfere with anyone’s freedom to choose and practice their religion. The countries many of the early colonists came from had rulers that felt everyone should share their religious views, and they ensured this by creating laws based on their religion and by persecuting those who did not share their beliefs. I for one do not want to live in a country where the religious beliefs of the leaders of the country become the laws we live by. I have no problem with them having the beliefs, and no problem with them living their lives by those beliefs, but don’t force that behavior on the rest of us!
The freedom we have to practice our religious beliefs comes with a price, we must honor the rights of others to have their own religious beliefs, or no religious belief, and we cannot legislate morality based on the majorities religious beliefs. To avoid argument, I’ll grant that some religious beliefs happen to also be very necessary laws, for example: Thou shalt not kill. Just because this is true, does not mean you should work to put all your religious beliefs into law. We are also Americans and we have a duty to ensure the freedom of others. There is a balance that needs to be maintained, feel free to live your life based on your religious beliefs. Feel free to share those beliefs, and to work to enlighten others, but don’t use our democratic political system to force your beliefs on others. Don’t let politicians create issues like the “defense of marriage” by convincing you that beliefs or prejudices that you share with them should be forced on everyone.
This issue has been brought up recently by Rick Santorum, when he bashed a speech by John Kennedy about separation of church and state. He states that a person should absolutely apply their religious belief to guide their political behavior. I take issue with that. As an American I believe we all have to accept that each person has the right to choose their own religious beliefs, even when they do not match our own. We cannot allow a dominant set of religious beliefs to shape our law. Anyone who becomes sick when they think about a key principle of our country, a part of the constitution that the office they are running to fill requires a pledge to “support and defend” may not be the best candidate.
I do believe that some attempts have been made to use the constitutional language guaranteeing freedom of religion and particularly the separation of church and state language to push for “freedom from religion” in our country. In my opinion this is one group of people using the government to force their religious view, that there is no religion, on everyone. I don’t want to go case by case through all the examples, because frankly in some cases there were things that needed to be changed; however, I believe things have gone too far in some cases. When a group can only be satisfied by the defacing or removal of a monument because it is on public lands and has religious symbols, and will not accept any other actions, then they are not asking for freedom of religion, they want the government to force freedom from religion on to others.
I do not believe that an employer who is restricted by law from discriminating based on the potential employee’s religious beliefs should be able to force religious beliefs on their employees in any way. That includes not being able to tailor health insurance coverage that forces their own standards of morality on their employees. Outside of the work place they should feel free to express their beliefs, live their beliefs, and share those beliefs with others. Religious morality is not something to be forced onto others to prove that you “really believe it”.
One of the founding principles of our country is that the government will not hinder our practice of religion nor endorse a particular religious belief. I believe this principle goes beyond the United States, it is one of the core freedoms that all people should have. If we lose sight of what this freedom requires of us, to allow others the same freedom, then we are taking our own freedom for granted. People who try to use political power to force “moral behavior” based on their religious beliefs on others, beyond what is necessary for a productive, civil society are not only stepping all over the spirit of our constitution, they are behaving in a fundamentally immoral way. They are disregarding the fundamental inalienable rights of others.