San Diego harbor in fog from Fort Rosecrans National Cemetary
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.

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Comments
  1. What does “Freedom from religion” mean?

    • eric.rial says:

      An example would be an individual or group asking for the removal of the cross from Mount Soledad in San Diego. They aren’t Christian and believe that a Christian symbol should not be used as a memorial on public lands. That it is an endorsement of a particular religion by the government. I feel that groups who want all religious symbols or references removed from government property, documents, ceremonies are actually trying to force “freedom from religion” on us because that is their belief. In this example the individual was an atheist.

  2. Alternatively, the group in question believes that the establishment clause genuinely forbids government establishment of religion (whether it be general or particular). they may even be wrong in this belief, but that doesn’t mean they are working towards freedom from religion. Even if all religious symbols are removed from government property, we will be no more nor less free from religion in any abstract sense.

    One needn’t project a special agenda on the other side of that debate to argue against them. Doing so merely raises a whole bunch of new questions, none of which do much to resolve the issue at hand.

    • eric.rial says:

      I agree with part of what you say. I don’t have a problem with a group asking that the government not show preference to a particular religion. I do have some issues with where this leaves us in some cases… unable to compromise, forced to go to the Supreme Court by one group or the other to resolve the issue. In the case of the Mount Soledad cross, some solution is necessary, that may be the free and uninhibited auction to the highest bidder of the land. However, I believe the removal of all religion from government lands, ceremonies, and documents is not necessary. One example would be National Cemeteries. These are government property, but I do not believe they should remove all the crosses, stars, crescents, or other emblems from the markers. I spent 21 years in the Marine Corps. We had chaplains, religious practitioners in the military, paid by the government to meet the religious needs of the military members. I don’t believe this practice should be abolished. The government does not have to be free of religion to prove it is not establishing an official religion.

  3. endwatcher says:

    The way I understand it the constitution guarantees that the government will not set up a state religion. This was during a time when virtually everyone was in some sect of Christianity. Even with the heated debates on how to worship virtually everyone agreed in a basic way how morality and civilization should work. So while there was infighting on points of religion, virtually everyone was still under the umbrella culture of Christianity and the country mostly flourished. When immigrants came they were usually christian so they were able to enter society without too much turbulence once they settled in.
    We are now dealing with multiple cultures with sometimes vastly different views not only concerning faith but morality and how society should work. There is no possibility of peace between these factions, each side seeks the utter destruction of the other. Atheists want freedom from religion, Islam wants to conquer the world, and I want the kingdom of God to come. The difference is simple, Atheists and Islamists will smash all resistance with sword and laws. Believers contest the powers by the Word and wait on Jesus to usher in His kingdom.
    Freedom of religion will be considered a failure in the end, everyone places their faith on someone or something, and when they are too radically opposed, war is inevitable. No one is impartial, no equity in the matter is possible in the long run.The name of Jesus is already persecuted in all public places in this country, is not the religion of the state antichrist indeed?

    • eric.rial says:

      endwatcher, I believe your stance is immoral, based on a violent belief system, wrong, and not supportable in a free society. You say that Islam wants to conquer the world, but it appears that you are the one advocating for a religious belief to be forced on us all. Our constitution does not say that you have the freedom to be any “sect of Christianity” that you prefer and I do not imagine in my wildest imagining that our country should interpreted it that way. I know people of all faiths and of no faith that are committed to living in peace with people who have different views. I believe that countries and societies that do not allow this freedom are doomed to be backward and unsuccessful. There are plenty of those countries to chose from even today!

      • endwatcher says:

        I never advocated violence, and anyone who read the comment can see that. I said we would contend the powers with the Word. That would be free speech yes? I do maintain that the founder did not imagine a non christian society when they decided on freedom of religion. I am not advocating revoking the right, I just believe it will end in failure due to extremism in both secular and religious forces which they did not anticipate.

      • eric.rial says:

        endwatcher, I saw the part of your comment that stated that everyone else would use violence except people who share your beliefs. Anticipating the violence of others still leads me to feel your a stance is based on a violent belief system. Speech of unavoidable violence spawns fear, fear can be used to achieve your goals. It appears from your blog that your goal is to use political power to legislate your brand of morality. In your comment you also said, “There is no possibility of peace between these factions, each side seeks the utter destruction of the other.” In terms of your beliefs and argument I consider you a part of one of these factions, and seeking utter destruction sounds violent. Your blog clearly states your belief that freedom is undesirable, and tolerance supports evil. I see this as an attempt to push for the very thing that this post is warning against. My blog is about living a full life. I don’t expect I will post often about religion and politics. However, when I see the way some twist their personal religious beliefs into a reason to take away freedom and promote intolerance using the political process I feel a need to comment on it. Intolerance, prejudice, spreading fear, and hate are barriers to living a full life. I don’t think they should be ignored or appeased. I have no problem with your religious beliefs, I do have a problem with your views on the right of others to live their life according to their beliefs. I also believe you are completely wrong about where we are headed as a society. Yes, there is extremism, but it is not necessary or unavoidable. I don’t believe it will determine the direction of our country as long as the vast majority of us stand up for the values this nation was founded on.

      • Damon says:

        Also as a Marine Eric, thank you for your service sir, you understand that there are bad people in the world who hate us for the freedoms that we allow our citizens, and for our country being as great as it was it the short amount of time we have been established. The USA, in time line terms, is barely a teenager compared to the other countries of the world. And these people will always continue to hate us, and we will need people of your character with a a higher sense of purpose to protect from these people. And some of them are strictly because of their religous views. Great piece you have written.

  4. That is precisely why the notion that what you are countering is “freedom from religion” misses the point. What one needs to do is not counter an anti-religious agenda so much as provide a reasonable non-religious rationale for the cross (or other such symbols). If that can be done (e.g. recognition of historical significance), then you are good to go so long as the symbol doesn’t create significant entanglement (which it doesn’t). Alternatively, one could argue that some violations are de minimus, …simply too small to matter, no harm no foul.

    Note for example that Judge Roy Moore’s 10 Commandments does not pass the historical value test. He made it clear that they were not there to serve as a historical marker; they were there to demonstrate that religious tenets were established law in his courtroom. In contrast, the 10 Commandments at the Supreme Court do pass this test (as does the Code of hammarabi (sp?) the Analects of Confucious, and several other references to ancient legal texts. It all depends on the specifics.

    As to chaplains, I would imagine the argument relates to the mental health of all those soldiers who rely on spiritual advisers to play a significant role in their lives. Here the entanglement is more intensive, but so is the non-religious benefit. It’s messy (as some faiths have a much harder time getting representation), but its necessary. Either way, the argument stands or falls independent of whether or not anyone else wants to be free of religion.

    I have no doubt that a lot of challenges based on the establishment clause are petty or even wrong headed. My point is simply that they stand or fall on their own merits. The notion that some are after “freedom from religion” is irrelevant at best and outright misleading at best.

    • Damon says:

      But the 10 commandments on the doors or walls of a courtroom are very relevant. Even without a State sponsored religion, they were the basis of the original laws of our country. And to speak of morality and forcing ours on others, without the the commandments and Chrisianity, how and where do we get the source of any moral fabric? Who and what defines morals then? WIthout morals, what is the deciding factor in right and wrong?

      • This is simply not true.

      • eric.rial says:

        Damon, No religion, including Christianity, is the sole source of our morals. I’m glad you brought up the 10 commandments, have you looked at them lately? Of the 10, maybe 3 could be considered something to base a law on. Thou shalt not kill… steal… or bear false witness. There are # commandments that dictate your personal responsibility to God and how to worship him. Thou shalt have no other gods, no graven images, don’t take his name in vain, remember the sabath, Then there are some of the moral commandments that we don’t have laws for, like thou shalt not commit adultery and honor your father and mother. The one of these that makes my point best is thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s… “things”, This is part of a good personal moral code but I don’t see an overwhelming social good that will come from making “keeping up with the Jones” illegal.

        The key point of my post is that there are religious beliefs that should absolutely be in law and there are religious beliefs that should not. If there is not an overwhelming social good, and the rights of others are not being hurt, then I don’t think we should limit freedom. The types of issues I’ve seen raised lately are not based on the commandments but they are based on religious beliefs. I don’t see an overwhelming social good in limiting fair access to contraceptives and the insurance that pays for them. I don’t see any social good in limiting fair and equal access to marriage, in fact I see a social injustice in that.

        We have real issues in this country right now and I would prefer to listen to candidates talk about how they would solve real problems if I gave them my vote. How are they going to deal with the large number of people who owe more for their house than it worth? What will they do about high unemployment? Do they have a plan to fix a complicated and unfair tax system? What about government debt that is out of control? Issues like contraceptive insurance coverage, “defense of marriage”, and teaching “intelligent design” in public schools are distractions. I believe these issues are part of a strategy to get votes from people who would disagree with the politician’s stance on the real issues facing this country. I mean who really believes that we should allow corporations with billions in profits to pay ZERO taxes. Should billionaires really be paying a lower rate than middle income earners?

  5. eric.rial says:

    I just believe the government should move gently, with respect to all points of view, and not advocate any set of beliefs. I don’t think that is in conflict with your desire to have these things stand or fall on their merits. I would add that in most of these decisions the government should make every effort to remove itself from the decision rather than deciding. The government should not remove a cross or build one. It should as fairly as possible remove itself from the process.

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