Trivia time: Which of the following is the correct wording of the pre-amble of our Constitution?
A. We the people of the United States, recognizing that Judeo-Christian values are supreme to all other values, and in order to constantly remind ourselves and our posterity that our founding fathers were Christians, ordain and establish this Constitution, with permission from God.
B. We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Although “B” is the correct answer, a lot of the debate going on today about the role of religion in our government might make “A” sound reasonable. Phrases like “our laws come from God” and “our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values,” are completely perverting what our country was founded on. This country is founded on creating the best possible form of government (note “in order to form a more perfect union”) and its Constitution and subsequently its laws come from its citizens (note “We the people”).
There is a strong movement by the religious right in this country that feels government recognition of God is more important than government being effective. They see religious freedom as the freedom to make their version of Christianity the preferred religion of the state.
There are many people in this country who feel that our rights derive from God. For someone of faith, that is a perfectly legitimate opinion to have. However, that does not mean that the United States government needs to have that opinion. The important word is “faith”. It takes a leap of faith to believe in God and to believe that He gave us our rights.
But our Constitution is not about faith and beliefs; our Constitution is about the implementation of a government. To the dismay of many on the religious right, our Constitution is a secular document. There is a reason the first three words of the Constitution are “We the People” it is because our government is by the people, for the people. God is not in the equation.
That does not mean that religion is inherently bad or that people should be relegated to hiding their faith. It does not even mean there has to be a separation of religion and politics. Politics are an extension of someone’s convictions and for many people, religion is a deep part of their convictions. As former Republican Senator from Missouri John Danforth recently said in The New York Times, religious people who are politically active are not the problem, it is “when government becomes the means of carrying out a religious program” that First Amendment questions are raised.
Danforth went on to say that “As a Senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit, I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.” This demonstrates the problem with the religious right’s push for what they feel is religion’s role in government. The religious right is distracting us from actual issues of substance.
Many on the religious right like to portray liberals as being anti-faith. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, says on the group’s Web site “for years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.” Those kinds of assertions are underhanded. Displaying a religious symbol in a government building is not a religious freedom, it is breaking our treasured separation of church and state.
The difference between a government building displaying the Ten Commandments and leaving the Ten Commandments out of a government building is that a Ten Commandments display is exclusionary. The Ten Commandments are only important to Christianity and Judaism. On the other hand, a secular courtroom excludes no one. It does not say there is a God and it does not say God is nonexistent. Instead, the issue is left for the individual to decide.
Religion is a difficult issue that people wrestle with. Some people end up being devout practitioners of one religion their entire life, others practice different religions throughout various stages of their lives, others go through phases of doubt, while others doubt their faith completely. Finding one’s faith is a difficult task for an individual. So why should the government pick sides when it comes to faith?