In my last article I wrote that referred to a public freedom from religion, in order to enable a true freedom OF religion with respect to the term "Merry Christmas".
I received a lot of critical and sometimes hateful comments about how I was trying to deny people their beliefs, and how it was intolerant to take people's religion away from them or how it was the "PC movement taken too far".
This is a clear misunderstanding of the term "Freedom From Religion"
So this month's "Rational Response" will deal with this term, what it means for everyone, and how it is the only way to allow the most freedom for everyone to practice their own religion without interference.
In its most simple terms, no one has a true freedom OF religion if they are required to adhere to the dictates, terms, and/or practices of another religion or even if they are required to "respect" them.
In removing all religious influences from official public discourse we allow people to practice their religious beliefs unfettered (except sometimes where those practices break pre-existing laws) and to follow the demands of our own conscience, whether they take a religious form or not.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Let's say that you want prayer in schools. If the government allows this for one religion, then it must allow it for all religions.
You might be OK with the Jewish child (I will forget, for the moment, about the immorality of labelling a child with the religion of its parents) praying beside your child. That is most likely because it is the same God, very similar beliefs and a related religion to your own, but what happens when the child is from satanic parents?
Are you still OK with that child praying out loud beside your own?
Likely not, because it violates the precepts of your own beliefs.
What about handing out religious pamphlets to children at Hallowe'en?
It's ok, as long as they are from religions that agree or are congruous with your own, but what happens when a Wiccan starts handing out pamphlets detailing moon rituals?
Likely not, because that goes against your Christian morality.
How about the Muslim who wants to bless the town hall meeting for everyone with a prayer facing Mecca?
Likely not, because you would feel your religious freedom was infringed upon by being made to pray in a manner that is diametrically opposed to your beliefs.
What about public funding of Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Druidic, and Satanic school boards?
Most people would say no because some of those religions stand in direct opposition to their own.
What if a law was passed allowing nudity in public on solstice days?
Starting to see the big picture?
This is the issue. The only way to truly have freedom OF religion is to have a public freedom FROM religion.
Remove it from public policy altogether and make it a private issue.
It is only this separation of church and state that can allow the unopposed practice of an individual's religion without encountering the influence of other opposing religions. In order to be free to act as our concience urges us to, we must be free of laws sanctioning and condoning the adherence to ANY religious dogma.
We like to file this thinking under "Political Correctness" but that is because the majority likes to think that it has the monopoly on the "one true religion" and respecting other religions is merely a matter of an uneasy tolerance of their existence as long as it doesn't interfere with their own.
People of one religion voluntarily accept the doctrines or standards of their own religion and they don’t expect to experience conflicts with government edicts or endorsement.
This is a failure of moral imagination:
These people are unable to imagine themselves in the shoes of those in religious minorities who DON'T voluntarily accept these doctrines or standards and, hence, experience an infringement on their religious liberties through governmental endorsement of religious concepts.
The fact of the matter is that even the majority can't be free to practice as they choose as long as religion is a matter of public concern. It will always run into conflict with the beliefs of others through the problem of government sponsorship.
If you want to have full freedom to practice your religion, then keep it at home.
Others will do the same, and then the chances of having your religious "rights" infringed upon by another religion are minimized.
No one is pushing for a total removal of religion within the confines of "Freedom From Religion", only for a removal of it in public discourse, lawmaking, and governmental policy.
No one is calling for churches to be torn down, nor for well wishes (like "Merry Christmas") to be eliminated, or even for bumper stickers to be outlawed, just a public separation from the official endorsement of, and adherence to religious dictates.
This way everyone can believe whatever foolishness they want, and not have to complain about how someone else's foolishness got in the way of your own.
Religion is like genitalia:
It's OK to have it,
Its even OK to be proud of it,
Just keep it to yourself, and out of the faces of our children.
No one says you can't HAVE genitals, just that you can't expect public approval when you pop it out and ask others to "respect" it.
You have to remember, that other people may not share your views on genitals and they wouldn't appreciate any law that would allow you to let it hang wherever you please!
It's the same with religion.
Separation is the only way to stand for the rights of everyone and to get the freedom that we all want, and that we all deserve.
I will leave you with this thought about standing up for EVERYONE'S religious rights.
They came first for the communists
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me (a Christian pastor)
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- Martin Niemoller
*Picture is of Bono and it is called "Coexist"