Religious freedom is one of the foundations of American life. From the Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, to the authors of Bill of Rights, and right up to the present day, Americans have cherished the freedom to believe whatever they want and practice that belief however they choose. This freedom, however, is under attack.
In order to truly have freedom of religion, it is essential to have a separation of church and state. Religious believers of any faith do not have the right to impose their beliefs on anyone else. Religion has no place in the laws or government of this country. Our founders recognized that, and wrote it into our Constitution. They knew that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, and that one of the functions of government is to protect minorities from the majority.
Since this country was founded, Christianity has been the dominant religion, both in terms of numbers and influence. Recent polls show that about 76 percent of American adults identify as Christian. Many Christian beliefs and practices have become mainstream. This does not mean, however, that all Americans are Christians, and it is very important to remember that.
Religious beliefs are creeping into our government more and more. This has been most noticeable lately in the battle over abortion and contraception, two legal practices that are frowned upon by religious types, as is same-sex marriage. But, the fight to incorporate Christianity into daily life has been going on for decades, and can be seen in things like adding the words, “Under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s to the debate over teaching creationism in schools to the posting of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. Our leaders are even sworn into office by placing their hand on a Bible and saying, “So help me, God.”
These things are not freedom of religion. That is freedom to be Christian. True religious freedom is terrifying to Christians. Just look how they react to Muslims and the imagined threat of Sharia Law. President Obama has been forced to prove his Christianity, because his attackers have repeatedly claimed that he is secretly a Muslim, as though that were something evil. Christians are equally threatened by atheists, and have turned “secular” into a dirty word.
The fight over religion has been especially noticeable in the last year, with presidential candidates like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann inserting their religious beliefs into every debate and every policy proposal. Politicians repeat their claims that this is a “Christian nation,” despite our founders’ explicit statements that it is not. Anyone daring to point this out is accused of “attacking religion.”
It is unfair to paint all Christians with the same brush. Many Christians are tolerant and accepting of others. It is unfortunate that a few zealots make the rest look bad. But, this is the same thing that has happened with other religions. Muslims are demonized based on the actions of a very few extremists, despite the fact that most Muslims are peaceful, kind, pious people. Extremists of any religious affiliation are dangerous, and they always garner the most attention, even though most religious people don’t share their beliefs.
The fact is that different Americans believe different things. Some are Christians, some are Jews, some are Muslims, and some belong to other religious groups. Some don’t believe anything at all. And, because this is America, all of those are okay. Americans are free to believe whatever they want, and they should be equally free from having anyone else’s beliefs forced on them.