No other country in the world enjoys the freedoms and the prosperity that we do in the United States. The grand experiment, launched so many years ago, was to create a country free from tyranny with each person free to pursue life, liberty and happiness under the self-evident truth that all are created equal and endowed by their creator with unalienable rights.
The concept that we are “One nation under God” continues to be challenged by groups offended by the concept that so many hold dear. One such group is the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). This group has skillfully used the freedoms we enjoy to create an educational, watchdog organization that is made up of “free-thinkers,” agnostics and atheists that aim to keep church and state separate through what they claim is “persuasion and education.” Recently it forced the leaders in the city of Steubenville, Ohio with the threat of a lawsuit aimed at changing their official logo because it included a silhouette of a cross from the Franciscan University Chapel. Despite the fact that the Franciscan School is one of the leading employers in the area and one of the most recognized entities in the city, the fact that they are religiously based apparently means that their contribution to the community should not be recognized. Organizations like FFRF are now taking advantage of cash strapped communities and governments who fear lawsuits while struggling with ever-shrinking budgets.
Most recently, and without discussion, Essex County New York Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas decided to abandon the practice of prayer before the board’s monthly meetings after reading a newspaper editorial suggesting that prayer had no place in government. The editorial was responding to recent discussions in Washington County, N.Y. over the wording of the prayer offered by their official chaplain, causing the New York Civil Liberties Union to threaten suit. In this case, without NYCL even asking, chairman Douglas led the retreat to abandon prayer, instead of investigating other modifications so as to make it acceptable.
When you look at the sacrifices made by the early citizens of this country, and those throughout the ages who fought and died for these freedoms, I have to wonder how they would have reacted to the threat of a lawsuit? The King of England, with his world-powerful army and navy, didn’t cause our early leaders to back down from what they believed to be truth, right and just, but today all it takes is a small minority armed with a few lawyers and constitutional interpretations to end long-standing traditions. We need leaders who lead the charge, not the retreat.
Make no mistake about it, respect for a supreme being is woven into the fabric of our country and is worth preserving in our government institutions as well as our private lives. What is the first thing we turn to when tragedy strikes as it did recently in Colorado or following 911? It’s our faith and hope that there is more to life than just this world we inhabit for a short time. There must be room in this country and its government for all forms of religious and spiritual beliefs: Christian, Hindu, Judaism, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Mormons, Scientologists, Pagans, Atheists and many, many others. We should be able to agree that we each have strong feelings for our beliefs but we must respect each other’s right to honor those beliefs as each sees fit, without hindering or overtly offending the other.
I understand and agree with the Establishment Clause that prohibits our government from establishing an official religion or showing preference among religions or between religion and non-religion. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from burdening an individual’s ability to exercise his or her religious beliefs if the burden does not arise from neutral law of general applicability but instead infringes upon a particular set of beliefs. But the common denominator to nearly all religious belief is the belief in a Supreme Being. We use different names when we refer to this “Being” and have established unique customs, but the belief in something larger and more universal than our own immediate environment is what this country stands to protect, not diminish. There is room for non-believers, but their rights should also not infringe on the vast majority in this country who do practice their faith in an outward manner. In turn our government officials should not have to hide their beliefs, nor should communities be restrained when demonstrating pride in their faith-based community members and the symbols they use to represent that faith.
In my opinion, a country with no faith basis, made up of non-believers, is just as intolerable as a country endorsing a single religious faith. This country’s diversity and melting pot has served us well through the centuries. Our courts need to quit attacking religion and slowly chipping away its importance in our society. Newspaper editors that call for no prayer should stay focused on the First Amendment and the freedom of speech and freedom of the press because once our religious freedoms are legislated away restrictions on those other cherished freedoms won’t be far behind. As for Mr. Douglas in Essex County, N.Y., why not consider a moment of reflection prior to board meetings, encouraging the members to consider the issues they are about to undertake and look for wisdom and guidance from a source of their own choosing?
We frequently ask for God to bless America both in song and prayer. I hope those blessings continue to provide our leaders, our courts and all Americans with the wisdom to accept and tolerate our difference while growing our love and respect for the country we all call home.
Dan Alexander is Associate Publisher of New Market Press. He can be reached at at firstname.lastname@example.org.