Last Updated December 6, 2003
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Religious Tolerance in America
Does it exist? Many think so. One of the only good things that has come out of political correctness is general public disdain when someone is persecuted for their religious beliefs. It's no longer considered acceptable to deride a person because he's a Hindu, Buddhist or what-have-you. It seems as though America has progressed. Christians (or, at least, the moderate ones) no longer hold the belief that anyone not of their religion will burn in Hell. Those that do believe this are considered, even by other Christians, to be the ghost of a, hopefully, soon-to-be-faded past, when the world was run by a Theocracy (a.k.a., the Dark Ages). Even our political leaders seem to be tolerant of people from other religions. Consider this quote from George W. Bush:
"We do not prescribe any prayer; we welcome all prayer."
Isn't that nice? The president doesn't care what religion you are. Everyone's prayer is welcome to him. What could possibly be wrong with this "tolerant" attitude?
Here's what's wrong. America may be on its way to religious tolerance, but it still a far cry from the tolerance of non-religious people, like agnostics and atheists. Moreover, even though Bush pretends to be religiously-tolerant (while non-religiously intolerant), did anyone else catch the opening act of his presidency? It was to have Billy Graham's son bless his presidency. This was not a universally-religious blessing. It was in the name of Jesus Christ. Bush's first act as president was a reprehensible violation of millions of Hindi's, Buddhists', Jews', agnostics' and atheists' constitutional rights, not to mention the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which the United States approved). He, in effect, said, "You can think whatever you want, but the US is a Christian nation, under God. You can stay here and not be persecuted because of your religious beliefs, but, unless you pray like we do, you're not an equal." For example, in order to run or public office in Texas (the state where our good president just happened to be governor), one must publicly acknowledge that there is a "supreme being" (notice the polytheistic exclusion, no Hindu could run for public office in Texas, because the Hindi believe in as many as 300 million gods). Strange, this article from the US Constitution says otherwise:
"The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."-- Article VI, Section 3
This sort of thing is put up with in Texas, because no one would dare be one of those "wicked" atheists. You can be another religion, but you must be religious. Does this sound like freedom of thought, to you? Al Gore thinks so:
"I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. But freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, there is a better way." -Al Gore
If he "strongly believes" in the separation of church and state, then he should, by default, believe that religion should have nothing to do with anything related to the government. If this is the case, then the government cannot adopt a policy of religion over non-religion, even if the religion section includes any and every known religion. His next statement is blatantly hypocritical and wholly insulting. First of all, there is no clause in the US Constitution which uses the words "freedom of religion." It simply states that no laws shall be made that favor any religious establishments. Second of all, what is this "better way" he speaks of? Is he saying that any religion is better than no religion? I beg to differ. I'm an atheist, and I'm rather peaceful. There are Muslims in the Middle East blowing other people up purely because of their religious beliefs. How can a generalized case like this one be made? Should we ask Joe Lieberman?
"The Constitution promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. We are, after all not just another nation, but 'one nation under God.'" -Joseph Lieberman
Is he, by chance, referring to the last words of the pledge of allegiance? It's a little-known fact that those words were added to the pledge in the 1950's after the Knights of Columbus, a religious (specifically, Christian, gee, what a surprise) organization, campaigned for the words "under God" to be added. The original pledge read like this:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." (Source)
This was written by a Baptist minister. If he didn't see fit to add "under God," then why do we? The words "under God" are a direct violation of Article IV, Section 3 of the US Constitution. The government enacted a practice that respects certain religious establishments (all that are monotheistic). This is wrong. The fact that US currency carries the inscription "In God we trust" is also a direct violation of the freedoms that this country would have people believe it offers. Also, this country's lawmakers should take care to observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a UN Charter (last I recall, the US was a part of the UN, and, thus, approved of this charter). Article 18 in the charter states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Pay close attention to the line observing freedom of thought and the right to change beliefs. By choosing atheism over Christianity, I am exercising my human rights. According to the good Mr. Lieberman, this makes my free exercise of human rights makes me ineligible for the benefits that the Constitution offers:
"John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote that our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.... George Washington warned us never to indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." -Joseph Lieberman
Notice the casual equation of moral to religious. Do I need to keep pointing to the Middle East for people to see the fallacy behind the "religion equals morality" argument? Is it necessary for me to keep quoting hateful Bible passages on this section of the site to get people to see that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are, in their purest forms, some of the most hateful and ridiculous belief structures, comparable to Nazi beliefs? Hinduism is a religion, yet it advocates a caste system, in which socioeconomic advancement is impossible. Joseph Lieberman's preferred "moral" system is one that completely revolves around the worship and glorification of one god, while killing all of those who don't agree with you. Does this seem particularly moral to anyone out there? Islam holds the belief that women are evil, and should be property of men! Religion is certainly a paragon to morality in this case! (Note: I'm dripping with sarcasm as I say that)
I wonder if it would surprise anyone to learn that people have come to moral conclusions without the aid of religion. Confucius came up with a moral system that held certain things to be true. The Chinese idea of "jen" was a major point for Confucius, being part of his definition for the "superior man." Jen is the equivalent of charity and respect for life. Confucius came to these conclusions without the aid of religion. He certainly didn't get these ideas from Christ or the Bible, he was alive before that time. His ideas couldn't have been influenced by the early Israelites, because they were a very hateful people, and he had no contact with them, anyway.
To conclude, religion is, in no way, needed to maintain the state's perception of morality. This is often used as the justification for the State promoting religion over non-religion. This action is an outright violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees the separation of Church and State, not to mention the UN Charter on human rights, which this country helped put into effect. The religious morality system has led to such atrocities as the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Middle East Conflict and the Spanish Inquisition. It has also given way to such social injustices as the Hindu caste system, which maintains that, if you are born into a caste, you can't get out of it. So, if you are born to squalor and poor conditions, tough luck. Using religion as a base for morality has only led to horrifying crimes against humanity. Using humanist moral values has really done nothing of the sort, and has only helped maintain every human being's standing as a human being who is entitled to the same rights as everyone else. Some Christians may think I'll burn in the afterlife for my beliefs, but, here on Earth, I'm their equal, and they are mine.