It never ceases to amaze me that certain so-called “Christians” just can’t seem to understand the First Amendment and what it says about religion. They display a distinct inability to grasp the full meaning of that phrase:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
They seem to think that their religion is exempt from what is known as the “Establishment Clause.” Well, we have news for them: the Supreme Court disagrees. There are many decisions regarding the separation of church and state, but the one that covers the most ground is Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that 1971 case, the SCOTUS established a 3-part test for determining if that Establishment Clause is being violated:
1) the government action must have a secular purpose;
2) its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion;
3) there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.
When we use that metric to examine the new “Merry Christmas Bill,” which was just passed in Texas, I think we’ll notice something awry. The new bill goes out of its way to appear to be supportive of all faiths and includes references to “Happy Hanukkah,” menorah and “secular” scenes and/or symbols. But, as one can tell by the name and nature of the bill, the basic idea is to be able to bring Christmas celebrations into public schools.
Now, I’m not against the kids or the school having a Christmas tree; after all, that’s a pagan tradition no matter what name is attached to it. But I don’t think that is up to the government to decide. It breaks the first rule of the SCOTUS checklist, as there is no secular reason for it. But, according to Texas governor Rick Perry – he of the big hair and tiny brain – that is not a consideration. He thinks that this bill stands up for religious freedom:
“I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”
Sorry Ricky, you are wrong. The first part of the religion clause in the First Amendment is what grants us freedom from religion. No, it doesn’t spell it out explicitly – and maybe that’s why they don’t get it in Texas – but the prohibition against establishing or favoring one religion implies no religion at all being an option for citizens. When you add in the Fourteenth Amendment and its protection of freedom of expression, it’s irrefutable that freedom from religion is a right granted us by our Constitution.
But as long as certain dimwitted “Christians” either can’t or won’t understand that this is not a Christian nation, we will continue to see bills like this one in Texas. When we have people who think that other faiths and no-faith are a “challenge” to their freedoms, then we will have people who further believe that their religion is better and deserves to be exempt from the laws. They simply cannot understand that freedom from religion means that we are free from any government imposition of religion. It doesn’t mean that we want all expressions of religion to be swept away from our lives, just that the government cannot endorse the expression of any one religion. It is too easy for a government to subtly endorse or promote one religion’s ideals, just as ours has done on occasion.
We will continue to say it over and over again that “freedom of religion” does not mean that you get to push yours and its dogma on the rest of us. And really, if your religion rests upon your ability to speak certain words or worship certain displays, then you need to examine your faith. That faith begins within and should express itself outwardly, not the other way around. And if you have no religion, you still have morality and ethics and they work the same way.
I fully expect this new Texas law to be challenged in court. Perhaps we will see another SCOTUS ruling regarding the Establishment Clause stemming from it. It can only be a good thing to delineate the Wall of Separation and make it as firm as we are able. As the great Thomas Jefferson once said:
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”