The Constitution is the official founding document of our system of government. The Declaration of Independence was just what it says, a declaration. The declaration was announcing our intent to form a new government and establish ourselves as a sovereign nation separate from Britain. The constitution served as the guide for how our newly established nation would structure its government. It contains no references to a power higher than that of “We the people”.
None of this of course stops the religious from claiming the vague reference to a creator as something significant. The “endowed by our creator” line is pulled from The Declaration and conflated with the constitution. Somehow this declares that Christians have a privilege over non-believers in our constitution. This is far from the truth.
“Without freedom from religion, we can’t have freedom of religion”
The founders were concerned with the disagreements from the various sects. They wanted to ensure that the government can not force a particular view of religion on anyone. This protected each of the sects from being forced to adopt the dictates of others. In fact without freedom from religion we can have no freedom of religion.
The first amendment gives Christian women freedom from the religion of Islam. So that they are not required by law to dress in bags. It gives Christians freedom from the religion of Jainism. So no Christian is forced to wear a mask to prevent harming of microbes in the air.
Our constitution grants everyone freedom from whatever religion they do not wish to practice.And part of that freedom is that no laws will be made on purely religious grounds. As long as this standard is upheld, Mormons can’t force us to wear magic underwear, and Jews can’t ban us from using our ovens on the Sabbath.
These ideas are the cornerstone of the western ideals of secularism and equality. The Secular Ethos is concerned with the ethical boundaries of society. And the recognition that freedom and equality are possible only when rational governance outweighs theological dogmas. These ideals were shared by our founders. Many of the founders were deist and many were also Christian, but they all realized the importance of shedding dogma, and governing through reason.
The Constitution grants everyone rights not just Christians.
The current attitude is that our Constitution only grants rights to Christians. This is how they often justify claiming persecution whenever we fight back against theocratic laws. Such as giving therapists a law to protect them when they discriminate . And laws to remove the office of diversity to pay for god stickers on police cars. Any action they find offensive or against their doctrines is to be banned. This is where we get all these theocratic laws in the south.
The evangelical Christians here find themselves in the majority, and use this power to force people to live according to their particular dogma. Opposition is usually painted as a violation of their religious liberty. When in fact they are free to practice their religion. They are just not free to codify it into law. They can’t force others to practice it or follow its dictates. They may also not frighten children with hell fire dogma.
To the believers this is oppression. Many of them truly believe that if they are not allowed to force their doctrines on everyone it is persecution. They feel it’s their right. Once again they mix up the “endowed by their creator” line from The Declaration of Independence with the first amendment to the constitution.
If they insist on giving undue weight to The Declaration maybe they should read more than the four words they like out of it. The most important part of the Declaration of Independence states.
Setting aside the sexism of the first line there, it’s important to note where the “power” of government comes from. Government is granted power from the consent of the citizens who live under that government, and not from an invisible deity. Safety and happiness is also listed, and in order to ensure these in a fair and just manner we must rest between two extremes. These are the principles of liberty and difference. It is a very Rawlsian approach of recognizing differences of power and circumstance.
We must institute laws that ensure the differences that place some in power don’t lead to the oppression of the minority.
Bill of Rights
All of this is important to talk about and debate the philosophy of, but the Declaration is not the document that organizes our government. That duty falls to the constitution. The bill of rights is specifically important. What was the purpose of the bill of rights? We don’t have to look much further than the preamble to the bill of rights.
The Bill of rights was proposed and ratified to prevent abuse of power of the government by restricting its power. The first amendment states,
“…no law respecting the establishment of religion .” This is referred to as the establishment clause. And the supreme court has interpreted this as in the traditional sense that the government can not create a state religion. It has also interpreted it in the modern sense in that the laws must pass what is called the lemon test. This is a three-part test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).
Under the “Lemon” test,government can assist religion only if:
- the primary purpose of the assistance is secular,
- the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion,
- there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.
The religiously motivated laws that keep being pushed in the south are creating an entanglement between church and state. They are being pushed on religious grounds with no true secular purpose. Such as the don’t spare the rod laws, where teachers are allowed to beat children with a stick. This is a purely religious law with no secular purpose. Yet, these laws stay around because the belief is that removing this law is somehow creating a law that inhibits religion.
Until we all fight irrational and religiously motivated laws, the principles at the foundation of this country will not thrive. Nor, will we continue to evolve ethically or morally as a society. We must leave behind ancient dogmas and build a better future. By, making positive and forward thinking policies today, tomorrow will be better than today, and much better than yesterday.