Fifth place: Graduate/mature student essay contest
FFRF awarded Jemille Bailey a $350 scholarship.
By Jemille Bailey
Modern America has an unhealthy love affair with religion. In recent years, U.S. government leaders have invoked God when addressing their constituents in speeches and writings. For those who don’t believe in a deity, or don’t agree with government’s interpretation of or interference with religious matters, there exists an uncomfortable relationship.
While Americans generally have great respect for the fundamental ideals of the founders, it is obvious that the secular ideological underpinnings so eloquently codified in the U.S. Constitution are frequently contested, circumvented or disregarded for political gain.
Two issues in particular are of concern nationwide: The right of women to exercise physical sovereignty vis à vis their reproductive systems and capabilities are once again being hotly debated. In January, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum gallingly proclaimed in a CNN interview that victims of rape should “accept what God has given to [them].”
Despite that issue having already been addressed and settled by the U.S. Supreme Court for almost 40 years, Santorum dangerously and irresponsibly asserts his religious beliefs as justification for setting or changing public policy.
He also single-handedly reinterprets the Constitution, arguing that “life begins at conception.” Santorum is free to argue his position, but his stance is based not on reason, science or social responsibility but on his religion.
Secondly, thinly veiled government promotion of religion has also seeped into the lives of ordinary Americans through their maltreatment of sexual minorities. The civil rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, as well as people who are gender nonconforming or transgender, are too frequently set aside, unrecognized or challenged.
Religion has frequently been a reason why the aforementioned Americans are marginalized and disenfranchised. Speaking to the graduating class of 2012 at Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., Mitt Romney, then the presumed Republican nominee for U.S. president, reaffirmed his opposition to marriage equality:
“It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with.” He went on, “Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from our government.”
Using language such as “blessed” is a clear signal to Christian believers in the audience that they and Romney are on the same team. If he were running for president of Liberty University, he would be well within his bounds to use such language. This speech also doubled as a campaign event.
Such rhetoric implies a divide between religious and nonreligious citizens. Further, it’s concerning that Romney doesn’t trust legislators, judges and other public servants. We elected them presumably because of their perceived wisdom. Logically, as those leaders have been given responsibility through the ballot box or appointment, they are the highest authorities in the nation.
But Romney then shamelessly pronounced that “there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.” What disappointing news for the nation’s many atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.
Often, after all other ineffective social and moral arguments are exhausted, religion is the last, and incidentally, the most illegitimate justification for the restriction of rights or release of responsibilities. It is on the emotionally tempting but judicially irrelevant leg of religion that Romney stands to assert his opinion on what makes a family.
Every year in the U.S., a National Prayer Breakfast is held and televised, attended by Democrats and Republicans alike. While some may view it as mere tradition, its implicit nature makes clear that we are under an ever-growing threat of moving toward theocracy.
When reason and objective analysis are pushed aside or ignored and replaced with tribal and theocratic allegiances and dogma, the resulting separatism can provoke the same unseemly acts of marginalization or restrictions of civil liberties that have led toward slavery, genocide and other atrocities throughout modern history.
Those acts may, in turn, be irrationally justified as divinely inspired or even virtuous at the expense of the physical and intellectual sovereignty of dissenting citizens.
Jemille Bailey, 32, is a Los Angeles native pursuing an undergraduate liberal arts degree with a concentration in financial economics at Columbia University.