Whining for Jesus? (October 2003)

We constantly hear complaints in the media about how badly Christians are treated and how thoroughly Christianity is being driven from the public arena.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but some religionists love to promote that image of beleaguered martyrdom because it plays well with the masses and aids their fundraising. Attempts to get secular government agencies to stop promoting religion in general and the icons of specific religions in particular are about ensuring that our government is truly neutral on the subject of religion.

The notion that such efforts are directed at destroying any religion is ludicrous. American society is awash with religion. One can go nowhere without being confronted with public professions of piety, religious hucksters, bumperstickers, broadcasters and books.

There are churches on practically every corner and billboards and banners promoting various religions and religious causes on most major traffic arteries. We constantly hear from those who extoll the virtues of faith or offer thanks to the deity they worship for some favorable treatment they think they’ve received. As an atheist, none of that troubles me. I have no objection to anyone practicing their religion in whatever manner they feel is appropriate so long as they don’t injure anyone while doing it. Although I may wish the people involved in such activities would find more productive uses for their time, money and energy, I recognize those things are, after all, theirs to waste.

However, I do not want my government preaching to me. I do not want it adorning itself in the trappings of religion or promoting religion, religious practices or religious organizations. I don’t want it funding religious organizations or their activities, regardless of how worthwhile those activities are intended to be.

Those who claim the United States of America was based on religious concepts or was intended to be a “Christian” nation are misreading history. One of the greatest achievements of this nation’s founders was the creation of a form of government that was intended neither to serve the cause of religion nor hinder it. It does no damage to anyone’s religious faith if children aren’t led in prayer in public schools or if government agencies are not allowed to promote religion by displaying religious artifacts or promoting religious slogans like “in God we trust” on our money or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

No religious organization is damaged by the removal of overtly sectarian displays–such as the Ten Commandments–from the walls and lobbies of government-owned buildings. Indeed, such practices, such displays are a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who do not worship the “God” of the majority and may not worship any god at all. There is ample scope in the public arena for religious ideas.

They can be debated, dissected, promoted, attacked, analyzed and repudiated in books, magazines, newspaper articles, speeches, seminars, and all sorts of other public forums, including the editorial pages of newspapers. They may be the subject of movies, plays, television shows and every form of artistic expression. And all of that is in addition to the activities of religious organizations and individuals who are constantly extolling the virtues of their faith and attempting to market the brand they prefer to the rest of us.

Our government has no place in that debate, and it should seek no role in the marketing of religion. Regardless of the claims of religionists, ours is a secular society, and our government is a secular institution. It was not created to promote sectarian religion. Modern-day politicians, regardless of their political ideology, need to recognize that fact and abandon such efforts. We don’t need more attempted legislative end-runs around the wall of separation between church and state.

We need more bricks and mortar to repair the damage already done to that wall by misguided politicians and to end the leakage caused by that damage.

Freedom From Religion Foundation