Crumbling wall threatens basic rights

FFRF awarded Robin $200 for her essay.

The state-church wall of separation is in danger, largely due to conservative Christians. Many U.S. citizens want church and state to be more intertwined and, in support of this dangerous idea, falsely claim that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. They commonly cite the Declaration of Independence as evidence.

The preamble states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Many use the creator reference to justify the Christian nation claim. The wording mentions a creator but doesn’t specify a specific religion or indicate the Christian god in any way. It is not unreasonable to define the term creator as “nature,” which makes the phrase mean that as human beings we have certain rights, which were not given to us by anything other than the fact of our birth. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson did not want to mention a creator at all; the wording was changed later by the Continental Congress.

Furthermore, the U.S. Constitution, our actual governing document, makes no mention of Christianity or even the concept of a supernatural creator being. In fact, the only mention of religion at all comes in the Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

One example of how religion in government is harmful is the issue of gay rights. There’s simply no rational, secular basis for denying gay couples the right to have their relationships recognized by the state. Twelve states prohibit same-sex marriage by law, and 29 constitutionally bar it.

In Perry v. Schwarzenegger (the California Proposition 8 case), Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled: “Moral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest, has never been a rational basis for legislation. Tradition alone cannot support legislation.”

The issue of personal freedom and religion in government extends to public education. In the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court held that teaching creationism in public schools violated the Establishment Clause. Since then, 11 states have made the teaching of creationism in public schools an issue, with five states adopting standards that promote teaching creationism or intelligent design.

In 2005, U.S. District Judge John Jones III, ruled in Kitzmiller v. Dover School District, a landmark case, that intelligent design “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

The right to practice one’s religion is an important one. But citizens also have the right to choose not to practice a religion. Separation of church and state is a cornerstone of living in a free society, and therefore must be defended.

Robin Spoehr, 24, Neenah, Wis., is an M.S. student in medical laboratory science at Rush University in Chicago. He earned a B.S. in genetics, cell biology and development from the University of Minnesota and is pursuing a career in vaccine or drug development.

Freedom From Religion Foundation