Grad essay honorable mentions: Religion in government often disastrous – By Phillip Gauronskas

By Phillip Gauronskas

In the Constitution, the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This statement was most likely written with at least a general understanding that running a government based on religion is a dangerous concept. Throughout history, there have been (and still are) certain regions of the world where religion has played a significant role in the government, often with disastrous results.

During the Middle Ages, Western Europe was under the influence of the Catholic Church. The idea of having a kingdom ruled by a representative of the Christian “lord and savior” appealed to many members of society. The bible taught these individuals that to do well by God helps to secure one’s seat in heaven — and what better way to do good by God than to listen to the leader of the Catholic Church?

The consequences in this line of thinking were made evident in some of the world’s greatest atrocities. Because people blindly accepted the pope’s decrees as the law of the land, many innocent people were forced to suffer for their own beliefs. Other people had to enlist their services to the Catholic Church and shed their blood and others’ blood in order to demonstrate the “love” and “compassion” of their lord and savior.

The Crusades, spanning the course of 500 years, accomplished this. Innocent blood was shed in order to take back the “Holy Land” from Christian or Muslim rule, depending on who was in control of it at the time. Innocent civilians were murdered, and even children were forced to fight on the front lines for their God. All of this was done in the name of the Church.

Jewish people had to endure the harrowing experience of the Spanish Inquisition. Unfortunate souls would be gathered up from the streets and sent in to “confess” their “sins” to the “one true Christian God.” Innocent people were abused, neglected and sometimes killed because they believed in something different than the European Christians did.

Pagans, atheists, gypsies and agnostics were subjected to similar mistreatment, regardless of their personal integrity or law-abiding nature. Simply because these individuals chose to believe in something that was contrary to what the Church believed in, they were martyred and massacred.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we still find certain regions of the world that are governed by theocracy. In countries such as Afghanistan, women are treated with little regard. According to Sharia law, in order for a woman to prove that she was raped (or that she’s innocent of committing adultery) by a man, she must have four male eyewitnesses. Additionally, individuals that convert from Islam to another religion may be punished under penalty of death for committing infidelity against Allah. Not only that, but Sharia law also makes it permissible, and even sometimes encouraged, to slaughter innocent non-Muslims in the name of Allah, the practice known as jihad. As can be clearly seen in all of these examples, this violates many of the values that we consider to be fundamental human rights in Western civilization.

Many atrocities committed by theocracy can be averted simply by taking a more secular, neutral approach to government. If we look at human beings as people instead of targets of religious conquest, it becomes easier to treat everyone more fairly. There are laws that are deeply rooted in religion that are contradictory to human dignity and the respect of our fellow humans. That is why it makes sense to keep church and state separate.

I am personally thankful to live in a society where I can say these sorts of things (or write an essay about it) without the fear of being personally attacked for being a “blasphemer” or a “heretic.” I know that there are people in the world that do not have the same freedoms that I do, and I can only hope that one day they, too, shall be able to live their lives as freely as me and other people in this country.

Phillip Gauronskas, 27, attends Eastern Virginia Medical School and is working toward a master’s degree in biomedical sciences research. He is married with a 2-year-old son. His interests include writing, tinkering with computers, reading, research and the study of both religion and science.

Freedom From Religion Foundation