Free to exercise freethought: By Anastasia Miller

Historically, when the economy takes a downturn, people are more susceptible to rabble-rousing. What is alarming today is the extent to which the masses have begun to embrace conventional stances on economics and the social contract while expressing a desire to blend state and religion.

It’s vitally important to explain again, simply and clearly, why the survival of our country depends on keeping the secular and “holy” worlds apart.  

A major source of confusion comes from the claim the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. But the U.S. was, unequivocally, “not founded in any sense on the Christian religion.” The desire for a complete wall of separation between state and religion, as Thomas Jefferson put it, was in part a reaction to the atrocities committed by religious governments worldwide.   

Caesaropapism mixed secular government with religion’s spiritual authority — what a way to control every aspect of citizens’ lives. Aristotle said, “A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

After Martin Luther (and his doctrine of the two kingdoms), there arose more of a demand to separate the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. Voltaire wrote that we only feel sympathy for those who have suffered injustices we have also suffered. Ultimately, the various religious “purifications” performed by governments were seen as atrocities. As Voltaire also stated, “Injustice in the end produces independence.”

Many of America’s original colonists fled their home countries, seeking a place where they could practice their religion as they saw fit. Rev. John Winthrop, while on the ship waiting to land in Massachusetts, told his congregation that this new world was to become “a city upon a hill,” a nation that was both a theocracy and a “type of democracy.” The society that they created was “very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, hostile to science, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy . . . [and] adores coercion and conformity.” Colonists didn’t see the hypocrisy of crushing others in the name of religious freedom, even after they began to brutally drive people out of the community or execute anyone who dared to not conform to their extreme views.

This was the backdrop for the founders working to design a government that allowed for equality and the affirmation of human rights. Most understood that it had to be made clear from the beginning that this government could wield no religious power. They were very intent on ending a century of colonial intolerance and persecution.

Despite the claims of the recent conservative revisionist movement, this was not a notion that was ambiguous at any point or at any level in the government. Until very recently, it was understood that the complete wall of separation between church and state served many beneficial functions. The most obvious is for those who have no religious affiliation. By acknowledging the rights of the believers, disbelievers are in turn recognized.

The brilliance of the Constitution is that it allows freedom from and of religion. The founders understood that separation between the spiritual and the worldly protects the saint just as much as the sinner.   

Many very religious people throughout American history have been very staunch defenders of the doctrine of separation. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that state-supported prayer was unconstitutional, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the decision was “sound and good . . . [and] reaffirming.”

Both politically conservative and liberal people have lived, fought and died for the right to keep the “two kingdoms” separate. As Americans, it is our duty to remind one and all that in order to protect our country, we must stand firm in our tradition of religious detachment. We must reiterate to our fellow citizens that they would not even have the right to petition for an official state religion if we were a theocracy.

Because, as Karl Marx wrote, “Every emancipation is a restoration of the human world and of human relationships to a man himself,” we are obligated to protect every civil and human liberty, including the right to secular government.

Anastasia Miller, 23, Seymour, Ind., is pursuing an M.S. in health informatics and a Ph.D. in healthcare economics at Indiana University/Purdue University-Indianapolis.

This is an excerpt from her honorable mention essay. She received a $250 scholarship from FFRF.

Freedom From Religion Foundation