Friday, June 24, 2005

Freedom from Religion at Risk

I do not always agree with the Indiana Civil Liberties Union nor its national counterpart, the American Civil Liberties Union. I don’t always agree with the lawsuits they choose to file in the name of preserving our liberties. But I do believe in the broad goal of both those organizations, to protect and defend our freedom wherever it is trampled upon.

State Rep. Woody Burton disagrees with a recent suit filed by the ICLU against House Speaker Brian Bosma for allowing Christian prayers on the House floor. The name of Jesus was invoked more than two dozen times this year.

Burton believes it to be a free speech issue and accuses the ICLU of trying to restrict the freedom of speech of House members. In a letter to this newspaper he wrote, “…they are trying to take away our rights and the rights of our religious leaders to express their faith.”

Well, that’s an exaggeration at best. The ICLU and ACLU have backed freedom of speech and expression many times in the courts. If House members want to pray, they have a right to do so. But there is a time and place.

Since the State Capitol is a public building and the representatives are carrying on public business when the General Assembly is in session, if there are any prayers spoken at all they should be entirely ecumenical. The ICLU just wants to drive home that point.

But trying to keep things balanced when it comes to religion in the government is tricky. The ICLU isn’t siding with Allah over Jesus, for example. But if public prayer by government officials can’t be interdenominational, then they shouldn’t pray out loud at all.

U.S. Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana might see this as another example of “demonizing and denigrating Christians.” He used those words on the House floor in Washington last week in a reference to what he believes Democrats do.

An hour later, he took back his words on the House floor after a motion was made to strike his statement from the official records. But he later said he still stands by those words.

Another representative, who happens to be a Democrat from California, Nancy Pelosi, disagreed with Hostettler. “It's unchristian of Mr. Hostettler and anyone else to characterize other people in their comments about religion,” she said.

Is there, as Hostettler believes, a war on Christianity in this country?

Well, let’s see. Given the fact that both houses of Congress have conservative majorities, that more than 80 percent of the radio and TV opinion programs are led by right-wing Christians such as Pat Robertson, and that the President of the United States is a conservative Christian, I find that accusation to be somewhat exaggerated.

No, the war, if there is one, is nothing more than a meager battle by groups such as the ICLU to keep things in balance. Otherwise, we could easily end up like Iran, a very conservative theocracy.

There are many citizens out there who truly believe that the U.S. should be a “Christian nation,” in the sense that non-Christians should not live here. I have heard first hand from several fundamentalist Christians of their belief that the Founding Fathers meant for the Freedom of Religion clause to mean you have the freedom to choose specifically how you want to worship Jesus.

If there is an ideological war going on, it’s the war fought by the Christian conservatives against the freethinkers and those who believe in keeping religion, in any form, out of government.

A recent poll showed that 83 percent of Americans believe in God. Another poll showed that more than two-thirds of doctors, men of science, believe in some form of God and that more than half of them believe in an afterlife.

With numbers like that, I don’t believe religion is in much danger of perishing in this country. What’s more in danger of perishing is our right to have freedom from religion, especially as promoted by government officials.

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