When Freedom Falls Down

The very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution says:


Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ….

Know what this is. This is the amendment that prevents the U.S. government from saying that one religion is the “official” religion of the U.S., and that guarantees that people will be able to practice their religions without interference from the government.

Somewhere along the way, however, someone lost sight of what this amendment means. And this horror is the result.

I’m not a Christian. For a long time, I was, in fact, particularly unsympathetic to Christianity, having had some very bad experiences with a couple varieties of that religion as a child and young adult. But … please. This is insane. I’m tempted to get a “Three Cheers for Christians” bumper sticker to put beside my Darwin fish. (Well, I don’t actually have a Darwin fish, because as much as I enjoy reading other people’s car art, I don’t want anything plastered on my car. But you get the idea.)

Some faction of the American population is working very, very hard to establish Secular Humanism as the state religion, in complete contravention of the intent of the Bill of Rights. Nothing in the Constitution or Bill of Rights requests or requires the separation of church and state. Nothing supports this bizarre notion that children should not be able to pray before lunch in kindergarten, or that religion (especially the Christian religion, at least for now) should be hidden from public view as if it were some disfiguring, contagious disease. In fact, the first amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that believers are permitted to practice their religions free from persecution.

I would like to note that it’s time for people like me — people who have spent a lot of time disliking or even loathing Christianity — to put the hurt and the anger on the back burner, or just get rid of it entirely, and face the fact that if we do not support the rights of those we vehemently disagree with, we are acting for the erosion of our own freedoms. America must remain a place where public prayer is permissible, because religion is fragile and vulnerable to oppression, hatred, and censorship to the precise degree that it matters to the people who believe it.

Jesus fish, anyone?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

11 comments… add one
  • Carmen Hudson Oct 6, 2003 @ 8:40

    Isn’t it interesting, that the secular humanists who ban Christianity from our public places on the basis of a "tolerance" platform are now book burning?

    Thanks, Holly, for posting up those links. I found them informative…and frightening…reading.

  • Holly Lisle Oct 5, 2003 @ 15:13

    But wait! There’s more! Bigger, better, more anti-Christian than ever …

    Here’s a thought, for those who are looking with some glee at the persecution of Christianity. Christianity is the biggest, best funded, and best organized religion in the US. If it falls, what do you think is going to keep the Freedom From Religion Foundation from coming after you?

    If we do not stand together, we shall surely all hang separately.

  • Holly Lisle Oct 5, 2003 @ 4:19

    Matt — You’ve missed the point here. The people of the United States in creating the Constitution and the Bill of Rights specifically withheld from the government the right to either choose a ‘government religion’ or to regulate our practice of religion in whatever form it may take. We, the People of the United States of America, DO NOT ALLOW THE GOVERNMENT TO REGULATE HOW RELIGION IS PRACTICED! [Turning red in face, jumping up and down, beating head on wall.] PLEASE try to understand this concept. This granting of rights TO the government BY the people is THE fundamental principle in American government, and more and more people simply do not understand it. You asked how government would regulate which religions are represented, but we DON’T ALLOW THE GOVERNMENT TO DECIDE THIS FOR US. The American people have NEVER given the government the right to regulate religion. I apologize for the shouting, but, the fact that all the rights are ours and that we have given some of them to the government is one of the fundamental facets of government that you MUST understand to be a functioning citizen of the country.

    The government is not allowed to do anything that we have not permitted it to do, and that includes doing end runs around us and creating rights for itself and laws for minority special interests via the legislative branch.

    As for religion’s freedom from regulation by the government, please note that this right ends at the precise point where religion becomes politics, which then becomes government, and falls neatly within the domain of that which the government CAN regulate. So Jerry Falwell preaching government and Bill Clinton on the pulpit in a church ‘getting out the vote’, and ministers in AME Zionist churches pounding the pulpit and denouncing the President and his policies are all well outside of the Constitutionally protected area of freedom of religion. Muslim cells plotting the destruction of the nation from within the walls of mosques are not protected by the guarantee of freedom of religion, either. When religion becomes government (or crime), it loses its rights and protections.

    We are not, incidentally, governed by treaties with Tripoli. We are governed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Treaties with Tripoli might be binding to the government entity that signed them, but they are not our law, nor can they be incorporated into our law as something that we have to live under.

    Currently, the government (more specifically the judicial branch of the government) is undercutting the rights we gave ourselves, working in lockstep with anti-religion groups like Freedom FROM Religion and the ACLU.

    Let me say this again — the judicial branch of the government, working with special interest groups, is stripping away the rights WE GAVE OURSELVES.

    It is not for government-funded pubic schools to decide who prays, or how. These schools can offer a moment of silence, but cannot LEGALLY present a specific prayer or demand that anyone prays. Or deny any student his right to pray. The Pledge of Allegiance is different. That IS government — if we’re being Constitutional, schools can require that of students. If the majority decides that the Pledge should contain God in it, that’s okay, too, because we are a majoritarian nation (still. More on that in a bit.)

    And, NO, government-funded public schools do NOT need to equally represent all religions — they are NOT PERMITTED to either represent or regulate ANY of them. Most of the country is Christian (most being defined as ‘more than 50%’). So if fifty Christian kids want to get together for before-class prayers, they are Constitutionally guaranteed the right to do this — but the school cannot demand that they can only do this if equal groups also exist for every other religion under the sun. The three wiccans have the right to get together and pray, too, and the one atheist has the right to stand there unpraying. But the school DOES NOT have the right to decide who can or who can’t.

    The US Constitution protects the rights of the minority, but it does not, and SHOULD not, give those rights preference or ‘equal representation’ with the rights of the majority. We are, and should remain, a majoritarian nation, not a nation where every minority gets special, bigger priviliges by virtue of being underrepresented numerically.

    So if the majority of Americans want to have God in their pledge and on their money, FINE. The minority can live with it. That’s what majority rule is.

  • Matt Oct 4, 2003 @ 13:24

    I always find this topic interesting. Mostly, the problem that i have with religion in the government is whose religion shall it be? if we reintroduce prayer in public schools, whose prayer will it be? I’m sure some baptist wouldn’t want to recite the hail mary, and many muslim students wouldn’t necessarily want to say the our father.

    Also, another beef i have is when it comes to less popular religions. How will it be regulated? I am all for freedom of religion in schools, if religions are treated equally. Atheists, non-deists, wiccans, pagans, hindis, muslims, christians and catholic must all be treated equally, but this is _never_ how it is.

    also, the founding fathers had _no_ religion in mind. If you search through the constitution and bill of rights you will find no mention of the word "God." Also, there was a treaty of Tripoli in 1779 signed by then president John Adams that guarunteed to the muslims that the United States was not founded on nor has established a religion in the country.

    Also, note that "under God" was added to the pledge in 1954, not when it was created, as some mistakenly argue.

    Also note that "In God We Trust" did not appear on money until the mid 1800’s.

    These changes were neither approved by the people of the United States, nor the founders, but by politicans and administrators pushing personal agenda.

    I’m not against religion, in fact i was born and raised Catholic. But I do believe that it needs to be separate from the state. I certainly wouldn’t want the pope telling muslims or hindis what to do, or to make laws that unfairly disadvantage them because the laws were based on specific faction doctrine.

  • Jim Woosley Oct 4, 2003 @ 12:13

    Welcome "back," Holly, and thank you for turning comments back on. I think my withdrawal may have been as hard as yours 🙂

    And everyone…as far as I’m concerned, you’re on the right track. More later, maybe…

  • Sheila Oct 3, 2003 @ 19:45

    I understand the thinking behind keeping religion out of public schools, but this is way out of line. It’s as ludicrous as punishing Jewish kids for not eating pork chops in the cafeteria (and wouldn’t there be a flap if someone tried to do that!)

    There are plenty of things that should be kept out of public schools. I’m glad that I’m able to see that my children are two of them.

  • Marilyn Oct 3, 2003 @ 16:00

    I myself have long had prejudices against Christians, simply because I have not met many nice ones. They worship Jesus, yet they don’t practice his beliefs of tolerance and peace and love and all that good stuff. They were zealots, and I found them rather frightening. But it’s high time I realized there are as many decent Christians as there are weird ones, because no matter how we group human beings — by race, religion, sexuality, whatever — each group will have good, moral people, and they will also have sh-theads.

    Hmm, sorry, I tend to ramble. My original point was that I am fine with Christians wanting to give thanks before they eat their lunch. If the Catholics want to have their own club, that’s nice for them. If the Muslims need to be briefly excused from class to pray, they should be allowed to. But I’m only okay with it as long as every religion is recognized. If a Wiccan student wants to wear a pentagram necklace, s/he should be permitted to without fear of ridicule.

    So anyway, that’s my two cents on the issue.

  • Kellie Oct 3, 2003 @ 9:16

    Christianity and our government have been tightly linked since Day One. I don’t have a problem with that, but I can see how others might. As Linda said, the framers set up the first amendment to keep religion voluntary. With all the "In God We Trust" and such, some people might start to feel like they don’t have a choice not to trust in God and so on. However, why those people would take anti-Christianity to such an extreme and then tolerate the same sort of things when another religion is the focus boggles my mind. Although, if Johnny Highschooler decided to pray to Mecca five times a day, I think someone would raise a stink. And fast. Or maybe I place far too high an opinion on the minds of Americans when it comes to religion.

  • Linda Oct 3, 2003 @ 8:28

    Times have changed, and, again, I find myself on the "old" side wishing for the "good old days". When I was in high school, students were allowed to bring Bibles to school and read them. Students were allowed to say individual prayers before eating a meal. Students formed a Christian club of some sort. All they needed was a teacher to be the adult leader. The reasoning was that as long as it was voluntary, no one forced anyone to join or attend, and anyone with a different religious belief could start a club, too, it was OK. That’s what I think the framers of the constitution had in mind.

    Thanks for enabling comments again. Your posts get me thinking and, as you’ve probably noticed, when I think, I like to share my thoughts. 🙂

  • Holly Lisle Oct 3, 2003 @ 4:13

    Hi, Jean,

    I’ve been struggling with the "where does religion stop and perversity begin?" question — all I have to offer here is the understanding that religions must obey the law of the land. No Church of Molesters, no Return to Mayan Sacrifice, no Sacrament of Our God of the Great Government Overthrow.

    Good and bad and right and wrong haven’t been revoked, though it seems some segments of society are doing their damndest to see that they are. It is the duty of the majority — and I still firmly believe that the majority of people in the US are good people — to see that laws that attempt to revoke the place of good and bad and right and wrong in society are not permitted to stand.

  • Jean Oct 2, 2003 @ 21:02

    Hey! You turned comments back on.

    Well put. I still consider myself on the Christian side; however, many people would not. But that’s between me and my Maker.

    Like illegal aliens getting driver’s licenses (the fact that people can’t see the oxymoronicness of this boggles my mind), the rabid anti-run-of-the-mill-Christianity movement puzzles me beyond belief. Unfortunately, when I expand the permutations, I have to accept some potentially unsavory things in the name of freedom of religion.

    Where does religion stop and perversity begin? Do I need to accept a religion which practices animal sacrifice to maintain my right to practice my religion? How about one which deifies rocks or PoundPuppies or, perhaps, spotted owls?

    That may be stretching things a bit. I object strenuously that freedom OF religion has gradually become twisted into freedom FROM religion. As you say, words matter, and those two prepositions are significant.

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