“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ;” Those are the first words of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. This is our constitutional guarantee of religious freedom here in America but it is also the basis of the legal concept of separation of church and state.
The concept of separation of church and state, as it was intended, was and still is vital to maintaining religious liberties. The problem is today too many people have come to believe that this separation means that there is to be no expression of anything remotely religious by any branch, form, or activity at any level of our government. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written in simple, clear, and concise language so that there would be very little room for misunderstanding and no need for interpretation. There is also a reason why freedom of speech immediately follows freedom of religion in the First Amendment. (Not just to protect political speech but religious speech as well.)
The separation is clearly meant to protect all those of faith, and no faith at all, from being persecuted by any majority. No one religion, or denomination there of, can be made the mandatory faith of the nation. All are free to practice, or not, (with few exceptions) as they see fit. That is the limit of this separation. It does not equate to freedom from religion. Let me say that again. Freedom of religion does not equal freedom from religion.
Too often in recent history our court system has taken the slant that the separation is somehow supposed to protect people of differing spiritual backgrounds from being offended by someone else’s spiritual practices. In an effort to keep from offending others our courts (pushed by activist groups like the A.C.L.U.) have endeavored to sanitize religion from almost every aspect of daily government business and every single special occasion that a school or city hall might have cause to recognize, i.e. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Hanukah, etc. All of this done (using separation of church and state as the lynch pin of their argument) in the name of protecting the delicate sensibilities of a hypersensitive minority who don’t seem to understand that just because they are offended by something doesn’t mean that their rights are being violated.
No one has the civil right to not be offended! In fact, I would say that with the proper application of freedom of speech and of the press, it is pretty much guaranteed that everyone will be offended by something at some time. It is not a violation of your civil rights if you are; a Christian and you see me wearing a Star of David, a Jew and you see me unroll a prayer rug and start praying toward Mecca, a Muslim and you see me wearing a cross or an “I Love Jesus” tee-shirt.
If in a court building there are monuments to ideas and documents of historical significance to the foundation of our legal system then it is wholly reasonable that the Ten Commandments be present just as mush as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, or any other such deemed worthy. This is not about establishment of religion but recognition of the historical impact that the Ten Commandments had on the legal system of the United States. Having the Ten Commandments, or any other scripture from any holy book or teaching for that matter, posted in a government building does not mean that you must follow that faith to expect equal treatment in your dealings there. If you feel that you are being discriminated against just because of a sign or a plaque is hanging somewhere in a building do you really think your business there will be handled any differently if that sign was not there?
If city hall has a nativity scene at Christmas does it cause you harm to see it if you’re not a Christian? Is it worse if that same city hall, in an effort to be more inclusive, adds Hanukah and Kwanza symbols to there holiday display? I have heard representatives of the A.C.L.U. say that it is worse and still demand that there be no non-secular displays. If a high school football game is opened with a prayer is anyone being hurt? Are players, coaches, or fans of a different spiritual background being prevented from participating because of the prayer? Is anyone’s civil rights being violated?
Don’t get me wrong. There are limits. No one should be directly or indirectly challenging you or your beliefs in these settings. No one should be actively working against your best interests based solely on your beliefs. However, the saying of a prayer before a high school graduation is not a challenge of anyone’s beliefs just an expression of the majority’s beliefs. While this may lead to feelings of being uncomfortable by those of a different spiritual leaning, being uncomfortable is not a violation of your civil rights.
Now to be hardcore about this issue the Constitution is a document intended to limit the scope and power of the federal government of the United States while guareenting many basic rights to the states and the citizens. The founders never thought in terms of the publics schools being a function of the government, especially the federal government. These facts alone beg the question does the separation of church and state as stated in the Constitution even apply to locally run and funded school systems or state court houses. Legal rulings and judgement after judgement have sided with the side of secularism but these rulings have been made by activist judges on the same side as the secularist or by judges who seek to protect the rights of a minority without addressing the basic question of wheither or not any rights are actually being challenged or violated.
To sum up; you have the right to be uncomfortable and or offended, you have the right to believe or not believe however you choose, you have the right to express your political, social, and religious beliefs. Your rights are not being infringed upon if you are exposed to the ideas or beliefs of others. Your rights are being infringed upon if you are being forced into active participation of anothers faith based activities or are being excluded from activities, honors, recognition, or actions of justice based on your faith or lack there of being different from those in a position of authority.