There is a fight brewing in Utah that is about to spill out to the rest of the country by way of the Supreme Court. In Utah, the state police have marked graves of police officers with a cross on the side of the road. The crosses were put up with permission of family members and have been shown to be a reminder (a memorial) to those who have given up their lives. The fight comes from an atheist organization that feels that the State Police putting up crosses is an affront to the establishment clause in the First Amendment which states that the state shall not endorse any religion over another. The argument is quite simple and comes up quite frequently (especially around Christian holidays where reporters are looking for religious stories) and goes like this: Crosses are a symbol of Christianity; there are many religions in our country including “No Religion”; putting up a Cross (and not any or every other symbol or non-symbol simultaneously) is an endorsement – like a commercial. Because of this, Utah has been sued asking the crosses be removed and it is likely to go up to the Supreme Court because judges are finding that states do not have uniform laws to deal with such issues. Each state has dealt with this issue differently, so a Federal Ruling may be necessary.
There are lots of issues that surround this. (1) From the very beginnings, people coming to the Americas were primarily from countries with established Christian states. Actually, this is one of the reasons the first amendment was installed in the first place – so that everyone could worship freely as their conscience saw fit. In other words – the state would not persecute anyone who worshiped different from the majority. But primarily, people were of Christian religious views (even if they tended towards Diesm, Catholicism, Protestant backgrounds, or minority Christian sects), even if people had nominal Christian views – Christ was still a uniter. (2) Politically, in the past, the leaders of communities also tended to be pastor’s. Especially in areas with heavy English influence such as New England, the Scientists and scholars were also pastors. Schools were established to destroy ignorance of the Bible and to teach people to read so much so that in Massachusetts, they wanted to give Satan no foothold in the commonwealth. Not only that, but Presidents not long after the Revolution would call Days of Repentance, Prayer, and Thanksgiving (which eventually became formalized in the 1900’s as official holidays). Abraham Lincoln appealed to Christian scripture to make his points – Presidents were like Pastors of the whole country – oraters of God’s vision for the people of America. It was obvious that despite the diversity of “religion” (or now we would say denomination) in America, we were primarily Christian. The other major religion, Jewish folk, often practiced their religion, but adopted Christian forms to fit in for good or bad. Read the life of Bob Dylan to see a bit of this.
Things are changing fast, however. Like back in the days of colonization, when American sailors in Salem, MA made fortunes across the globe trading goods and intersecting with various faiths in other lands, well, now those lands have come to America. Globalization, Intellectual vigor and the nearly complete freedom of entertainment culture and idea has blown up the concept of Christian identity that at one time knit people under the moniker of “Manifest Destiny” or other historical slogans of religious feeling and origin. Our world has come closer, which has caused a plurality of views to be considered by all at any time in any place. The Melting Pot has become more of a Bowl of Salad where everything comes to co-exist (which is a popular bumper sticker on cars now). So Christian identity has obviously been lost in the last two or three decades.
More and more people also have thrown off the auspices of Christian culture and have gone with their hypothesis that “There is no God” and so Secularism has been a boon for this growing group. A world free of religious symbols or conversation is an atheist world. If the religious are forced to keep their beliefs wrapped up when they enter a school, a government building, or any public place, the atheist feels safe and secure wrapped in a confident jacket of insularity. The government appears to be endorsing no religion, but in fact it is endorsing “No Religion”, a philosophy that excludes the possibility of anything religious at all. There are reasons for this of course. Many who believe in no God are of the persuasion that Religion causes war. That those of faith molest people and abuse people into submitting to unjust authority. An undercurrent of this is a social justice of the ungodly accusing the “godly” who by self description have horribly sinned against humanity. What God would allow those of their own faith to do evil against innocent children? Or to cause the Crusades? Or to cause constant strife and division in Jerusalem where the many faiths and nationalities from the old world duke things out in a near atomic scramble for power. A world without religion to these ones is a prize – something that would keep people safe.
But they are wrong. All those evils happen without religion at all. It is plainly observed that atheist states in the modern eras have done as much evil to their own peoples (USSR under Stalin, North Korea under Kim Jong Il) as had been done under Kings and Queens of Christianity in the age of Christian states. Evil is evil. Blaming those of faith for all evil is just as simplistic as Hitler blaming the Jews for all the world’s problems. It is simple, so by scientific standards, it seems solid. It is easily explained and easily enforced.
The heart of this matter is that people of Secular/Atheist philosophy wish to see religion wiped from the public sphere altogether. I do not wish to be lumped with people like Bill O’Reilly who talk about the War on Christmas, or other sound bites. I merely wish to point out that Atheism is a type of faith. A Faith in Nothing, or in Ourselves alone (Secular Humanism). It is not an agenda-less nothing – it is a philosophy that seeks dominance in culture like any other. The faiths of the world all compete in the realm of ideas and speak to their own causes, but the Atheist in America has found a way to use Law as leverage. This is because we have a Justice System that protects the minority. All people are given a voice when our system is at its best.
But a concern needs to be flagged, when a group of people (even a minority that is protected) puts its world view and faith in nothing at the heart of our government and binds it by a law, there is an issue that needs to be debated and discussed. I am actually very happy that this case is going to the Supreme Court for this reason. This court is supposed to be full of wisdom and to consider the case very carefully and document how the came to their decision.
My opinion, (though I say so very humbly but very honestly) is that those of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Bhuddist, Pagan, Atheist or otherwise – should be able to speak of and openly show their faith in public. That their ideas, ideals and reasons for living in America are as much a part of governance as any other group. Even if they work or exist within the Government structures. Even leaders who speak to the public and make decisions for our nation. I believe that all people should be allowed to be open about what they believe in a free marketplace of ideas, religions and worldviews. To restrict religion from the open entirely is a reaction of fear. Fear that we cannot bottle religious passions or come to terms with a plurality of world views. It is basically giving up. I cannot do that.
While I do not believe that Government should favor any particular strand of worldview as an entity, the Government is an extension of the people it governs and has a right to express symbols that the people revere – not as a symbol of dominance, but as a show of solidarity. Especially in areas involved in life or death and mourning. In Arlington National Cemetery, there are Graves with crosses, Stars of Davids as well as Crescents. I suppose someone’s family could ask for no symbol at all. But I believe that the government has the right to work with the people and to interact with their world views. So long as the government does not actively restrain any type of faith, but interacts with them all on an equal footing (an example of the negative here would be the Government not allowing the family of a Muslim State Officer who has passed to place a small white Crescent shaped memorial on the side of the road while allowing Crosses to be placed).
In our nation’s infancy, political leaders were allowed to appeal to God. I believe that if our country elected an atheist to the high office, that that person should be allowed not to appeal to God as they please. But for a secular philosophy to keep others from doing so, I think that is wrong and should not be done. For those who do believe in God, we cannot separate our whole selves from the process of faith that informs everything that we do. God cannot be left in a closet before we enter schools or give a speech. God is a part of all of it. I hope that those who believe in No God can come to respect and entertain their ideas in the open rather than backhanding those of faith by removing the mark of our presence in service to our country through the force of misunderstood or overreaching laws.