by Lindsay Hunt
Our Constitution and its accompanying Bill of Rights are the foundational documents on which our national identity rests. The interpretation and application of these American staples have been the subject of innumerable debates that will continue for the foreseeable future, but none of these debates are as relevant or impactful as those concerning the First Amendment. This raises one unavoidable and ultimately defining question: What is God’s place in our nation’s future?
The first addition to the Constitution came in the form of the Bill of Rights. The very first item on that short list of rights guaranteed to every citizen serves to put a barrier between the institutions of government and faith: “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.” It is important to note, the wording seems to protect religion from government and not vice versa. So government is not to interfere in religious organizations, but how does religion influence and infiltrate government?
The implications of the First Amendment are nearly endless religious beliefs weigh heavily in one’s consideration of matters of morality and, therefore, legislation. For example, religion has come to bear on the national discussion of issues such as the teaching of Intelligent Design or Evolution in public schools, LGBT rights, the waging of wars and the legal provisions for abortion and contraception. It is clear from these few issues that faith is a universal polarizer as one group’s religious beliefs intersect and overlap another group’s rights and civil liberties.
To that end, it is imperative to hold a mirror to the beliefs we grow to take for granted, to genuinely reflect on what is right for our nation as a whole, to ask the hard questions and answer them honestly. Why the dichotomy? Why does the public cringe when two men want to marry, but ignore our responsibilities to the most vulnerable of our people? Why do we embrace the rights of corporations while turning our backs on the poor, the hungry, the sick? Why the enthusiasm toward guns and the vitriol toward immigrants? Is it truly a commitment to carrying out the will of a higher power, or rather a desire to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable?
While I am not personally religious, it is my strong belief that all people should be free to practice whatever faith or lack thereof makes them happy. Religion is central to the human experience and touches every aspect of life, both public and private. That being said, faith is and should remain a personal matter and has no place in public discourse. For the sake of all our citizens we must ensure that our country remains fair and equitable, and that religious liberty remains a right, not a luxury.