Here we are, only a few months left of what is officially the first year
of the new millennium. For 225 years since the birth of out nation’s
independence has it grown and thrived to become both a superpower of the
world, and the home of the freest government in the world. In addition, we
have enjoyed many individual freedoms and rights since the drafting of the
constitution by our founding fathers. These include the right to privacy,
free speech, and the freedom of religion—and it is the last one I would like
to address today.
Indeed, I am a true American. I am a sixteen-year old male Caucasian
born into citizenship in this very city. However, there is one trait that I
hold which is not associated with the majority in this country. I am a
member of what well-known lawyer Edward Tabash called “the most unjustly
despised minority in America today.” That group is the atheists.
An atheist is of course defined as “one who does not believe in a god or
gods.” Yes, I disbelieve in the existence of a god. No, I am not one
because I think it is ‘cool’ to have a view different from the majority of
Americans (as one theist accused me of). I am an atheist because there was
simply a profusion of problems I had when confronting the idea of religion,
god, and the supernatural. I do not engage in activities that my religious
fellows do. I don’t pray, I don’t practice dogma, I don’t read any holy
text, I do not support superstition, and I don’t believe in an afterlife.
These are the general characteristics of an atheist.
This is simply a position I have on the issue of religion. Yet, an
atheist has much to endure. One must face being in the minority, face
criticisms by the religious, and face the disruptions in the constitutional
principle of the separation of church and state.
I can relate to all three of these obstacles. I have noted the fact that
my kind is a minority. All my life of living in my home city, there have
been only a handful of atheists that I have known. Thus, it is difficult to
engage in discourse with my kind.
In addition, I, like many other atheists, have faced criticism by the
religious because of my being an atheist. Whenever this fact is disclosed
to a religious individual, the reaction is seldom positive. Usually, either
the person is bewildered or they respond distastefully. When they are
bewildered, they present me with a big “Why?” and can never seem to really
accept it. When a religious person is distasteful, they usually tell me
with emphasis, “You’re going to Hell!” or another similar response. While I
have met religious individuals who have been nicer about my disbelief, I
question this common attitude toward atheists. Why is it that, because we
are godless, we are instantly labeled ‘evil’ or ‘immoral?’ Because we
follow no religion, we suddenly do not grasp the meaning of life?
Believers have also accused me of not enjoying my life because I have no
“spiritual guidance.” To be honest, I am quite happy as an atheist. I have
my reserved reasons why, and I live my life accordingly. Of course, there
are many defending arguments of the atheist position, but I will not
crystallize upon them for doing so would require an essay of its own.
Returning to my third statement, an atheist also witnesses the violation
of the separation of church and state. First, let me lay the foundation of
this principle. I quote from article VI of our constitution:
“The Senators and Representatives…and the Members of the several State
Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United
States of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to
support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a
Qualification to any office or public Trust under the United States.”
This states that the government is not to be run specifically under
religious qualifications, that no person that can hold office must have any
religious affiliation. It is apparent that the constitution is godless (the
constitution makes no reference to a god) and was meant to be secular.
While it allows the freedom of religion to all citizens, the constitution
and the government have no ties with a religious doctrine. I quote again
from Justice Hugo L. Black of the case of Everson v. Board of Education,
1947: “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church.
Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer
one religion over another.”
Unfortunately, violations of this principle are occurring today.
President George W. Bush is initiating his plan of funding faith-based
charities. This is a blatant violation, as the government is lending
support and money to these religious charities. It is also in violation of
the “Establishment Clause” which prohibits the government to respect any
religion over another. In addition, while prayer is allowed at school,
staff-led prayer is not. According to a joint statement by the ACLU and a
statement by the U.S. Department of Education on schools and religion, staff
and administration of a school must not participate in religious activity,
and to neither encourage nor discourage such practices by the students.
Despite this fact, it is still evident that any activity by the nonreligious
students are either discouraged by fellow students, or nonbelievers do not
take any course of actions. I once again quote, and this time from the
Christian’s Bible: “…when you pray, go into your room, and when you have
shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your
Father who sees in secret will reward you openly”[MT 6:5]. Even the
Christian’s Bible supports that prayer should be in the believers privacy,
not exposed to the public where people of all backgrounds are found. I also
notice how, when prayer occurs at our schools, the religion that is
practiced is Christianity. What about the Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, and
people of other religions? It is not fair that one religion is favored over
another. Some may argue that the reason is due to the fact that the major
religion in this country is Christianity, but despite this I have seen the
presence of students with non-Judeo-Christian religious beliefs.
Now, let me clear up one issue. As an atheist, I personally do not want
to see a country where nonbeliever’s rights are above the rights of
religious. All that we do ask is that our rights and abilities are level
with those of the religious. I have no desire to disrupt the constitutional
right to freedom of religion. People have the freedom to practice any
religious doctrine as they choose. Although I am an atheist, I was raised
in a religious family. I do not desire for any actions resulting in the
restraining of their right to follow a religious doctrine. The freedom of
religion is one of the qualities of a free government such as ours.
However, I do believe in discussion and debate over this issue, and to
improve a public understanding of the nonreligious. Believers sometimes are
not comfortable with the activism that some atheists engage in, but some of
us are only active because we want to prevent this country from becoming a
borderline theocracy, something that the likes of the Religious Right wishes
Although we are in the first year of the new millennium, it will not be
long before my generation has its hands on the controls of the world. We
are entering a new time period, and with it we must help resolve the
problems presented in the world. We need to approach these problems with
science, reason, and logic, rather than pseudo-science, blind faith, and
superstition. I am sorry to see that such fundamentalist issues still
linger in this modern world, and that people of differing viewpoints do not
settle so easy (at least this is the case with secularism). As a secular
high school student, I wanted to address this issue, which is of concern to
me, and now it stands.