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Religious Freedom Amendment

By Mike Koller

May 30, 1998

On June 4th, 1998, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on an Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads as follows: Image

 

"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: Neither the United States nor any State shall establish any official religion, but the people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. Neither the United States nor any State shall require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, prescribe school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion."

All members of Congress need to hear that this Amendment (H.J.Res.78) will ultimately undermine religious liberty and that you are opposed to amending the constitution. The Amendment is unnecessary and our current protection for religious liberty has served us well for over 200 years. The fact that America is the most religious country on earth is a testament to how effective our Constitution has been in protecting adherents of all faiths or no faith.

Your vote does count. You can be sure that the Christian Coalition and other Religious Right groups are flooding the Congressional e-mail servers and telephone switchboards with sentiments in favor of this Amendment. Let your voice be heard and help add balance to this issue.

The following are some things you can do to make your voice heard:

1. Send a FAX from the ACLU's website (it's easy and free!) at: http://www.aclu.org/action/school_prayer.html, AND

2. E-Mail your Representative by pointing your browser at: http://www.house.gov/writerep/ or http://www.voxpop.org/zipper, AND

3. Call the Capitol Switchboard at 1-800-361-5222 or 202/224-3121 during the first week of June, AND

4. Call your member's district offices.

When you write, be courteous and brief. Some of the key talking points that you will probably want to address are:

The Religious Freedom Amendment is Simply Unnecessary

The right to private religious practices has always been and will always be protected under the Constitution. The First Amendment of the Constitution has done a remarkable job in enabling the proliferation of religion. Yet, supporters of the Amendment have taken a few rare instances where a person was denied their right to religious freedom, and they have magnified those cases to such an extent that it gives the appearance that America has a crisis of epidemic proportions.

Forget the fact that the United States is the most religious nation on Earth. Forget the fact that we are a society that has and does peacefully co-exist in the presence of religious diversity and people of multiple faiths or no faith. Forget the fact thousands of Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Tabernacles are sprawled across the American landscape and are attended by millions of religious believers.

Are there instances when the First Amendment is misunderstood or misapplied? It is rare, but it does happen. Should the solution to these rare occurrences be another Amendment? If so, will this new Amendment be any less prone to misunderstanding or misapplication?

The common-sense solution is to educate people on the meaning and intention of the First Amendment to prevent potential misunderstandings and misapplications. Public school teachers, administrators, public officials, and civil servants should all be required to attend First Amendment training seminars.

The Religious Freedom Amendment is Potentially Dangerous

First, it is dangerous because it goes well beyond the First Amendment's neutrality towards religion. Instead it encourages the use of public positions and institutions to practice one's religion to the extent that others will be captured in that practice. This is especially problematic in public schools where a teacher may ask her students to bow their heads and then proceed to say a prayer to her own God. And that God may not be the God those children's parents wish their children to learn about.

Second, the Amendment is dangerous because it has the potential to create divisiveness and social unrest. By encouraging public expression of religious beliefs, an atmosphere of competition will arise between people of different faiths. People will debate and argue over what God should be prayed to and what prayer should be said. Inevitably bitterness, resentment, and animosity will occur between a people who were once able to peacefully co-exist in a religiously plural society. America could very well wind up looking like Ireland and all in the name of Religious Freedom.

Third, this Amendment is dangerous because it will inevitably divert public funds to support and promote religious businesses and activities that actively discriminate against Atheists, other nonbelievers, and minority religions.

Fourth, the Amendment is dangerous because it is too vague. As an Amendment that wishes to rectify a "problem" with the current interpretation and application of the First Amendment, this Amendment actually adds ambiguity and only confounds the issue further.

Consider for instance the word "God" that appears in the Amendment. Besides the fact that this would be the first time that "God" appears in the U.S. Constitution, exactly what is meant by "God?" A Satanist sees Satan as "God", does the RFA apply to that? A Pagan defines "Mother Earth" as "God", does the RFA apply to that? What happens when one person's "God" contradicts another person's "God"?

If a Muslim student and a Christian student both want to pray in the tradition of their own faiths at a high school graduation ceremony, does that mean that the audience has to sit through BOTH a Muslim prayer AND a Christian prayer? What if Mormons, Catholics, or Jehovah Witnesses want their own prayer? What if a Scientologist wants a meditation?

These are hard questions that the RFA must answer, but doesn't. The reason it doesn't is because the sole intent of the Amendment is to return prayer and Bible reading to public schools. Since Christianity is the majority religion in America, these questions become "incidental" and hence unimportant. Besides, nobody is going to be forced to participate, so rights are not infringed. This might sound reasonable unless you happen to be an Atheist, Agnostic, or member of a minority faith.

In a nutshell, the Religious Freedom Amendment is based on Majoritarianism. Unlike the First Amendment, which remains neutral towards all religions, allowing majority and minority faiths to flourish, the Religious Freedom Amendment will cause public institutions to become sectarian promoters of the majority religion. And in America, that majority religion is Christianity.

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