The ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are up in arms. People are making bold references to religion and faith – in public, no less. What’s a nation to do?
Here are just a few recent examples of these heinous, unconscionable acts: A pastor uses the word “God” six times, and quotes one Bible verse, in a seven-minute talk at a public school. Students pray over the PA system just before kickoff at football games. At some local government meetings, officials open with a brief prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, including the phrase “under God.” And a congregation decides to erect huge metal crosses on church property within easy view from the interstate highway.
Doesn’t the Constitution clearly call for a separation of church and state? What’s religion – or faith, or spirituality for that matter – got to do with real life? And how dare people who embrace such beliefs rub it in the noses of those who don’t?
Well, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s simple, really – it’s a problem of prepositions.
In case English wasn’t your strong subject in school, a preposition is a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. Prepositions include words such as “about,” “across,” “after,” “by,” “except,” “into,” “on” and “to.”
They also include “of” and “from.” And therein lies this dilemma we face with this compelling issue surrounding church and state.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….” (I highlighted the preposition “of” in bold italics on purpose.) Nowhere does the Constitution make any provision for freedom from religion, although people certainly have the right – as many have exercised – not to believe.
Referred to as “the establishment clause” after its adoption, the amendment prohibits Federal or state governments from establishing an official church, along the lines of the Church of England, which early American immigrants had fled. But “establishment of religion” and freedom from religion are two very different and distinct things. Frankly, it’s a grammatical issue that Mrs. McGillicudy and her freshman English class at Anywhere High School could easily resolve.
Clearly in our age of “tolerance” and “enlightenment,” there are those who argue against any references in the public square to matters of faith and religion. But everyday we all are subjected to a “faith” and religion of a different sort – the worship of knowledge and the human intellect, the notion that the only things that matter are those that can be seen, felt and measured.
Faith, of course, doesn’t meet that criteria. After all, Hebrews 11:1 explains, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
But we’ve gone too far – and we did it too long ago. For many people, studies indicate the vast majority of people, spiritual beliefs are an important and influential dimension of their lives. Countless followers of Jesus, for example, would affirm the apostle Paul’s words in Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” We could no more exclude Christ from every facet of our lives than we could do without oxygen.
Granted, many people believe differently. Muslims pray to Allah, and the most devout do that numerous times every day. Hindus, Buddhists and others pursue their beliefs in their own ways. And I wholeheartedly support their right to do so.
But we don’t need freedom from any of those. If an imam chose to offer a Muslim prayer at a public gathering; if a rabbi that doesn’t believe Jesus is the Messiah prayed to the God of Abraham; or other spiritual leaders gave prayers or offered thoughts on their respective beliefs, I think we should respectfully listen – and choose to disagree if we wish. No need to argue or become antagonistic.
Why can’t we return to the long-lost realm of common sense and realize – or rediscover – that our revered Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion? If anything, it assures freedom from the establishment of non-religion.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, a former newspaper editor and magazine editor. He is presently vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a non-profit focused on mentoring and coaching business and professional leaders. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and has authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” “Business at Its Best,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. He also posts regularly on two blogs, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, and www.bobtamasy.wordpress.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.