separation of church and state
Image composited by Jason Gottfried

America was founded, in part, on separation of church and state. The hope was to keep the government from respecting or honoring the ideals of one religion above other ideas, making rights equal throughout the country.

It’s now 2017, and I’d argue that even without right-wing Christians incessantly breathing fire anytime someone doesn’t bow down and thank them after shoving Christmas greetings down others’ throats three or more months every year, this separation has failed.

Think about how our country is set up. We get major Christian holidays off but nothing for any other religious holidays. We cannot buy alcohol in many states before noon (or at all) on Sundays, which is clearly tied to when people are “supposed” to be at church since it’s the Christian day of rest. We are expected to put our hand on the Bible (though this is now optional some places) when we swear to “tell the whole truth, so help me God.” If there is an accident where someone is killed, a cross is put up in their honor with no question of what their religion, or lack thereof, is.

No wonder Christians think they are in charge and that their beliefs are superior to everyone else’s. We are set up for them exclusively.

So what exactly is religious freedom then? The ability to quietly be a different religion, or agnostic/atheist, even though the majority of the country claims Christianity?

I’d argue even that is difficult when it comes to how laws have been created. Even if we were all on board and those in the majority recognized their unfair privileges, I’m not sure true separation of church and state can be a reality.

Specifically, people are not going to abandon their religious beliefs when they go to the polls to vote. You cannot take that part of who you are away when you consider candidates, laws, and how you think the country should run. It would be unfair to ask people to cast aside the core of who they are in any respect. I’m going to interpret policies and laws through my own lenses, so naturally, so are religious people.

So is separation of church and state really a realistic option? If people are going to the polls and voting, in part, based on what their religion teaches, and the majority of this country is Christian, doesn’t that simply mean that Christian-based laws are something we should be comfortable with since it’s what the majority of the country wants?

No. A hard no, in fact. In spite what I’ve argued above about not being able to stop being who you are when you head to the polls, many of the social and legal issues we have in this country should be outside the realm of morality, because they have nothing to do with anyone except those affected by the laws themselves. Thus, the fact that anyone gets a say results in a way to legislate Christian morals down everyone else’s throats.

Let’s take gay marriage. While it is now legal, for many years candidates were voted in to prevent this, and North Carolina went out of their way to usher in Amendment 1, which prohibited gay marriage for their state specifically. When my stepsibling voted for this amendment, his argument was that he chose to do so as a “Christian who was simply sharing my opinion on gay marriage.”

separation of church and stateNo, he wasn’t. He, along with everyone else who voted for it, was actively altering the rights of other people about something that has nothing to do with him. And what do you know? Now that gay marriage is legal, neither my stepsibling, nor any other straight man or woman, has been forced into marrying someone of the same sex. So, if it has nothing to do with you, why do you get to force your morality onto it? Have your opinion all you like, but don’t mess with other people’s rights.

The same holds true of euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide. This is currently legal in six states as well as Washington D.C. (though still with a ton of regulations and hoops to jump through). Why is this not something available to anyone with a terminal disease? If I go to the doctor tomorrow and find out that I have stage-four lung cancer, I have to die slowly and painfully, drowning in my own fluids, because we’ve decided someone else’s god wants me to? How is my death anyone’s business other than mine and my doctor’s?

So my point is that when it comes to issues that involve more than one person — like robbery, murder, and abortion (since the entire debate is whether it involves two people or not) — sure, vote with your beliefs, or lack thereof, in mind.

But when those issues are unrelated to you and you’re voting solely with the hopes of altering the country to be in your favor and forcing other people to follow the rules of your religion, maybe consider how fair that is. We’re supposed to be free to be who we are, and our laws should reflect that.

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