The first amendment to the US Constitution states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."This simple sentence prohibits the government from establishing a state religion but at the same time permits Americans to express our religious beliefs freely in every setting.
The first clause of this amendment is referred to as the "separation of church and state" and the second clause is commonly known as the "freedom of religion." Many people do not understand the interplay between these two features of the US Constitution. I hope this document helps clarify them.
Some people talk about "separation of church and state," and indeed the first clause prohibits the establishment of a state religion. The government is never to support any one or even a limited collection of religions. This permits all religions including atheism to coexist in our country which is right in a truly-free society. But some people would have our government muzzling its officials, its employees, and even its citizens and children in schools. Such interference with Americans clearly is unconstitutional. Such behavior would violate the second clause of this amendment.
There are those whose focus is only the first clause of this amendment, and they call the whole amendment "freedom from religion." I am sorry, but forced-atheism is unconstitutional. Those who would be free from religion should seek that country where such lack of "freedom" exists. I believe the repression of individual religious expression contributed to the soviet breakup. For stability, a government cannot repress its citizen's freedoms. That second clause in our amendment is critical to our survival as a nation!
US public schools and universities need to teach American freedoms clearly and unambiguously to our children. These schools need to model the provisions of this right by permitting free religious expression by employees, teachers, and students. Schools celebrate our diversity in so many dimensions; religion is one of these dimensions. Indeed it deserves celebration not repression.
When we celebrate our diversity, rather than attempting to hide it in "freedom from..." ideas, then we as a nation face the reality of our culture. As we celebrate our differences together, we appreciate each other and learn to live peaceably. Our public schools are an appropriate venue for this kind of cultural education that fosters mutual appreciation in our society, and benefits us all in national stability.
Please tell your children that this first amendment means that the government cannot force you to practice any particular religion, including atheism, but it also allows you to practice and express your own personal religion FREELY!
Clearly the Constitution guarantees Freedom Of Religion not freedom from religion.
This page © Ross E. Koning 1994.
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