Freedom From Religion Foundation co-founder says ‘separation of religion and state benefits the good people of Elizabethton’
Published 11:17 am Friday, May 6, 2022
BY ANNIE LAURIE GAYLOR
The good people of Elizabethton have recently been whipped into a frenzy in defense of three crosses on public property at Lynn Mountain against an imagined assault on Christian beliefs.
There is no such assault. In fact, our organization, which brought this violation to the city’s attention on behalf of a local complainant, cheers the fact that many townsfolk are placing crosses on their lawns, storefronts and other private property. That’s precisely where Christian crosses, other religious symbols or sentiments belong. Religion, religious freedom and tax-exempt churches, far from being persecuted in our secular nation, have flourished under our wise constitutional system of separation between religion and government.
Those who defend the location of these crosses on public-owned property are not defending their religion, they’re defending a violation of the First Amendment, which bars the government from taking sides over religious matters.
Believers, nonbelievers, Christians, non-Christians should all be proud that America was first among nations to adopt a constitution that separated religion from government, which grants sovereignty not to a divinity, but to “We the People.” The framers of our Constitution did not pray during the four acrimonious months of debate in adopting the Constitution, even adjourning in haste when one framer (Ben Franklin) proposed a prayer. The framers, knowing of the bloody crusades and religious wars in Europe and the religious persecutions in the original colonies, purposefully adopted a godless and entirely secular Constitution barring any religious test for public office. They added to this the Bill of Rights, whose First Amendment protects freedom of conscience — meaning that no citizen may be taxed or tithed in support of a religion in which they disbelieve, or otherwise compelled by the government to maintain religious symbols or ministries, attend church, convert or lose citizenship rights due to their personal religious or nonreligious convictions.
That’s something all Americans can celebrate. Because without a strict separation of state and church, one religion is going to be favored. Whose religion should it be? Odds are, it’s not going to be your particular belief. Which branch of Christianity should be preferred? Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Southern Baptist, nondenominational Protestant or Christian Scientist?
The only solution is for government to remain neutral over religious issues, allowing individuals to decide for themselves whether or not to attend church or support a religion.
State/church separation unifies our diverse nation. None is favored, none is persecuted, all are equal. Religion likewise benefits. As James Madison put it: “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”
Most important, this separation guarantees true religious liberty. Because there is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion. True religious freedom can only exist under a secular government.
The same government that can impose your religion on others can impose a different religion on you. Freedom, liberty, equality, unity and our Constitution all demand better. So should the citizens of Elizabethton.
(Annie Laurie Gaylor is the co-founder and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national nonprofit with more than 36,000 members and several chapters all across the country, including hundreds of members and a chapter in Tennessee.)