Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Exercise 2/2

Religion does have a place in the public sphere, it is a moral compass for millions of Americans. To favor one religion over others would be to create an institution in these United States though, and that would be unconstitutional. The first Amendment to the US Constitution reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Respect in this sense means to favor one religion over another. It also means that no laws shall be passed that infringe on the rights of any religion lest a tiered system be created.

When people openly advocate more unity with a religion--Catholicism for example--they are respecting an establishment of religion. But the test needs to be stronger. Religious persecution has historically been cause for some of the greatest strife in the world. It also has great capacity for good, but a belief in pure righteousness leaves no room for debate.

In the same way that Muslims have been persecuted by our language--even if only subtly--there exists the underlying pattern. Something different is bad and wrong; my belief system is not the one I perceive as bad; therefore I must be righteous and good.

Apples are not oranges but neither is inherently right. Democracies function through debate and negotiation and it doesn’t mean one will compromise their morality in doing so. I worry about those who believe so vehemently in my evil because I may not share their viewpoint.

And because I have no affiliated religion does not make me wrong or evil or bad. This trend of self-righteousness disturbs me because I find myself feeling marginalized. I hold no religious affiliation but am deeply spiritual. I spend lots of time trying to understand my morality and how that functions in this world.

When I hear absolutists speak of a world where I am wrong because I do not agree, I feel disenfranchised and discriminated against. There is hatred in such a narrow view, and if not hatred then ignorance. Neither sits well on the seat of democratic governance. I stand up for my right to be free of religion as well as to exercise one. And I stand with the many qualified Muslims who are engaged and peaceful citizens in this country.