4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government – And Why it Matters

    By Greta Christina | 14 September 2012

    “In God We Trust” on the money. “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Creches and crosses on public land. Religious mottos on public buildings. Prayers starting public government meetings. Prayers in the public schools. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the religious right was right, and the United States really was a Christian nation.

    Of course it’s not. The United States is a secular nation. The principle that citizens have the right to reach their own conclusions about religion, and that government should stay out of that choice, is deeply enshrined in the foundation of our government, in the First Amendment and elsewhere. This separation of state and church was not accidental or an oversight — it was written into the Constitution by careful, conscious choice, made against significant pushback. And the country has citizens who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, “spiritual but not religious,” many other religions — plus, of course, citizens without any religion at all.

    Yet what often gets called “ceremonial deism” is all over our government. Now, when this “ceremonial deism” get challenged in court, it typically gets defended — and is often even upheld by judges — on the grounds that it isn’t really religious. In court, its defenders argue that all this God talk is obviously just tradition, without any actual religious meaning. (How could you silly people think that “God” means something religious?) But when you look at the ideas and motivations driving this “ceremonial deism,” it becomes clear that it’s anything but secular. Passionate religious belief is driving every one of these battles. It wouldn’t be defended so fiercely if real religious fervor weren’t behind it. And every one of these “ceremonial” incursions of religion into government gets used — on the ground, in tangible, real-world ways — to marginalize non-believers, and to treat them as second-class citizens.

    Here are four ways the concept of God gets into government — and pushes atheist citizens to the sidelines.

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    1. I would like to add that anyone taking an oath for the federal government, including bureaucratic positions, are read a patriotic oath to recite that ends in "so help me God." I imagine that the state level and local level governments do the same. It has always terribly offended me that my ability to uphold my country's policies are dependent on divine providence.

    2. I've worked for Federal Government in the past (Census) and am now currently working for it (USPS). Each time I was asked to say or sign a pledge, I simply crossed off the "God" part, and signed, or pledged without the "God" part, effectively redacting the god-stuff. It is not legally required and cannot be enforced. No one has ever made it an issue. True, it should not be there in the first place, and I should not have to take the trouble to cross it out, but I can and I do.

    3. Also consider how the Bible is used when swearing someone in to testify in court. Nonbelievers and non-Christians are forced to make a choice between possibly having their testimony questioned because they don’t swear on the Bible or acting against their conscience to swear on it. This can especially be a problem when their testimony is key in deciding a case involving a friend or loved one.

      A few years ago, a Muslim organization sent copies of the Qur'an to some courts in NC so that believers of the Muslim faith could have an alternative book to swear on. One might think that the whole point of swearing on a book the person swearing thought “holy” was to encourage them to tell the truth, and that this alternative option would be welcome to cover those who were of that faith, but nooooo. There was a huge outcry against it because it was perceived that this would put the Qur'an on equal footing with the Bible, and that it would be opening up the door to allow other “holy” books in the courtroom.


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