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2004-12-14 9:39 AM
Yes, Ashley...There is an Establishment Clause
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From the blog The Church of Critical Thinking
, here's the response to a letter that a 16 year-old girl wrote to her local paper, asking why some people want god taken out of public life.
The stuff about the redwood trees is a little silly, but most of the response is thoughtful and well-written.
To the editor:
I am 16 years old, and have lived through a malignant brain tumor. The only reason I am alive today is thanks to God's hand.
Now people are trying to get "In God We Trust" taken off the dollar bill, and "One nation under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. What's next, outlawing churches?
I realize there is a separation of church and state, however, by the first Bill of Rights, "Freedom of speech, press and religion" is a constitutional right. I also realize that not everyone believes in the same God, however, the dollar bill an the "Pledge of Allegiance" do not specify God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but rather God in general, so all religions are free to worship Him as they wish.
How is it justified that God be taken off and out of everything? Please explain this to me for I am very frustrated and confused.
Ashley Young, Macon
I'm so glad to hear that you have successfully made it through your diagnosis and treatment of having a malignant brain tumor. I can only imagine what the experience must have been like. I suspect it was scary and uncertain and that you have become a stronger person for having lived through it. I'll bet that your family was important in helping you get through it, and that prayer helped your family deal with it together. I can understand why you would be frustrated and confused that people would want God taken out of everything, when He has been so helpful in your time of need.
Can you imagine if you weren't allowed to pray to God? What would your family have done if you went to church on Sunday and there were government trucks all over the place, and men in dark suits and sunglasses standing around saying, "Sorry, Churches are closed. There's a new rule. You're not allowed to pray to God. And don't let us catch you praying at home, either." That would be terrible!
What if it was even more outrageous: What if all those government workers were going in the Church, removing the statue of Christ, and replacing it with a giant Redwood Tree? What if they said, "Okay, your church is re-opened now, and you're allowed to pray again, but you have to pray to the Giant Redwood Tree. No more praying to God or Jesus. Just the Giant Redwood Tree." Obviously, that would be outrageous! The government can't go into your church and demand that you pray to a tree!
You know why they can't demand that you pray to a tree? Because the First Amendment makes sure that the Government isn't allowed to get involved with religion. The First Amendment makes sure that you're allowed to pray to God if you want to. But it also makes sure that if someone doesn't want to, the Government can't say that they have to.
If the Government were allowed to say someone has to pray to God, they could just as easily say that you have to pray to Giant Redwood Trees.
Also, if someone does want to pray to Giant Redwood Trees, the government isn't allowed to stop them. It may seem silly to you, but someone else might take Giant Redwood Tree worship very seriously. If the government were to make a rule against praying to Giant Redwood Trees, they could also make a rule saying you can't pray to God!
In order to make sure that this doesn't happen (or any scenario like it), the founders of our great nation set that rule very early: The Government isn't allowed to stop you from practicing any particular religion, and they aren't allowed to force you to practice any religion. They just have to stay out of religion entirely.
In public schools across America, kids say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. The government pays for public schools. So by making kids say "under God" while they're in school, that's like the government making someone acknowledge God. It might seem like it's not a big deal, but when the government starts endorsing a religion, it opens the doors to dangerous possibilities. Who knows where that might lead? You will always be allowed to say "under God" as much as you want, whenever you want. But the government isn't allowed to force someone to say it. That's why people want it taken out of our official Pledge of Allegiance. But you will always be free to keep saying it yourself if you want to!
In your letter to the editor, you asked, "What's next, outlawing churches?" Well, Ashley, by keeping God and our Government separate, we make sure that the Government can never force anyone to go to church, and also that the Government can never outlaw churches. We keep that decision in everyone's hands as individuals.
Specifically, the First Amendment says that the government "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." We call that the "Establishment Clause."
And now I'm afraid I have a much more difficult task in answering your letter. This part may be difficult, but I think it's important.
107 years ago, an 8 year old girl in New York City named Virginia O'Hanlan wrote a letter to her local newspaper, the New York Sun, asking, "Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"
The newspaper published her letter, and wrote a very sweet reply. They wrote, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" and explained that we live in a much better world because Santa Claus is around. They said that if there were no Santa Claus, there would be no poetry and no romance, and no enjoyment. It was a very sweet way to reply to the little girl, and both the letter and the newspaper's reply became famous over the years.
But of course, as you know by now, there really is no Santa Claus. It's nice to think that there could be, but you know it's really mom and dad who bring you presents on Christmas. And you know what? We still have poetry. We still have romance. We still have enjoyment. It turns out, those things aren't really here because of Santa Claus after all.
Do you think it was okay for the newspaper to tell Virginia that there is a Santa Claus, when you know that there isn't? Even after she wrote "Please tell me the truth"? Maybe it isn't a big deal to some people, but I think it's best not to tell people that things are true when you know that they aren't, especially when they plainly ask for the truth. Even little kids. What do you think?
I bring this up because I think you're old enough to learn that really, we have no evidence that God exists, either. God is a character that we talk about like Santa Claus -- it's nice to think that He's around, but we don't actually have evidence of God's existence. Just like it's not really Santa who brings poetry and romance and enjoyment, all the things we say God brings are actually here because of other reasons, too. Some people go their entire lives without realizing this, and some people catch on pretty early.
In your letter, you wrote, "The only reason I am alive today is thanks to God's hand." Well, I think the doctors who diagnosed your condition might like to think they had something to do with it. And I think the experts who treated you probably would like some of the credit, too. And what about you?! You had a big part in your recovery also, don't forget! And your family was helpful, right? And what about your friends?
Even before you were born, there were experts working for decades to figure out how to treat brain tumors, and they used science to come up with all sorts of ways to treat all sorts of tumors, and figure out the best approach for each different situation. All of this contributed to your successful diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.
Are you sure the only reason you are alive today is because of God's hand?
Of course, thanks to the First Amendment, if you want to continue going to Church and praying to God, that's your right. Nobody can take that away from you. Not me, and thankfully not the government. I can suggest that other possibilities are more likely than God's existence, and certainly more possible, but I can't make you believe or stop believing anything. You have freedom of religion.
And of course, as you can tell, I don't believe in God. And nobody can force me to. People can suggest that I read the Bible and learn about the wonderful things Jesus did, but nobody can make me believe anything I don't have evidence for (or even things I do have evidence for; we all have the right to ignore evidence, even though I don't recommend it). Certainly the government can't. That's because we have separation of church and state.
I hope you can see why it's a good thing.
Of course, when the great Giant Redwood Tree overlords come marching down the street stomping buildings and shouting "Bow down and worship us, puny humans!" I reserve the right to change my mind.
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