My Turn: God and the American Constitution

For the Monitor
Published: 4/28/2019 12:15:16 AM

A recent article in the news caught my attention because of the author’s alarming statement. The writer commented on how important it was that our Constitution includes the name of God in its text. It does not. Nowhere in our Constitution does the word God or a reference to God appear.

This was not an accidental omission by the members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a deliberate omission.

God or any reference to a supreme deity was of great concern to our Founding Fathers. They remembered the history of divine rights of kings and theocratic governments in Europe. They used caution before endorsing any appropriation of God in the charter that was to become our Constitution. It became known as the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Most of the men in that pantheon of remarkable individuals who met in Philadelphia in that hot summer were members of various Christian denominations. Some were deists.

In addition to being Christians, they were also exposed to the philosophies of the Age of Enlightenment. To believe that the framers of the Constitution were all pious Christians is lazy and dishonest thinking.

Other famous Colonial documents did contain references to a god but not the Constitution. There is an oblique reference to a deity in the signatory section of the Constitution. That was common in the 18th century. It reads, “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of Our Lord,” etc. Hardly a rousing endorsement of religion.

Many Americans are passionate about free speech, God and guns, and not necessarily in that order.

The Constitution is clear on many subjects, including free speech and religion. It guarantees the freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. It is explicit in the First Amendment.

The right to free speech is not an absolute right. You cannot yell fire in crowded theater if there is no fire. The same is true with the freedom to worship. Religions cannot incite violence.

The 1947 Establishment Clause settled the federal governments versus states’ rights role in religious freedoms protection.

I belong to a large and growing audience of nonbelievers. Religion is a conundrum for me. In almost every field of human intellectual discipline, a certain degree of skepticism and doubt is demanded. Test and verify. Religion appears to be exempt from that standard.

Religions are based on “faith.” Faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence.

My concerns over religiosity are not based on any personal animosity. It rests on a free man’s interpretation of personal responsibility, a social conscience and a respect for humanity. Values concurrent in our Constitution.

Religious Americans are not better Americans. All Americans are equal under the authority of our Constitution.

In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, based on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It was an attempt to mollify indigenous Native Americans’ claims of federal interference with established Native tribal beliefs.

The act has been challenged and tested in courts with the general result being that it restricts the application of that act to apply exclusively to federal government interests and not to states’ rights.

That act had unintended consequences. Some corporations in America now claim that they are victims of religious intolerance. It is a clever device used to deflect their religious bigotry.

Corporations have enjoined others with similar concerns to use government authority (i.e., the courts) to challenge civil rights cases, anti-discrimination laws, due process and First and 14th Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court of the United States apparently agrees with them. Recent sympathetic rulings, including the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in 2014, have tipped the scales of justice.

That case settled a dispute over a corporation’s right to oppose mandated coverage for contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

Hobby Lobby, a business owned by the Green family, argued that the ACA infringed on their First Amendment right to practice their religion. The court found for the plaintiffs, Hobby Lobby.

Justice Samuel Alito joined the majority that allowed Hobby Lobby to define for itself what in fact causes an abortion. He used the word “abortifacients” in his decision. The man has a sense of humor. In my opinion, that court’s decision was, at best, pious, elitist intellectual rubbish and, at worst, indefensible corporate bigotry and intolerance.

I expect more SCOTUS cases will be adjudicated in favor of religious tyranny as the composition of that court becomes more conservative.

Moral codes of behavior are not the exclusive domain of religions. There are no religious moral codes that cannot be replicated by similar secular codes that serve the same moral interests in a society.

You don’t have to invent allies in the sky to know the difference between right and wrong. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you learn to do it, you never forget it. It is intuitive.

I do not disparage any group’s or individual’s rights to peacefully practice their religious convictions. Neither does our Constitution. Neither should you.

Using that standard, nonbelievers are entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections as religious practitioners. No more, no less.

A courageous act that will be the true test that we are finally free of religious tyranny in government is when we have a president taking his or her oath of office with an oath of affirmation and not with their hand on a holy book.

Pious orators often close their speeches with “God Bless America.” Who’s God? The God of Abraham and Isaac? The gods of ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome? The God Baal? If not, why not? I prefer to close my speeches with “Thank you.”

Our Constitution is like the spare tire in your car. You don’t use it until you need it.

Remember that the next time your kid is being bullied in the school yard for being black, white, Latino, Asian, poor, skinny, transgendered, overweight, autistic or gay, or is a member of an unpopular religion. The Constitution is there to protect their legal and moral interests, and to offer them redress for civil rights grievances.

The Constitution is a model of intellect, illumination and compassion, and a triumphant monument to the Age of Enlightenment. Value it, caress it and be thankful for it.

It is the one document that stands between us and tyranny. Thank you.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)




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