Monday, June 27, 2011

Religion is the first right

The headlines of the Oakland Press a week ago said that Muslims had purchased a school building in Farmington. If it was Catholics, Baptists or Methodist no one would have paid much attention. But, because it was a group associated with Islam, a religion many in America have trouble with, it raised some concern by the community. Enough concern that the Oakland Press placed it on the front page.

Religion in America is the most scared of rights. It is the first right that is given protection in the first amendment of the Constitution.

The founders knew well the troubles that England and Europe had with religion and all the wars it caused. (or at least, like those that claim there are good Muslims, the wars that religion was given as the reason – but more on that in another post). Religion was one of the biggest reasons people came to the “New World”, second only to making money. They traveled across the ocean, a scary thing to do at the time, in search of a place they could practice their religion without interference. The immigrants set up communities that were for the most part, doing just what they were escaping from in England. They formed communities whose government and culture were dictated by the official religion of the community.

This was okay at first. Most everyone practiced the established religion, or at least played along. But, the new country grew from just a few settlements along the coast to, what was at the time, large cities. As trade begin to happen between the communities, people that didn’t follow the established religion of one community, moved in. The same trouble that communities in England experience could have happen here, if it wasn’t for a bold idea. Everyone agreed, although with some difficulty at first, that everyone could practice their own religion in their own space.

Looking back, many believe that this is a Christian nation, born from the belief of those Christians that traveled here from Europe. Jews were well established in New York and Islam had a community in Philadelphia. Even among the Christian religions, there were many different sects that, in some cases, aggressively disagreed with the beliefs of others.

Those that created the nation and its government didn’t call it a Christian nation either. In documents and treaties at the time, they removed religion from the government. There are treaties that state we are not a Christian nation, meaning that there is no state religion. In the First amendment, it states that government shall not establish a religion nor prevent the free exercise of religion. It does not state on any document that set up the United States government that religion should play any role. In fact, in the main body of the Constitution, it clearly and emphatically states that there shall be no religious test - twice. A very clear statement considering that some phrasing of the Constitution is vague.

Even if there wasn’t a Constitution that barred religion from government and provides an atmosphere for religious freedom, it would be the right thing to do. There is little chance that followers of a religion that is barred from freely exercising their beliefs and prevented from participating in community life, would support the community. The reality is, that when anyone feels isolated from the main street community for any reason, they will be less supportive, if not anti-social in their conduct.

To draw from the supporters of another right, religion doesn’t harm people, people do. No matter what the religion may or may not teach, it is individual followers of a religion that may use it as an excuse to be violent. These individuals should be stopped when their action causes harm others, not the religion. To exclude an entire religion is to prevent other, none violent citizen in good standing from following their right to practice their faith.

With some exceptions, no right is absolute, all should be allowed to practice their religion in their own space. To do otherwise is to limit the freedom of the community.


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