More on Religious Freedom

For those appealing to the religious freedom part of the US Constitution, a few reminders. Religion is specifically referenced in the US Constitution: “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That means that you can be President, dog catcher, whatever, if you believe in a god or gods—whichever god/s you believe in, it doesn’t matter—or if don’t believe in a god or gods at all. You can thank the founding fathers for this, as they were secularists who wanted to prevent the government from becoming an administration of religious doctrine.

Swearing on the Bible is a custom It is not a requirement. There’s no problem swearing on the Quran or a stack of law books or Spiderman comics. By definition, in the government’s eyes, you are a citizen of the republic first and a religious person second.

The First Amendment (found in the US Bill of Rights attached to the US Constitution) refers specifically to religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” This means that, while you are free to exercise your religion (within reason), you are not free to use the public authority to establish religious institutions or further religious doctrines—and, in fact, the latter is circumscribed by the former.

In other words, you are free to set up an establishment of religion, but you cannot expect the government to respect that establishment, and that also means not everything your religion tells you to do is allowable. Is human sacrifice is part of your religious doctrine? Sorry. You are not being persecuted because the government will not protect your religious practice of ritual killing. Same goes for ritual rape. The same should go for mutilating the genitals of children, but clearly we have some work to do in areas.

So can we please get this straight? If you want to sit in a big elaborately decorated room listening to a man in a funny hat speak at you in Latin and put wafters on your tongue while incense smoke spirals around you, have at it, Hoss. But if you want the state to deny marriage to a lesbian couple because you think your holy book says that’s wrong, then you are living in the wrong country. You are certainly welcome here, but only if you follow the rules. And if you want to be president with the idea that you will impose religious doctrine on the public, then this is disqualifying.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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