Extremists are eroding the wall between church and state

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We are facing a religious extremist movement in the United States that has turned the meaning of religious freedom upside down.

It hides behind the facade that a “war of cultures” is raging in the country. But what is raging is anything but a culture war. When you scratch the surface, you discover a religious extremist movement that wants to override the secular law this nation was founded on and replace it with “biblical” law.

Christian nationalists invoke ‘religious freedom’ to justify discrimination, attacks on transgender children, homophobia, sexism, limiting reproductive rights, denial of climate change, opposition to mask and vaccine mandates , demanding that creationism be taught in public science classes and that tax money be donated to send children to private religious schools, book bans, and violent opposition to democracy. It might be wise to take a moment to remember what the founders left us and how essential it is to defend these freedoms.

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On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified and became part of the United States Constitution. He gave American citizens the greatest guarantees of freedom the world has ever seen. The first of these, what many call the “first freedom”, stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. These sixteen words provided the foundation for America’s religious freedoms and guaranteed freedom of conscience. Whether that led to belief or disbelief was none of the government’s business. It prohibited the government from establishing a national religion or imposing the religious beliefs of one denomination on all Americans. This revolutionary idea, inspired by the Enlightenment, changed the long-standing historical relationship between government and religion that had kept the individual in subjugation for centuries.

Responding to an 1801 letter from the Baptist Church in Danbury, Connecticut, raising concerns about the lack of protection of religious liberty in their state and fear of government establishment of religion, Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I look upon with sovereign reverence this act of the all American people who have declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise’, thus building a wall Separation between Church and State Here, the term separation of church and state is enshrined in the American lexicon.

It is commonly understood that religious freedom means freedom “of” religion and freedom “of” religion for all Americans. Every citizen has the right to follow the dictates of his conscience, whether it leads to belief or disbelief. In 1808, Jefferson said that nothing gave him greater satisfaction than the success of religious freedom:

“In reviewing the history of the times through which we have passed, no part of it gives more satisfaction, on reflection, than that which presents the efforts of the friends of religious liberty and the success with which they have been crowned. We have solved by a fine experiment the great and interesting question whether liberty of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the calm as well as the comfort which results from letting each freely and openly profess the principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason, and the earnest convictions of his own research.

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Yet today the country faces a battle between the modernity ushered in by the founding of the United States and the ancient enemies of individual liberties: the authoritarians and their religious cohorts. In other words, the remarriage of Church and State. Either we uphold our nation’s democratic ideals as envisioned by the Founders, or we support the world before the American Revolution.

Eric Lane is president of the San Antonio Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

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