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"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was propoosed by inserting the words 'Jesus Christ.' so that it should read, 'A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;' the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."
Thomas Jefferson, from his autobiography in reference to the 1786 Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom

The colonization of America can be directly traced to religious persecution. The Pilgrims fled England and its state religion in order to freely practice their faith as their hearts dictated. When America declared its independence from England, the founding fathers of the newly formed United States had the foresight and wisdom to realize that freedom of religion was necessary for the fledgling experiment in democracy to succeed. They realized that as long as ANYONE was not free to practice their religion according to the tenets of their faith, then EVERYONE was subject to persecution for their religious beliefs, depending on who happened to be in power at the time. Thomas Jefferson was probably the most adamant about the necessity of separation of church and state, writing in a letter to Baron von Humboldt in 1813: "History I believe furnishes no example of a priest- ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes." In America today, these principles that our founding fathers found so important are under a sophisticated attack by those who have learned PR tactics from corporate America. An amendment to the US Constitution that would severely restrict every individual's right to freely practice their religion has been labeled "The Religious Freedom Amendment". Unfortunately, it appears that many in America are willing to buy this sleek package without looking at what is really inside the patriotic trappings in which it is wrapped.

Currently, there is not one federal law on the books that prevents any individual from exercising his right to worship in the manner prescribed by the tenets of his faith. (Those who use animal sacrifice might contest this point, but recent court decisions have reaffirmed their rights, although many are still prosecuted for cruelty to animals as a result of exercising their religious freedoms. Those who use human sacrifice also can contest this point, but as far as I know, the right of one human to allow himself to be subjected to sacrifice as part of a religious ritual has never been tested in the courts.) It is already perfectly legal for any child in any public school to pray, aloud or in silence, at any time of the day, providing there is no disruption of the other students' right to receive an education. A group of students has every right to gather before, after or between classes to pray. Members of athletic teams have the right to say a prayer before the start of their games. Students attending a graduation have the right to pray in unison if they so desire. There is no law to prevent this. No law to forbid it.

What is forbidden is for any public school official to decree that a prayer must be said, or that a specific time must be set aside to pray, regardless of what prayer is said or what faith is followed. No official school function in which students are forced to participate can involve prayer of any sort. To do so would be a violation of each child's right to religious freedom. The line is a very thin, but very distinct one. If the prayer is student led, it is permissible. If not, then prayer is not allowed.

If the Religious Freedom Amendment becomes law, this line will disappear. It will allow the use of public tax dollars to support religious functions. It will allow the use of tax dollars to send kids to religious schools. It will allow churches and religious institutions to apply for funding by the government. Laws such as that recently introduced by Rep. Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, called "Ten Commandments Defense Act", would permit government offices such as courtrooms to display a copy of the Ten Commandments. These types of laws are in direct violation of the Constitution's directive for the separation of church and state. It is difficult enough already for those who are members of less recognized spiritual/religious paths to practice their faith. If religious organizations were free to apply for government funding, it follows that those with the most resources to keep track of available funding would be the ones to benefit the most. The Roman Catholic Church is already one of the richest organizations in the world and some of the bigger Christian sects boast tens of millions of members. Yet the spiritual beliefs of the solitary pagan are as valid as those of the any of the mainstream religions in this country. Would a school for children of those who are Wiccan be able to get equal funding as those schools for children of Christians? Or what about those who practice Satanic worship (which is completely unrelated to paganism and Wicca, since they do not even believe in Satan)? How many would support funding a Satanic school? What might such a law do for your employment opportunities? Might not some businesses decide to hire only Christians in the hopes of winning government contracts or funding under this law? If you think I'm overreacting, perhaps reading Pat Robertson's own words will change your mind:"When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. `What do you mean?' the media challenged me. `You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?' My simple answer is, `Yes, they are.'"-Pat Robertson, The new World Order.

The Religious Freedom Amendment would do exactly the opposite of what the name seems to indicate. The only religious freedom it would protect would be that of those who had the power and money to fight for that right to express their religion. The Witches' Voice has a wonderful page on the Religious Freedom Amendment and the way that the religious right has produced a slick PR-tested version of a law that is aimed solely at turning the United States into a Christian nation. God and Goddess help us all if that ever comes to pass.

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