Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Happened to the 1st Amendment?

The 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Based on how it has been interpreted in the recent past, and how it is interpreted today, it might read:

"The government and/or any extension of it, may not express any favoritism towards one specific religion, or prevent anyone from the exercise of his/her religion [without compelling interest]; the government may not prohibit freedom of speech and/or expression, and press; the government may not prohibit the people from peacefully demonstrating; the government may not prohibit the people from suing to redress a wrong they suffered."

The part of the 1st which deals with religion (The Establishment and Free Exercise clauses) is naturally of the most interest to me, as well as to other atheists, secularists, and humanists. I, and the people listed, would like to see the 1st Amendment enforced; unfortunately, our government doesn't feel the same. The Establishment clause is blatantly violated every day, and no one blinks an eye; the Free Exercise clause is abused and gives free license to the government's chosen religion, Christianity, while it seems not to apply to other religions at all. To get the ball rolling, here's some examples:

Establishment Clause Violations (and the reason each problem is a violation, discussion, and respective solutions):

Problem: "...one nation, UNDER GOD..." in the Pledge of Allegiance our children say every morning, 5 days a week
Reason: Public schools are controlled by the Department of Education, a federal institution.
Discussion: It wasn't in the original pledge. Making it voluntary to say is not enough. It is a violation for it to be there at all. What child wants to be the one who doesn't stand up, the one who doesn't say it?
Solution: 'under God' must be stricken from the pledge.

Problem: "In God We Trust" on our currency
Reason: Currency is minted by the government.
Discussion: Our country founded on Christian principles? No, it was not. The exact opposite is true.
Solution: The motto must be removed from our currency.

Problem: Religious mottoes on government buildings; nativity scenes, crosses and religious displays on public (federally regulated) property
Reason: Government buildings and property; mottoes and displays amount to endorsement, promotion, and establishment of one religion over another, or lack thereof.
Discussion: Christian principles argument is useless; our country was founded by atheists, agnostics, and deists to be a secular country with freedom of religion (or lack thereof). Freedom of exercise is not violated here; the Establishment Clause overrules it.
Solution: Either all religions are displayed, or none are.

Problem: Prayer in schools (graduations, sports matches, etc.)
Reason: Public schools = DoE = government.
Discussion: Non-mandatory participation in prayer isn't enough. It is a violation for any school official (teacher, coach, principle, etc.) to lead prayer during school, on school property, and/or at any school-sponsored event. Free exercise only applies to students (i.e., students may pray on their own).
Solution: No school-sponsored prayer; no school official may lead prayer. Students may pray on their own if desired. No benedictions at graduations, commencements, etc..

Free Exercise Abuses (same format):

Abuse: Religious drug use     
Example: Supreme Court has ruled that a church in Oregon may legally use DMT, a hallucinogen
Discussion: One need only say that  their religion requires them to use drugs, and they're allowed; however, users of medical marijuana, which has been clinically proven to have strong therapeutic effects and medical value, are still subject to federal prosecution.
Solution: Legalize marijuana and other recreational drugs, or stop protecting the use of drugs because some religion "believes" they need them to understand God.

Abuse: Using Free Exercise to protect hate speech
Example: James Nixon, a 12-year-old student in Ohio won the right to wear a t-shirt bearing the words "Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white!" (Impressive how powerful indoctrination is; to be able to drive an innocent preteen to such hatred...it's a shame he was born into an intolerant family)
Discussion: His school sent him home for wearing the shirt to school; his parents sued. They used the principle of freedom of RELIGION, not speech. This might have been covered by free speech; religious hatred, bigotry, and intolerance shouldn't be legally protected under free exercise.
Solution: Evaluate all cases from the viewpoint of freedom of speech; freedom of religion does not, and should not extend to hate speech.

Example: Christians are against No Name-Calling Week because it "interferes with the rights of Christian children" to spread anti-homosexual hate speech and bigotry.
Discussion: It is not a religious right to spread intolerance. Bullying is bullying; hate speech is hate speech. No one would allow a religion the right to spread anti-black bigotry, so why do we allow it for those who would spread anti-gay bigotry? Religious protection needs to end; nay, religion itself needs to end.
Solution: No protection for hate speech; and parents who promote bigotry in their children should be prosecuted for corrupting minors.

In the end, the 1st is only enforced when it protects the agenda of Christians; it takes a Supreme Court case to allow any expression by other religions and groups. This unfair application is in itself a violation of the amendment; Christians can do whatever they want, and slide through the law, while an atheist has to sue just to get a winter solstice display allowed. No one does anything, because the government is Christian. It's like trying to enforce an anti-smoking ban with a government full of smokers.

I'll continue to rant about it, though; and, in the spirit of the late and great John Lennon, to imagine no religion...


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