It’s freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The phrase “separation of church and state” is not to be found in the U.S. or Idaho state constitutions. To those of you that would believe otherwise, please read those documents and cite the article, section and paragraph for the rest of us to see. That phrase and those words aren’t there. But it would do all of you well to actually study the documents that enshrine our right to worship as we please.
I bring this subject up because this is the time of year that the secular left goes crazy trying to keep displays of Christmas and Hanukkah from the public square. Their argument is that the government can’t support or promote any one religion over any other. So they demand that any vestige of a religious exhibit be banished from public property.
They’ve got it wrong, of course. The solution is not to prohibit those faith-based exhibitions but to encourage more of them.
Now the liberal, secular left and their adherents in the Democratic Party are uncomfortable with anyone believing in a power higher than themselves and the government bureaucracies they control. After all, “We are the higher educated elite intellectuals in this nation and we know what is best for you and how you should live your life. Stop clinging to your God and guns and follow the mandates that we proclaim.”
So they challenge any authority to their dogma, which includes anything that smacks of a power greater than theirs.
The basis of their opposition is:
l The 1802 letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in which he described a “fence or hedge” between church and state.
l The 1947 Supreme Court case, Everson v. Board of Education, where the majority opinion wrote about a “separation of church and state.” The upshot of that decision is that while the government can’t support a particular religion, a view expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the government can’t discourage religious beliefs and exhibitions on public property. Now in the last few decades, that view has been eroded by various agenda-driven judges who don’t know the law or the implications of that decision.
When a manger scene is set up on public property during the Christmas season, there are those who will claim that the government is favoring a particular religion and that the display is improper or that all religions should be allowed to display their icons beside it. That view is incorrect. All religions, if they so choose, should be allowed to display in the public square when it is appropriate to their significant religious observance.
For example — and I’m not attempting or desiring to be blasphemous here — if during the Muslim faith’s observance of the holy month of Ramadan, which often occurs between June and August, their adherents wanted to display a crescent on public property, then they should be allowed to do so. I would not, as a Christian, demand that a manger, star or cross be displayed alongside it at that time since it is not the season within my belief system for those symbols to have special significance. If during the summer solstice, the Pagans wanted to display their star and circle symbol, they should also be allowed to do so. And before you write your critical letters, study their belief system, Pagan believers are not satanic worshipers.
It is in this manner, though, that the government can stay out of supporting only one set of beliefs while allowing the access to public property that citizens of all faiths should enjoy.
Twenty-five to 30 years ago, the University of Idaho, during the Christmas season, would display a lighted cross in Theophilus Tower. Inevitably, there were secularists and even people of faith who found the display offensive and complained about it. The UI administration, in its cowardly defense of the First Amendment, discontinued the display in the face of those complaints. Now the cross is a symbol that is significant to more than one religion during that time of year. So the allegations that the government was favoring one belief system ring hollow.
All taxpayers, religious or not, pay taxes to support the public properties throughout our country. People of faith should be allowed their time in the public square and not be excluded from it because some people are offended, frightened or feel threatened by the public display of a religious scene or symbol. The atheists and secularists are part of the citizenry, but they have no right to an exclusive use, nonuse or view of the community places. The greatness of America lies in its diversity of peoples and the strength they draw from the multitude of religious beliefs they practice. I would be offended if a public display of a manger scene were not allowed on public property during this time of year. The right for religious expression is guaranteed by our Constitution, and that right is for everyone, everywhere and at all times across America.
So in the spirit of the observance that we Christians celebrate this time of year, the birth of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ, I wish people of all faiths and beliefs a peaceful, sincere and joyous season of reflection and thanksgiving.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Hassoldt is a field forester who lives in Kendrick.