A couple of days ago, the television was on behind our couch. Dani was looking for news about Frances, and we were hearing clips of the Republican Convention. That's when I heard Elizabeth Dole, Senator from the great state of North Carolina, say something that made me very ashamed of my Tar Heel sister.
Her comment went something like this: "The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."
It would be alright if she had said it in the context of denying people the right to express their religion publicly. But she didn't. She said it in the context of the traditional religious demagogue issues - the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, "under God" in the Pledge, etc. etc.
Um, what Constitution are you reading, Libby?
The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Which means that we have freedom "from" religion in two ways: one, the government may not endorse any religious belief, and two, we have the freedom not to be religious if we don't want to.
Besides, unless we have freedom from religion, can we have freedom of religion? The right to worship as we choose necessarily implies the right not to worship - if we are required to worship, it is a breach of freedom of religion - what about those whose religious beliefs tell them not to worship?
Sad to say, people eat up this line. It got wild applause. I feel, at times, like Inigo Montoya while on top of the cliff, telling his compatriot: "You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." People like Elizabeth Dole keep on using that "freedom from religion" line. It doesn't mean what she thinks it means.
Dole is convinced that if the government is not establishing religion, it is condemning it. What she fails to realize is that the idea of freedom of conscience is central to the American attitude towards religion. It's even somewhat rooted in Christian theology - religious freedom pioneer Roger Williams said to his Puritan persecutors that Christian ideas benefit from a freedom of conscience. Indeed, our church-state separation is one of the main things keeping the religious life of this country as vital as it is.
So Libby, I'll take my God not forced down my throat by the government, thank you. That whole freedom from religion thing sounds like a good idea to me. And no one will stop you from saying "under God" in the Pledge if you damn well please. The great thing about our Constitution is that you can have it both ways. Don't sell that out for a cute bit of rhetoric.