This debate has had a very polarizing affect, and has resulted in both the vilification and indignation of the so called religious right. President Bush has added fuel to the fire with his numerous references to God in various speeches. Unfortunately, many of those people who are outspoken on this issue know very little about the historical and legal context for this discussion. (Test your knowledge with this short quiz.)
Here's my take on the issue:
The first amendment to the US 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.This can't be stated more clearly. If the government supports, endorses or compels the support of any religious concept, it is violating this amendment for thousands or possibly even millions of US citizens. If a person from a Buddhist, Atheist, Secular Humanist or other non-theistic religion is compelled to use currency with "In God We Trust", they are being denied freedom of religion. (After all, they must use our national currency to buy goods, and in doing so are constantly reminded that our government supports the existence of a trustworthy god.) If they must acknowledge "One Nation, under God" in order to swear allegiance to this country, they are given the message that loyal citizens must believe in a god.
Those who do not think "In God We Trust" is a violation of religious freedom would probably go beserk if Congress decided to change this slogan to "In God we doubt", and modified the pledge to read "One Nation against god".
Our founding fathers greatly feared the concept of a nationalized religion linked to government, and numerous references to this concern can be found in the Federalist papers and other writings. Many of our founding immigrants came here to escape religious oppression in their homeland. Although most of our founding fathers believed in some form of god-based religion, many of them were not in favor of any specific denomination, and several of the more prominent ones were anti-Christian. The title link in this post gives you a concise sampling of how many of our nation's founders felt about religion. A simple search for the words:
Our nation professes to be one of tolerance. We have laws, constitutional clauses and amendments that forbid discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. etc. I define tolerance as allowing others to believe, think and act without persecution or harassment (providing of course their actions don't harm you). Tolerance in no way requires people to embrace, support or pretend to support things that they disagree with.
A tolerant carnivore need not refrain from eating a bloody rare steak in the presence of vegetarians. Tolerance would, however, forbid the meat lover from trying to make the vegetarian have a bite of that steak. Religious tolerance works much the same way. A tolerant person need in no way support a religion they disagree with, but they also cannot harass, torment or attack people who practice that alternate religion. There is a big difference between tolerating something and supporting it, and our government has long compelled more than mere tolerance of god based religious concepts.