On December 15, 1791, Article 3 to 12 received votes from three-fourths of the state legislatures, becoming the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. You probably recognize them as our Bill of Rights, the fundamental designations of our federal government's power (and by extension, that of every other government).
The First Amendment 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.
Article VI, Paragraph 3, expands on the idea:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
No religious test.
So can someone please explain to me how, in the year 2014, we have spent the past few weeks following the case of an airman who did not want "so help me God" in his reenlistment oath?
Luckily, the case was resolved in his favor, after involvement by the American Humanist Association, but the fact that it could happen it all boggles my mind.
We consistently have people that want to view the First as a way to protect religion, but the text flows both ways, and indeed, there is considerable support for the view that it is intended to protect both government (and thus individuals) and religion (and thus individuals) in papers, letters, and other documents preserved from the time.
Not everyone believe in God or a god or gods or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Moloch or anything else. These people are citizens too (contrary to what some of our politicians would like us to believe).
The United States is a *secular* entity. It is not a religious nation. Our laws are not religious--they are secular. This is the way that the system works, the way that it protects everyone under its wings, including Christians, nonbelievers and religious minorities. This is what is best for everyone.
If the pendulum someday swings, and Christians are no longer the majority, I find myself wondering how some of the most vocal adherents of the belief system will interpret the First then.
But, alas, I've used up my quota of internet rage. Instead, let me point out another AHA campaign for our military--the push for humanist chaplains.
Twice in the last year amendments have been introduced in the House to allow for humanist and other nontheistic chaplains in our military. You can read more about the progress here.
Both times the legislation hasn't passed, but the second results are buoying, with 150 votes in favor. That's showing quite a bit of promise.
Chaplains provide an essential service to service members. Not only do they offer guidance and support, but they are a source that service members can turn to that is confidential--entirely so--and will not reflect in the service member's medical records. There's no fear that talking to a chaplain will come back to "bite" a service member who is having problems.
In a time where more service members have committed suicide than died in our current conflicts, this is an invaluable service, one that our service members need.
Recent survey results show that nonbelief among service members is relatively high compared to the general population--and growing.
These men and women put themselves on the line for their nation, only to find that once it is done with them, they are often forgotten and neglected. As the wife of a disabled veteran, and the daughter of another veteran, this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart.
The case of the anonymous airman above shows just how badly we need to address religious freedom for our service members and veterans. It shows just how much we need to push for a recognition of the freedom NOT to believe among service members.
Please, if your representative voted for the legislation, use the AHA link above to say thanks...and if yours didn't, send them a note to remind them that freedom OF religion necessitates and equal recognition of our freedom FROM what we don't believe in.
You could very well be helping save lives.