“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
For such a seemingly simple concept, it’s astounding how much hullaballoo has been caused by this – not only by people who want to ignore it, but by people who want to take it to an extreme.
The First Amendment is very clear on the subject of religion. Congress cannot pass a law declaring a state religion (and, by extension, one tends to extend that to other governmental bodies). Neither can it pass a law prohibiting anybody from exercising their religion freely. The problem is that most people tend to ignore one half or the other. Right now, in the nearby city of Madison, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has begun a billboard campaign, trying to push people away from religion. They have every right to do so.
However, I take exception to their apparent belief that religious belief is harmful, and needs to be stopped. Religion is not inherently good, but neither is it inherently harmful, or evil. Faith has been used to justify travesties throughout history, yes. But, similarly, so has opposition to faith. Is it fair to call the Holocaust a crime motivated by overzealous faith, any more than it is to call it an attack on it? The Crusades?
I’ve been on both sides of the stick myself, as well. Going through high school, I was often looked askance at for my interest in alternate religions, growing up in a very religious city. At the same time, I’ve had people tell me that to believe in anything that’s beyond our current understanding of the world is an affront to science and a sign of sheer stupidity. Believing in magic and spirits, in particular, was a weakness rather than a sign of an open mind.
Of course, both sides have plenty of quotes and arguments they can trot out. Of course they do – there have been prominent thinkers who were atheists as surely as there have been ones who were deeply religious. Darwin and Einstein were religious. Da Vinci was religious. Mark Twain, not so much.
The problem, as is often the case, is binary thinking disease. You’re either for me, or against me. You’re either right, or you’re wrong. You’re either an atheist, or a religious zealot who thinks we should bring back stoning. You’re either for God, and going to heaven, or against him, and going to Hell.
Neither approach is the one laid out in the First Amendment. Neither approach fulfills the spirit of our law, or is truly free. The only approach that does, and that is true religious freedom, is the middle road. You are free to believe in God, Buddha, science, the Maid Mother and Crone, or whoever you will. You are free to display whatever you want on your lawn – or at your city hall, for that matter – at holidays, just as long as you don’t make it a matter of law. Don’t force people to believe what you’re putting up, and go ahead and let people who believe otherwise put their own displays up.
And then don’t go vandalizing the displays.
Green Bay tried that a few years ago; unfortunately, some assholes decided to vandalize the displays, because they didn’t want to see them. The city actually tried to take the right approach, but that wasn’t good enough for somebody.
The Establishment Clause is a crucial part of the First Amendment… but so is the free exercise part. Ultimately, the message is freedom of religion… not freedom to make everybody else believe what you do.
What this country needs, according to many, is universal health care. Just be careful what you wish for – Japan’s got universal health insurance too. If you can’t afford it, the government takes it over, leading to what is often considered one of the best health systems in the world.
14 hospitals, eh? I know a lot of towns that don’t *have* that many….
Living in (and working for) one of the states that’s currently praying for that bailout money to arrive soon, I’ve been listening to some of the thoughts on how to spend that money. Sadly, everybody has ideas… and they all seem to be horribly, horribly bad ones.
Let’s say that you’re a private citizen, drowning in credit card debt and mortgages. You get a one-time windfall when your distant Aunt Eloise passes on and leaves you her million-dollar collection of stamps (work with me here.) What do you do when you sell the collection and pocket the cash?
Do you go out on a spending spree with that million, blowing it all on new toys you won’t be able to afford to keep up? Or do you spend it on getting rid of your outstanding debts, keeping whatever you have left for maintenance and (possibly) a few large purchases?
If you’re at all responsible, you do the latter. Which is exactly why I’m tearing my hair out here listening to people’s plans for what to do with the funds.
You’re not going to have this in a few years. You shouldn’t be using this money to build a massive rail network you won’t be able to support. Instead, you should use it to BALANCE YOUR BUDGET. Balance it in ways that make jobs, yes. Use it to support the failing infrastructure you’ve already got. Use it to hire workers to perform state services, and make sure your 911 centers are properly staffed. Don’t blow the money on purchases that won’t pay for themselves – because you’re not going to have this forever. You’re going to need to spend it in ways that bring in additional funds, and that are sustainable. You’re going to need to spend it tiding yourselves over while you tighten your belts, weaning yourselves off the spend-spend-spend model that you’ve gotten used to.
Because if you don’t, you’re going to be in the same place in another two years, and that time the Messiah might not be willing – or able – to pay your way back into pork heaven.