Recently, I enjoyed a healthy debate with a friend of mine who claimed that ours is a Christian nation, thus we ought to be comfortable with blurring the lines between church and state such as displaying the ten commandments in courtrooms, promoting school prayer, and praying at government-sponsored events like school board meetings and high school football games. The basis of her argument is simply that our founding fathers were Christian and the evidence of their faith is easily revealed by their many references to God in all our founding documents. She went on to argue that taking Christianity out of these public institutions is to chisel away at the core beliefs of our nation.
Our debate was not about the existence of God, the delights of Christianity, or the blessings of spirituality. We stayed focused on the line between church and state, mostly.
I asked what ought to be done with the non-Christians: the Muslim, the atheist, the Jew, etc. She said that non-believers still have access to everything that America provides for all of its citizens: civil rights and liberties, presumption of innocence in a court of law, a free public education, bill of rights stuff like having guns and screaming at trees, ambulances that show up when you call 911, the right to vote, and so forth and so on. No citizen is denied the bounty of our nation because of their beliefs.
She asked me if I could think of one legal right or privilege denied to the non-Christian in our nation. Certainly, I replied, there are none. Every citizen is afforded the same rights and privileges under the law.
She continued by stating quite eloquently that this nation is clearly a Christian nation – that most of our citizens are Christian, that our founding fathers practiced Christianity, and they even took steps to ensure that we, the people, suffered no threat to the freedom of religion, and that our worship may not be trampled upon by an oppressive government. Therefore, any effort to censure public prayer, the public display of scripture, or similar expressions of belief ought to be considered a violation of our rights.
She asked me if it was fair that a majority of people be denied their ability to worship as they please because a few among us do not believe as the majority do.
She noted that the vast majority of people in that football stadium, in those school board meetings, in those courtrooms are Christians – and since this nation was founded as a Christian nation, and since the majority of us are Christian, we should affirm and celebrate our national religion and express it publicly and frequently.
I, having listened and pondered her words, asked her if ours was also a White nation.
A White nation? She replied, stunned.
A White nation, I said. We are a nation with a White majority, founded by White men who owned slaves, with guiding documents that repeatedly reference slavery, and we deny no rights or privileges to non-Whites in our laws and practices. Why shouldn’t we get on public address systems and celebrate our Whiteness? Why shouldn’t we be able to affirm how great it is to be White at football games and school board meetings. How about posting in every courtroom the top ten reasons why being White is really, really awesome?
She understood that my example was tongue-in-cheek, but played my game anyway.
Being White is not a choice, she argued. You are born that way. You can’t change it. Religion is something you choose, or at least it’s something you could change if you wanted.
So religion is a choice?
Indeed, it is.
Something you choose? I asked.
Yes, of course.
And if you make the correct choice, you get all sorts of bonuses (like judges and teachers and elected officials and referees who clearly take your side from the get-go), but if you make the incorrect choice, you only get the basic package (like the right to vote and scream at trees), but the impartiality of your court case, your complaint to the city council or school board, or even your football game might be a little iffy if you reveal that you aren’t a Christian.
She stopped me in my tracks. Just because an elected official posts the ten commandments, for example, doesn’t mean that he would be biased against non-Christians, she said.
What if a judge posting a sign in his courtroom that said “I love attractive blondes with large breasts” but when confronted about it assured everyone that he could remain impartial in the trial of Pamela Anderson v. Susan Boyle. Do you think he could be completely impartial?
Of course not! Why the hell would he be dumb enough to post a sign like that, she stammered.
Because the majority of Americans choose to worship attractive blondes with large breasts, I replied.
But I don’t have the choice to be blonde or have big breasts, she argued!
You do in America, I said with a smile.
Being in the “majority” might make it easier to deny others their freedoms, but it doesn’t make it right. Let’s reconsider whether it’s necessary for our courts, our classrooms, and our public spaces to declare a preference for one thing while promising impartiality for its opposite. Doing so doesn’t deny you your rights, it restores them for those whom you serve under an oath of impartiality. If we really believe in freedom and justice for all, let’s eliminate the signs and chants that are little more than asterisks on the Bill of Rights. It might be true that we COULD change if we wanted to please the majority, but it ought not to be a requirement for justice in America – be it breasts or beliefs.