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  • Michael LaMasa

The Integration of Church and State

Once upon a time, a bunch of guys got on a boat and left England and its crazy religious leadership and decided to start a new country, free of all that nonsense. When our founding fathers started drafting and amending our constitution, they included something to make sure that our government would make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, and also allow people to practice whatever religion they wanted. It was the First Amendment and it was a separation of church of state, allowing people to do what they wanted for themselves and their religion and allowed the government to exist separate of that. Time went on, the country changed, and the founding fathers’ words were completely forgotten and abandoned. What was left of their words were completely mutilated and reassembled to mean something completely different, and solely, the religious communities of America lived happily ever after under the misconception that the United States of America was founded as a religious nation. The end.

This is the story of religion in this country. It is true that once we were led by brilliant men who understood that religion and politics should be separate. Anyone that tells you that our founding fathers intended this country to be a Christian nation, frankly, has no idea what they are talking about. In fact, many of our founding fathers couldn’t get far enough away from Christianity. Thomas Jefferson said that Christianity was “the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” If Thomas Jefferson could only see us now.

States across the country are proving themselves to be truly religious states. In March of 2014, in what may be one of the most hypocritical religious moves I’ve ever heard of, the state of Tennessee took the side of the religious community and passed a bill legalizing the bullying of LGBT students in the name of “religious freedom.” Yes. You read correctly. The protection of one’s religious freedom now includes legal bullying. If you feel that a gay student is imposing upon your religious freedoms, you’re allowed to call them names, harass them, you name it. When I heard this, my head spun so dramatically, Linda Blair could have asked me for pointers. The part that breaks my heart is that these poor LGBT children, that already exist with minimal protection from these monsters in their schools, now have no protection from their state whatsoever. If, for example, a gay student happens to kill himself as a result of bullying, the parents of that student wouldn’t be able to prosecute those students that bullied their child because they can claim that they were protecting their religious freedoms and their actions are then protected under the law.

Does anyone else feel as if they’re living in the Twilight Zone?

To me, this law makes about as much sense as being able to break the nose of anyone that doesn’t believe in Santa Clause, but to Tennessee, it makes total sense. It also makes sense to those people that view homosexuality as the single greatest threat to God and His people. To some law makers, protecting religious freedom from people like the homosexuals is the single most important thing to do in political office. However, to some lawmakers in this country, the true definition of the First Amendment is unclear. To some, the First Amendment only allows people the freedom to practice their religion. Period. That part where there can be no laws respecting an establishment of religion? Well, we can just blur that part a little until people don’t remember that it’s there.

Let me start by saying that I have never been more proud to be an atheist. I’ve never been so relieved to live a life not only free from any type of god, but free from any ties to a religious institution. I can feel such a burden being lifted from my shoulders and feel such relief knowing that my children will be raised far, far away from that school of thought. What kind of world do we live in where as long as you name your god as the driving force behind your actions, any action is then acceptable? Are we terrorists?

To me, this law feels like Pandora’s Box. What will come next in Tennessee? Will it soon be legal to attack Muslim people? Jewish people? If LGBT students in Tennessee schools, purely by existing, threaten the religious freedom of other students, surely people actually practicing other religions must be doing the same thing as well, right? And if violence is ok for one, is it not ok for others? What is Tennessee saying by allowing not only this type of law, but this type of thought into the minds of the people of this state? I’ll tell you. They’re saying discrimination is ok. They are saying that violent acts against people who are different from you are totally fine. Why? Because the word freedom isn’t a word for a gay person to use in Tennessee or states like Tennessee. And what freedom is more important than religious freedom anyway, right? It’s the First Amendment.

If only more leaders would allow themselves to exist as religious people just for themselves and not for me. Yes. You believe that that the earth is only a few thousand years old. That’s fine — for you! You believe that and let me believe what science has taught me. I won’t make any laws saying that you have to believe what I believe and you don’t make any laws saying that I have to believe in what you believe in. Deal? But sadly, no. Everyone is a threat and somehow, there is always a war on Christmas.

It pains me to know that the driving force behind so many horrible things is religion. It pains me because I know that there are some truly wonderful people that have nothing to do with this kind of religion at all, but purely because they call themselves Christians, they will forever be associated with it. I wish religion didn’t have such a bad reputation. I know very well that even though I’m an atheist and don’t believe in the things religious people believe in, I still know and respect that religion is both incredibly important and incredibly positive to some people. I have been witness to religion inspiring great change in communities and deep love within people’s hearts. I know what power it has for good in the world. But sadly, it’s not all good. The Holy Wars? The Holocaust? September 11th? The last decade in the Middle East? I truly believe the worst thing that ever happened to religion was man, and, subsequently, the worst thing that ever happened to man was religion.

Another founding father, Benjamin Franklin, said that “lighthouses were more useful than churches,” and I believe that fully. All lighthouses exist to guide you out of the darkness and into safe waters. The same can not be said for all churches. And the churches that slither their way up our political ladders and into the offices of those men and women that seek to shape this country, who’s to say where they will guide us? It could be to safe waters or it could be straight into the rocks — they’ve been known to do both. A lighthouse doesn’t care what the ship is carrying, or who’s commanding it. A lighthouse is built strong and earns its reputation as a reliable, consistent, and true beacon that doesn’t discriminate. Don’t you wish all churches could have that reputation as well?

The dream I have for this country involves consistency, reliability, truth and the acceptance of all people — no matter what. I feel lucky to live a life free of religion because I feel that I am able to see what a government can be without it as well. That isn’t to say that religion shouldn’t exist at all. It should most certainly exist — in the hearts of honest and accepting people — far away from government.

Our founding fathers knew that you could consistently rely on a lighthouse and not a church, hence the reason that church was separated from the government. What does the integration of church and state do for us? Well, take a look at Tennessee. They’re heading straight for the rocks without a lighthouse in sight.

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