Caitlin H. California

Keep a Separation of Church and State

The First Amendment is arguably one of the most important amendments in the Constitution. This is not only because it guarantees our right to free speech, but because it separates two powerful institutions: government and religion. The next president should keep it that way.

Dear future president,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The Bill of Rights was a fundamental document that protects individual liberty in a world suppresses it, locks it away, or invalidates it. The idea that a country does not have an official religion, or that its citizens need not follow a specific one, was and still is revolutionary. America is not guided through theology like other societies, and this is all due to the First Amendment. 

Nowhere in the Constitution do we ever mention the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, or any religious text, yet we still build churches and temples because our people are free to express their ideas and devotions.

However, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, discrimination against women and LGBT+ people finds a basis in religion. There have been more than 100 cases filed against the Affordable Care Act, citing “infringement on religious liberty” due to its inclusion of contraceptive options for women. Social workers will also refuse to accept LGBT+ patients, denying an entire demographic a civic duty because of a religious affiliation.

In America, we respect religious beliefs, but we also respect that not everyone has them. I do not believe in God. But I believe in respecting others that do. I will ask that they do the same to me. So dear future president: please create secular laws.

Religiously backed laws and regulations harm citizens and infringe upon the common good. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only two states prohibit promoting religion in their sex education curriculum, and 19 require stressing that post-marital sex is the only safe sex. These religiously-based programs find prominence in secular schools, and according to the Advocates for Youth, 11 of the most commonly-used sex education programs include inaccurate and biased information about gender, sexual orientation, contraception, and pregnancy. As a result, young people not only learn medically inaccurate information, but they are contracting serious sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control, southern states, popularly known as the “Bible belt,” constitute 44 percent of HIV infections.

As the next president, it is important that you take steps to create an accurate, unbiased, and safe environment for our youth. If the future lies in young people, we cannot progress if we are dying from AIDS.

I do not want America to become a theocracy. I do not want to limit our freedom of expression, and I do not want to limit the freedoms of those outside a particular religion. Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or any religion should not affect our ability to make choices that are best for all people. If your beliefs blind you from making safe and inclusive decisions, then you should not be a politician.

Politicians such as Mike Pence govern according to their religious beliefs. This is not responsible, and it does not cater to the common good, as government is supposed to do. We see these policies in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, an Indiana law that allowed for businesses to exclude the LGBT+ community based on religious beliefs.

The law sparked outrage, and rightly so. “Religious freedom” does not mean discrimination, but as the First Amendment intended it to be, it means acceptance. “Religious freedom” means that the LGBT+ community is allowed to exist anywhere in America, and Christians must coexist alongside them. I understand the moral principles that often back these laws and arguments, but it is possible to be moral without religious backing. I, the unfaithful atheist, still believe that killing is wrong. But I do not see any God creating life in a woman whose body cannot hold a fetus, whether it be due to health, financial, or mental reasons. I see the full picture. I am a liberal, but I still see the conservative argument. You can be a Christian and see the atheist argument.

It is imperative that we listen to our Constitution. If we do away with one portion of it; if we disregard others’ beliefs, then we move one step closer to losing our democracy. If we allow religious beliefs to seep into our secular government, then we lose freedom. Religions should be respected and tolerated, yet they must be separate from the government. First it might be a patriotically-disguised Religious Freedom Restoration Act, then we undo Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, and then we outlaw religions other than Christianity.

Allowing politicians to use their religious beliefs only brings us closer to the Islamic theocracies we so deeply criticize. Groups such as the “Crusaders,” a Kansas militia who planned to murder Muslim people in a “bloodbath,” are Christian extremist groups. As president, it is necessary that you protect citizens from every extremist group, not just the Islamic ones. We must be watchful of these widely accepted, radical groups that threaten individual freedom, whether it be religious or secular.

I will repeat these words again: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Dear president, we must respect these words. We must respect the Constitution. We must respect our citizens, and we must respect our liberty. Secularism is freedom.

Newbury Park High School

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