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4 Ways Christianity Sneaks Into Our Secular Government -- And Why it Matters

What often gets called "ceremonial deism" is all over our government.

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Think about that. And then tell me that this "ceremonial deism" has nothing to do with religion. Tell me that it has no tangible harmful effect on atheists. Tell me that prayer in the schools doesn't convey a clear message that non-believers are outsiders, not fully part of the community, and that they'd better keep their heads down and their mouths shut if they want to stay safe.

3: "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. See "Prayer in public schools" above. Having "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is prayer in the public schools. Period.

Oh, and for anyone insisting that all this ceremonial deism is just "tradition": The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892. The phrase "under God" was added in 1954. Opponents of "under God" in the Pledge aren't undermining tradition -- they're trying to restore it.

4: Prayers starting public government meetings. It's not just the public schools. All over the United States -- from New York to North Carolina, from Delaware to Indiana, city council meetings, county board meetings, school board meetings, government trainings, and other official government events are started with prayers. Not just supposedly non-sectarian prayers, either: these are specific prayers to specific gods of specific religions. Usually Jesus. Heck -- the United States even has a National Day of Prayer.

Why does this matter? Because, as Americans United for Separation of Church and State puts it, "Government should treat all of its citizens equally. No American should be made to feel like a second-class citizen on the basis of what he or she believes (or does not believe) about God or religion." Because, as U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Guido Calabresi put it, "an objective, reasonable person would believe that the town's prayer practice had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity." Because, as U.S. District Judge Leonard P. Stark put it, it " gives Christianity an unconstitutionally preferred status, sending a message to meeting attendees that the Council is promoting the beliefs of Christianity." Because, as Freedom From Religion Foundation staff attorney Patrick Elliott put it, "Sectarian prayers make religious minorities and nonbelievers feel like political outsiders in their own community, and show an unconstitutional governmental preference for Christianity over other faiths and for religion over non-religion."

And because state-sponsored prayer doesn't just impinge on the freedom of atheists. It impinges on the freedom of all Americans to come to their own conclusions about religion, and to practice whatever religion they like, without pressure of any kind from the government. As senior federal District Judge Barbara Crabb put it, "The same law that prohibits the government from declaring a National Day of Prayer also prohibits it from declaring a National Day of Blasphemy." Congress may no more declare a National Day of Prayer than it "may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic. It is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence any individual's decision whether and when to pray."

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And we haven't even talked about crosses on public property. Creches on public property. The Ten Commandments and other religious teachings on public buildings. Prayers and Bible readings at state-funded senior centers. Prayers at public school football games. Bibles distributed in government hospitals. The list goes on, and on, and on.

 
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