As we observed our 228th year of independence last week, I celebrated with concern for this great nation. The establishment of the first modern democracy in a world filled with kings, emperors and other potentates is a cause for celebration. But that is not the greatest accomplishment of our forefathers. Our nation could never have become all that it has become if they had not done away with the established church.
It had already been demonstrated in the colonies of <Massachusetts and Virginia that there is no true freedom where one religion is established as the legal or state religion. In these colonies citizens who did not conform to that religion were persecuted or did not receive full rights of citizenship. This has been true in every era and every land.
We recoil at the harsh treatment received by dissidents in Muslim-controlled lands, i.e. death for converting to another religion, death for seeking the conversion of someone to another religion, etc. But we must remember the inquisitions and the killing by Christians of those who did not conform. In every generation and every people the formula has been the same, church plus state equals persecution.
The reason for my concern is the announced aim of the religious right to “restore” America as a Christian nation.
Although our nation was founded by people who were primarily Christians or deists, it was established as a secular nation where all citizens were free to worship as they pleased or not to worship if they so chose.
The government was not to favor one religion above another or seek to establish one religion as a national religion or cause citizens to worship or acknowledge God. The government was to remain neutral, neither restricting religious expression nor promoting it.
This freedom is established by the First Amendment to the Constitution and described by Thomas Jefferson as a wall of separation between church and state.
Christians of the religious right are now trying to arrange a wedding between church and state and make Christianity the official religion of the land–and not just Christianity, but their brand of Christianity.
If this ever happens, anyone of another faith or no faith will automatically become a second-class citizen, and the power of government will be used to force all citizens to conform to the religious right’s concepts of morality.
Roy Moore’s monument, sneaked into the Alabama Supreme Court building under the cover of night–aided and abetted by religious right organizations–represents his desire to wed church and state and not his desire to “acknowledge God.” He could acknowledge God by putting the monument on his front lawn or by preaching on the street corners of Montgomery.
Church-state separation means the government will not tax the public to support religious enterprises. Religious-right organizations are lobbying hard to get tax money for their church ministries, which would establish state-supported religions. Ongoing are efforts from the religious right to gain legal approval for churches to endorse and campaign for political candidates and, at the same time, retain their tax-free status.
The irony of the whole scene is that these people would not have the freedom to mount their campaign if we already had a state religion. That religion would most likely be Anglican. And if I were Jew, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu, agnostic or other, I would be frightened.
In fact, I’m a conservative evangelical Christian and I’m frightened.
E. Melton Deason is a retired Baptist pastor who served churches in Alabama and Florida who is currently interim pastor of Carson Road Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and as executive director of Mainstream Alabama Baptists. This column appeared previously in the Birmingham News. It is used with the author’s permission.