Preserve American Secularism


“..the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

Treaty of Tripoli, 1797

It was disturbing, but not surprising, to learn that the Christian Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a speech to the conservative “think tank” Heritage Foundation essentially trying to insert Christianity and its values as “a truth,” fundamentally part of our nation. Then he proposed that religious beliefs can be used to subvert civil rights enacted to prevent discrimination in places of public accommodation:

“The Department’s Office of the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief in support of a Colorado baker who was sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. But, as you all know well, the First Amendment protects the right to the free exercise of religion for all Americans.  Although public-accommodations laws serve important purposes, they—like other laws—cannot be interpreted to undermine the individual freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees.  That includes the freedom not to create expression for ceremonies that violate one’s religious beliefs.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” It goes on to define places of public accommodation, and it is quite clear that the intent of the law is for businesses serving the general populace not to discriminate in any way against their potential customers.

That the Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief in support of a Christian-owned baking establishment that refused to create a cake for a same sex couple seems to fly in the face of that 1964 act by using the faith of the proprietors of the bakery—a public accommodation—to discriminate against two members of the public who approached them for the services they supposedly offer. Sessions plays a game wherein he feels that the freedom of being able to select one’s religion then allows whatever beliefs such religion propounds to subvert a later law guaranteeing that the public can be protected from discrimination, regardless of its source. So faith trumps civil rights in the mind of Sessions, who claims guidance in such matters from our current president.

Now the consequences of such thinking should be obvious to anyone with even a modest imagination. Here in the USA we used to have places of business that refused to service, or segregated, non-white individuals. There were establishments that barred Jews from partaking of them, well explored in the film Gentleman’s Agreement (1947). One of the important aspects of the progressive nature of the USA is that it moves forward to make or amend laws so that people can be treated ever more equitably. There are legally established religious organizations which are intended solely for adherents of their faiths, and those have not been challenged—they do legally discriminate against non-believers for their internal affairs. But American society has come to see that non-discriminatory public accommodation should be the norm and the law of the land outside of the private business of religious institutions.

As I’ve said before, Christianity is one amongst many highly discriminatory religions. Though its many denominations have essentially been domesticated into presenting a façade of tolerance and ecumenicalism, their impulses—now barely in check—would be to revive self-favoring bigotry given any chance to establish a theocracy, as had been the norm in the past. When government is linked with a particular religion—something specifically prevented by our Founding fathers—then articles of faith are forced upon all, regardless of their own differing perspectives.

It is ironic that Session states “Our Founders believed that reason is the best means to truth and justice” yet then tries to supplant that with the importance of faith, which is belief that actively disregards reason. The rest of his presentation presents examples of his support of Christians as well as the nebulous assertion that “Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.” This is of course coded language masquerading as freedom of religion—which has not been attacked or otherwise abrogated—but instead advocates freedom to discriminate against those who do not share the principles of a particular religion.

Now, if one imagines living under the principles of certain documented historical religions which have embraced human sacrifice, then one could easily see why limiting the exercise of such “sincerely held beliefs” would be to the greater good of the governed populace, particularly those who might be termed as proper “food for the gods.” Yet when it comes to forms of subjugation such as anti-Semitic or racially segregated institutions, that such were generally accepted in recent times should not be forgotten as they have been held up to scrutiny and deemed abhorrent.

We’ve all witnessed the rampant horrors wrought by Islamist extremists, from terrorism to the institutional abuse of women, and they are not the only faith guilty of female oppression. The Hindu practice of sati, wherein the wife of a deceased husband is burned alive on his pyre, still takes place. We’ve seen the cruelties of Sharia Law, and we can recall the vile deeds of the Christian Inquisition, which tortured, mutilated, executed and looted from any deemed as apostates and heretics. Americans despise such barbarities. But less-dramatic current forms of persecution are insidious, hurtful and even more despicable when they are promoted by a government against its citizens, particularly with the Orwellian claim that such is meant as a means to preserve freedom.

I think most present day Americans would consider it reasonable to support the public accommodation laws over the faiths that promote bigotry. Today, we can tell those with small minds “don’t set yourself up in a business meant to accommodate the public if you are a bigot.” While living in a pluralist, secular society, you might find many things that could be not to your taste, but we haven’t enacted laws that guarantee freedom from being offended. However, it appears that those old, rejected practices are reviving their prejudices with the support of functionaries in the current administration. I call upon our citizens to preserve American secularism and its equities—that is the basis for our Constitution. Here, theocracy is not endorsed: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But neither does free exercise permit discrimination, as subsequent legislation has eminently clarified.

Christianity, like other state-sanctioned religions, has a history of oppression that the framers of our Constitution recognized and purposely worked to neutralize. Do not let the wannabe theocrats in the current administration—who claim the support of their actions as a ‘will of the people’—open the door to forms of intolerance that we as a nation have rejected as uncivilized.

Preserve American secularism, since it offers you the freedom to believe as you will, and prevents others from imposing their beliefs upon you. But, you do have to get along with them, which is a fundamental requirement of any diverse community. The USA has always styled itself as a champion of liberty and that freedom covers all who are its citizens. As a nation of immigrants, crafting laws that support many differing perspectives yet prevents them from being imposed upon those who think otherwise has been a challenge. Much progress has been made since our founding, so let us not backslide into reviving injustices that we who champion reason have soundly defeated.


reprinted from with permission