One of my ‘pet peeves’ is the persistent demand of Christians in the USA that they have a privileged position due to the alleged – but completely false – view that the US Government is founded on the Bible and Christian (or ‘Judeo-Christian’) principles. Two more examples of this have come to my attention recently.
First, in Delta County, Colorado, the School system decided to permit the Gideons to distribute Bibles in middle and high schools. (See here and here for instance.) This, of course, was perfectly fine so far as Christians were concerned (particularly those of a fundamentalist or evangelical persuasion). They don’t have any problem with Government schools promoting Christianity. After all, Christianity is allegedly the established religion of the USA, despite the First Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits Congress from making a law concerning an establishment of religion. (Such “founding fathers” as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison referred to this Constitutional stipulation by such terms as the “separation of church and state” or separation of “religion and government”).
Oh what an uproar arose, though, when some non-Christians got permission to distribute literature containing an opposing viewpoint! Atheists and “Satanists” (though those “Satanists” are in fact simply atheists who are willing to use the myth of “Satan” – meaning “adversary” – as a symbol of their opposition to the God myth) sought and received permission to distribute their own literature in middle and high schools in order to counter the promotion of Christianity in those schools. For those Christians, that old saying is not true: “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”!
Note that the atheists (including the “Satanist” group of atheists) were acting in response to the Christians’ Bible distribution. Their point was that religious literature of any nature is inappropriate in public schools; but if the government permits one religion to distribute its literature, then it must permit the same privilege to other religions (or groups opposing religion). If the Christians object to atheist literature (which they surely do), they have one sure way to prevent it: quit distributing their own material. The School District can of course prohibit the distribution of ALL religious (or anti-religious) materials and thereby solve the whole problem – and that would be the easiest and most consistent way to uphold the non-establishment clause in the US Constitution.
The second recent instance of the Christian demand for a position of privilege over other religions and over non-religion is the absurd vote in the State of Tennessee to make the Bible the “State Book”. (See here and here) A lot of smoke is blown about the desire to honor the economic and cultural influence of the Bible in Tennessee, but once all of the smoke is cleared away it is quite clear that this is just an attempt to recognize Christianity as the “State Religion”. That, of course, is blatantly in opposition to both the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions. Nevertheless, both Houses of Tennessee’s Congress have overwhelmingly approved the bill, and it is now in the hands of the Governor to either sign it into law or veto it. The Governor has previously stated his opposition to the bill, but he hasn’t definitely said whether or not he will veto it. If he doesn’t veto the bill, there will almost certainly be legal challenges to its Constitutionality.
The arguments given by people who support the effort to make the Bible the “State Book” are specious, to say the least. A legal organization which has volunteered to defend Tennessee (for free) in the event of a legal challenge says it’s no different from having a State Bird or State Flower; and if another State or City should approve some other religious book as its “State/City Book”, they would not find it objectionable. For instance, if Dearborn, Michigan decided to make the Qur’an its official Book – since Dearborn has a predominantly Muslim population – they would see that as perfectly legitimate.
The problem with that argument lies with the religious nature of the Bible and the Qur’an. I’m sure there is no Constitutional problem with a State choosing a “State Book” – unless that book is a religious book. When the book is religious, making it a “State Book” runs afoul of the very specific prohibition against the establishment of religion, or showing preference for one religion over another (or over non-religion). If a State wants to make Moby Dick or Little House on the Prairie its “State Book”, I can’t see any Constitutional objection since those books are not religious in nature – and ‘establishing’ them does not constitute establishing religion or showing preference for a religion. (And of course, birds and flowers have no religious reference, and so picking a State Bird or State Flower in no way involves showing preference to a religion or establishing religion.) Choosing the Bible or the Qur’an, however, does constitute religious preference and establishment.
Some commenters maintain that School Boards have the right to prohibit material which they consider morally offensive and which could corrupt or psychologically harm children. Well if that is the criteria to be used, then the Bible certainly ought to be prohibited from distribution to children! The Bible contains a fair amount of sexually crude and explicit material – at least in “the Old Testament” portion. It could very reasonably be described as “pornographic”. Many Christians themselves (in the past at least) have considered an entire “book” in the “Old Testament” to be inappropriate for children: “The Song of Solomon”. The Bible also promotes hatred for, and murder of, people who hold religious views contrary to the will of “YHWH” (Jehovah or the LORD) – or simply those who occupy the lands supposedly granted to the Jews by YHWH. “Gentile” children have much to be afraid of from the Old Testament “God”, who commands the slaughter of men, women, and children who don’t have the ‘good fortune’ to be born Jews!
The “New Testament” can also be very psychologically damaging to anyone who takes its ‘warnings’ to heart. This supposed testament to the “grace of God” shows as much viciousness to those who fail to embrace its teachings about “the Lord Jesus Christ” and who don’t “obey” its “gospel”, as the “Old Testament” showed to those who don’t happen to be Jews (religiously or racially). I well remember lying awake many nights as a child and teenager worrying that perhaps I wasn’t truly “saved”, and therefore would perhaps face the awful vengeance of God and Jesus Christ should I die in my sleep! I also remember my mother telling me that she experienced the same worries for a prolonged period of time. She and I both somehow resolved our fears eventually – for the most part anyway, though the fear no doubt still remained subconsciously despite our ability to consciously convince ourselves that we did genuinely belong among the “saved”. Literature which generates this kind of “terrorist” fear of the “wrath” and “fiery vengeance” of “the Living God” toward anyone who doesn’t have the right religious beliefs and faith has no business being given to children and young people (or adults either, for that matter). Neither “Old” nor “New” Testament promotes religious diversity and tolerance!
Even if such moral and psychological problems did not exist in the Bible, though, the U.S. and State Constitutions establish secular government, and prohibit government establishment of, and preference for, any religion. This government prohibition extends to anything financed and supported by the government, including “public” schools. The U.S. Government (and individual State Governments) are not “Christian”, nor are they founded on Christianity or the Bible. The “founding fathers” made this explicit in the Treaty with Tripoli of Barbary (article 11) which was unanimously ratified in 1797 just 10 years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified. In clear and explicit language, that Treaty stated: “…the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
It’s true that Christianity has maintained, de facto, a state of privilege despite the unconstitutionality of that privilege. However now that citizens of this country are ‘waking up’ and are ceasing to be intimidated by Christians, they are demanding that the Constitution be upheld and the de facto discrimination in favor of Christians and against other religious and non/anti-religious beliefs be repudiated. This repudiation of Christian privilege over others most certainly does not constitute “persecution” of Christians, no matter how much they may feel “persecuted”. It just removes “persecution” of non-Christians.