The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Government's Concerned Deity, is he Yours?

In my often vain attempts to understand Justice Scalia I can usually reach a provisional understanding of his point of view. I have to admit being a little baffled when I finally had an opportunity to read his dissent in the recent Ten Commandment case. Justice Scalia wrote the following:
"With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists."
Of course Scalia is correct that prejudiced, ethnocentric, and even hateful comments by citizens do not violate the Constitution. The point that he forgets, I think on purpose, is that we are discussing governmental actions and laws, not religious speech by citizens. Scalia and many fundamentalist conservatives constantly prey on this misconception that we separationists are going to try to stop people from saying something religious in public. We want the government to leave religion to us and stay out of it.

But just what is an "unconcerned deity" and more importantly how do we tell what religion posesses the concerned deity? Who should make that decision? The people or the State? If we chose the later we would be no better than soviet communists and the governments that the early American colonists went to great distances to escape from.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A prayer for true religious freedom

Religious freedom isn't easy — not if it is true freedom.
That point was made explicitly last week when First Amendment lawyer Peter Irons spoke at a Missouri State University public forum about his involvement in the Humansville school district's Ten Commandments case...

The microphone was turned over to students, who asked good questions. The civil discussion continued.

And then a middle-aged gentleman rose. "I will pray for you, Dr. Irons, and all others who are not close to the cross," he said.

That is a dangerous view: Unless you believe as I do, you are damned. Unless the nation believes as I do, it is doomed.

That theme shows up regularly in pronouncements from al-Qaida. It sets off terrorist bombs across the Middle East. It fueled decades of war in Northern Island.

Why would anyone wish that upon the United States?

Yet we have Pat Robertson warning Dover, Pa., that it will suffer God's retribution for voting out a school board that sought to promote religious belief as science. And we have people who applauded the man Tuesday night who believe it is government's role to promote their particular religious belief.

The First Amendment is true wisdom, promising that the government will never force any person to subscribe to a belief against his or her will. Government will not support any religious belief, but neither will it interfere with the individual's right to believe as he or she wishes.

This is why religion is vibrant in this country. It's why Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Buddhists and atheists could gather at Missouri State on Tuesday night and talk about religious liberty without anyone being hurt. We could each go home and pray — or not — according to our conscience.

Robert Leger, Editor Springfield News-leader