Protecting our religious freedom requires the vigilance of the American people and of government at all levels. Within my Administration, the Department of Justice is acting to protect religious freedom, including prosecuting those who attack people or places of worship because of religious affiliation. The Depart-ment of Education has issued new guidelines that allow students to engage in constitutionally protected religious activity in public schools. These guidelines protect, for example, students' rights to say a prayer before meals in the cafeteria, to gather with other students before school to pray, and to engage in other expressions of personal faith.
-- President George W. Bush, proclamation of Religious Freedom Day, 2004
Like too many things Bush signs his name to, the above quote is bullshit. For Bush and the republican party, 'religious freedom' means the freedom to be an evangelical christian. Jews are tolerated, everyone else is screwed. Bush goes on in his proclamation to brag about his support for 'faith-based' initiatives -- neglecting to mention that this program is 100% christian. I'm a little lost on what the hell giving federal tax dollars to churches has to do with religious freedom anyway -- if the government isn't pumping money into these churches, how does that make them less free?
The fully christian Community and Faith-Based Initiatives program is a great example of why there's a separation of church and state; when government gets involved in religion, it gets into the business of deciding which are real religions. If you're giving money to a christian daycare, would you have to give money to a daycare for worshippers of Zeus and, if not, why not?
We get a glimpse of what happens when government decides what's not a real religion from the Washington Post:
On July 6, [Don Larsen] applied to become the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. armed forces [after converting from pentacostal], setting off an extraordinary chain of events. By year's end, his superiors not only denied his request but also withdrew him from Iraq and removed him from the chaplain corps, despite an unblemished service record.
Adherents of Wicca, one of the nation's fastest-growing religions, contend that Larsen is a victim of unconstitutional discrimination. They say that Wicca, though recognized as a religion by federal courts and the Internal Revenue Service, is often falsely equated with devil worship.
"Institutionalized bigotry and discriminatory actions . . . have crossed the line this time," says David L. Oringderff, a retired Army intelligence officer who is an elder in the Sacred Well Congregation, the Texas-based Wiccan group that Larsen joined.
The problem is that those who have "falsely equated" Wicca "with devil worship" are right wing evangelicals (i.e., the republican base). There's some talk of magic in Wicca, but to tell the truth, I've never been able to see any difference between magic and miracle. Looks like pretty much the same thing to me.
Besides, even if Wicca were satanism, so what? On what legal basis do you get to discriminate against satanists? Like Jesus, Satan isn't mentioned in the Constitution. The relevant text of the First Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Where does it say that government's in the business of deciding what's a 'good religion' and which are 'bad' ones? Where does it say government can go ahead and prohibit the free exercise of 'bad religion?'
Yet the Pentagon gets to diss wiccans -- mostly because people from another, more dominant religion think they're a 'bad religion.' People have been fighting since 2005 to get a soldier a wiccan symbol on his grave marker. Does that sound like religious freedom to you?
Government interference in religion is the enemy of religion. Bush's 'faith-based' program is the opposite of religious freedom. When Don Larsen was a pentacostal, he was allowed to actively recruit converts; as a wiccan, he's not even allowed to be a chaplain. Again, does that sound like religious freedom to you?
Whether or not Wicca is legit or true or whatever is beside the point. As an atheist, this whole christian thing looks pretty goofy to me, as well. But you've got a right to believe it.
And if you have a right to believe in christianity, you have the right to believe anything. You can even make up your own damned religion and practice that -- you wouldn't be the first.
Scratch that. You used to have that right. Religious freedom has been taken from you. The government now gets to judge the legitimacy of your religious beliefs.