In my last article I raised the question of whether it was necessary to remove God from public discussion in order to have a free, pluralistic society.
My short answer was no, because one can simply look at this country, the United States of America, which was founded on the recognition of a Creator, and stands as one of the freest and most pluralistic nations on earth.
In this article, I would like to expound upon this question, particularly in light of us approaching our nation’s 239th birthday and recent events.
From our nation’s founding documents, to our currency, to some of the most inspiring speeches of this century, there has always been an acknowledgement of God.
To be clear, we are not a secular nation that is guarding itself against theistic influence. To the contrary, it is clear from reading the Declaration of Independence which states in part, “… that all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” that a more accurate description of our nation would be that we are theistic and perhaps leaping towards secularism and rejecting national reference to faith altogether.
Those who would reject God from being part of public discussion, often cite three rationales. First, they insinuate that those who are theistic in their worldview are biased or simple-minded, and hypocritical or maniacal.
But the irony of this suggestion is striking, for whether one believes in God or not, they are coming from a position of bias, and both require an element of faith since one cannot empirically and entirely prove or disprove the existence of God.
Second is the assertion that there is a “separation of church and state” (a phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association) that somehow prohibits public expressions of faith.
However, this is an erroneous interpretation of Jefferson’s writings. Jefferson, in fact, used the phrase “separation of church and state” to assure the Convention that the then newly formed U.S. government would not impose its will on the people. The implication being that citizens have the freedom to worship as they choose, and the government should not negatively affect this choice.
This interpretation is affirmed with the very first phrase of the First Amendment when it stated that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” This amendment prohibits Congress from establishing a state religion as was the case in Britain.
The third rationale often cited by those who would reject God from being part of public discussion is that references to God are a sign that our society is either not truly free or not very diverse. Thus, for the sake of “tolerance,” “exclusive” and public references to God should be abolished. They are quick to label all religions as divisive and dangerous by pointing to The Crusades of the Middle Ages or Islamic extremism of today.
To this point, I simply state that not all religions are the same. It is also important to remember that it was people appealing to God that led to the founding of our nation, the welcoming of immigrants to our shores, the selfless ministering to the weak and poor of our society, and the ending of slavery and segregation. Rather than viewing the public expressions of God as religiously coercive, I recognize that such expressions are a sign that we truly are a free society and reaffirm the first amendment.
So, as we celebrate the fourth of July, it is worth remembering that the freedom to express one’s faith in God has been a source of strength to our nation since its founding. It is precisely because of our faith in God (and not the government) that our citizens have been inspired to create hospitals, orphanages, and care for the hungry and homeless.
It is out of this faith that we are blessed with selfless organizations like the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse.
It is because of faith, that two weeks ago, we saw families who lost their loved ones at the hand of the hate-filled young man in South Carolina respond with forgiveness and love, and in the process, softened and astonished the hearts of a nation that was poised to witness yet another race war.
No government, no legal institution, no sociological construct, can produce within the heart of its citizens the desire and ability to be kind, decent, and self-sacrificing.
No legal decision can mandate that we forgive those who have deeply wounded us. But when we deliberately and systemically remove God from public discussion we run the risk of our nation’s soul being lost.
I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, we will put our trust in God.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]