Technically speaking, black is the absence of all light or color. A black body “appears black, since it does not reflect or emit any visible light.”[i] Deep space is black because there is no light there. Although it is the absence of light, or color, we also consider black to be a color. If you asked, “What color is the president’s limousine?” You would not expect to be told “No color.” Rather the answer would be: “Black.” Certainly we expect to find a black crayon in even the humblest crayon box. And all of those printers connected to our computers have a large ink cartridge labeled “black.” Black—although it is the absence of color—is a color.
Technically speaking atheism is an absence of a belief in God.[ii] Although, like the color black, it is technically the lack of something, we find atheism being treated as a favored religion in America today. Because the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from enacting any law respecting an establishment of religion, it is so often argued that government—especially government owned schools—are only allowed to draw with the black crayon. Classroom teaching, or even discussions, of religious principles is somehow considered to be unconstitutional. Only principles based upon the absence of religion are permitted. Government institutions can only uphold atheism. Like the color black, however, atheism is a religion that actively competes with every other religion. It certainly should have no favored status under the Constitution.
For example, Intelligent Design teaches that the universe could not exist in its present state unless a Creator consciously made it that way. To bar that theory from being taught in public schools, because the Creator must be a deity, is to establish atheism as the only government supported religion—particularly when there is no credible alternate explanation of our universe. Another example: to not discuss in civics classes that the Declaration of Independence is premised on the existence of a Creator—the ultimate source of the inalienable rights that serve as the foundation of our constitutional government—is to ignore both our history and the true basis of our political system.
There is a very complex, and often contentious, relationship between government and religion. Americans have almost a paranoid fear of government enforced religion. It is one of the greatest threats to freedom. It was one of the primary factors causing many of the early Colonists to come to this continent. On the other hand, we do not accept any possible behavior simply because some might claim it is based on their religion—for example we would not tolerate human sacrifice. Actually that may be an overstatement. The ancient Canaanites sacrificed their infant children to Moloch—a horrific practice.[iii] Apparently the Canaanites didn’t have the technology to permit infant lives to be terminated before birth, a practice that is all too common in our day. Is abortion a form of atheistic worship, because anyone who really believed in a judgmental god would never participate?
To claim that religion must be barred from public life and political discussion is to be in flat out opposition to the First Amendment because it ignores the second phrase of the First Amendment dealing with religion: “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This second prohibition seems to have been forgotten or ignored. To be true to the Constitution, one test for any law, or court decision, is that it must do nothing to prohibit the free exercise of religion. We can only adopt laws and regulations or make court decisions that interfere in the least possible way with religion. Attempts to deny the free exercise of religion should be rejected with the same vigor as those prohibiting free speech, which follows it in the list of powers denied the government. If the Supreme Court can uphold burning the flag as an expression of our right to free speech,[iv] then how much more should the Court uphold the right to practice religion? It is difficult to imagine any law (but one, incredibly, that is in force) more antithetical to both of these Constitutional principles than one denying tax exemptions to religious organizations but only if they participate in political debate. The Constitution grants no right to public education, medical care, welfare, employment, or for government to perform any number of roles it has assumed. The Constitution does demand, however, that government not interfere with our right to freely exercise religious beliefs. This means that in any court case where practicing religion conflicts with competing governmental interests, the free exercise clause of the First Amendment should prevail.
Our freedom of religion is not a grant from a tolerant government. It was not bestowed upon us by an all-powerful ruler defining the relationship between church and state as was done by Napoleon in his Organic Articles.[v] Rather, when our government was established, the power to interfere with the free exercise of religion was withheld by “We the people.” We are the sole source of authority for that government. Our debates should not just be over how much will this federal project hurt the environment? Or how much will it cost? But also, Will this limit the free exercise of religion? Make no laws prohibiting it!
[ii] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11 ed., “atheism”