As part of a continuing effort to use religion as a way of excluding many Americans, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives recently proposed a resolution that “reaffirms the importance of religion in the lives of United States citizens.”
Introduced Sept. 19 by Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), the resolution includes a number of statements that are offensive to anyone who supports church-state separation or isn’t Christian.
The resolution says that Judeo-Christian heritage “has played a strong role in the development of the United States and in the lives of many of the Nation’s citizens” and that the House “rejects efforts to remove evidence of Judeo-Christian heritage and references to God from public structures and resources.”
A long list of “evidence” is also offered to support the claim that religion is important to people in the U.S.
One claim is that the “first act of Congress in 1774 was a prayer.” That is pretty meaningless because that wasn’t the U.S. Congress. Not only did that First Continental Congress meet for just a few weeks, it didn’t include representatives of all 13 colonies. America hadn’t even declared independence yet from Britain, so to say the Congress in 1774 set the precedent for the United States is just not accurate.
Another meaningless claim intended to support the resolution is that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. So what? The Bible has been available for centuries and is sold worldwide. That doesn’t prove anything about the importance of religion to people in the United States.
A third claim made in the resolution references a 2007 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life that found 92 percent of U.S. citizens believe in God and 78.4 percent identified as Christian. Here, the House is basically saying, “If you don’t believe in God, get out” and “If you aren’t Christian, you should probably leave, too.”
Those who would support this resolution seemingly have no issue with excluding eight percent of the population (though really it’s 21.6 percent), so let’s put that 8 percent number in context. It may not seem like a lot of people, but that’s a little over 25 million Americans. Should the U.S. government be passing resolutions that alienate such a large number of people?
“This [resolution] only serves to divide rather than unite Americans,” said Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, according to The Raw Story. “This resolution insinuates that because Christianity is the majority religion in the United States, the religion and its followers should be privileged by our government, but this logic is problematic – our Constitution is secular precisely to protect all Americans regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs.”
No one really disputes the importance of religion in American life, so what’s the point of this resolution? Clearly, some in the House not only want to send a message that non-Christians aren’t favored, but also to express their desire to fight church-state separation.
It is deeply disturbing that a government body that has sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution would consider a resolution that disrespects a principle that comes straight from the First Amendment. This isn’t about preserving “the freedom to exercise religious beliefs in the United States,” as the resolution says, because nobody is trying to stop people from expressing their beliefs.
Instead, it’s all part of an ongoing attempt by the Religious Right and its allies to force their ideas on others.
This resolution may be non-binding, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously. There are some in our government who are happy to ignore the parts of the Constitution that they simply don’t like, and they will gladly place restrictions on people who don’t think the way they do.
We must demand that Congress stop wasting its time on needless and exclusionary resolutions that serve no purpose other than to bully those who don’t agree with them. Not one member of Congress was elected to act this way, and it’s time they are reminded of that.