Editor’s Note: This week, “The Wall of Separation” blog is featuring the essays and videos submitted by the winners of Americans United’s 2023 AU Student Contest, which asked high school and college students to reflect on their vision for church-state separation. Submissions have been edited lightly and do not necessarily reflect the views of Americans United.
By Kylie Marozsan of Langhorne, Pennsylvania
Cue pianoforte. ∰ Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. To say that John Lennon’s opening lines were controversial in 1971 is an understatement. While Lennon was envisioning a world with peace given the current circumstance of war, his lyrics also sing of life free from religious oppression and force-fed religious dogma.
Over half a century has passed since these famous lyrics were composed, yet here I stand, humming the tune, questioning how we have seemed to revert to the conservative ways of the past. A past where laws, teachings, and everyday life choices are framed by Judeo-Christian beliefs despite scientific advancements and centuries of religious freedom. I imagine the world, as Lennon proposed – a world free from religious influence over schools and laws – a world living in peace and harmony.
Imagine. ∰ No hell below us. Above us, only sky. Fear is the greatest tool of a propagandist. Belief in hell is a fear of the masses. But, what if there isn’t a hell? What if this life is all there is? How would this world look? How different would it be?
For starters, Texas classrooms would be free from being mandated to display the Ten Commandments as was proposed by state Senator Phil King (R-Weatherford) in his Senate Bill 1515, which didn’t pass the state House earlier this year. King said during a committee hearing that the “Ten Commandments are part of American heritage and it’s time to bring them back into the classroom.”
While King and his counterparts argue that bills such as these are in support of religious freedom, they prove to only be pro-Christian. King’s statements such as, “Bringing the Ten Commandments and prayer back to our public schools will enable our students to become better Texans,” showcases the danger of allowing the lines of church and state to be blurred. Although it seems as if each day brings a new challenge to the separation of church and state, particularly in the classroom, I am still hopeful that my generation will be the generation to stop it. We have a voice. We have convictions. We vote. ∰ You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.
Imagine ∰ there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion, too. I never thought that as a woman born in 2004 I would have fewer rights than my mother, who was born in 1975. From birth to the end of her natural cycle of childbearing years, my mother never had to worry that someone would tell her that she had to give birth, that she had to be a mother. That was her choice. My right to choose what happens to my body, to my future, has been usurped by religious conservatives on the Supreme Court of the United States.
The court, which is supposed to operate completely free from religious and political influence, overturned 50 years of guaranteed rights, rights that were based on science, not religion. Now, states are pitted against one another, and laws are more convoluted and harsher than ever. For instance, a woman in South Carolina could soon face the death penalty if she has what a proposed state law deems to be an illegal abortion. H.3549, titled the “South Carolina Prenatal Equal Protection Act of 2023,” would ban abortion and criminalize it as homicide, meaning women who get abortions could face penalties ranging from 30 years in prison to a death sentence.”
It is simply mind boggling that a woman can be executed for having a medical procedure, even if to save her own life. Courts and lawmakers have overstepped their authority when forcing their religious convictions on others. It seems with each new week, somewhere in the United States, we step closer and closer to the fictional, dystopian world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – a world where women have no rights. While gaining back the right to choose for women seems an uphill battle, it is a constitutional right that can be reinstated.
At present, it may seem as if William Butler Yeats’ his visionary poem “The Second Coming” is coming to fruition as, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Once again, the vocal minority – those who want to end the separation of church and state – cannot be allowed to frame the laws of the land. The majority has a voice. The majority has convictions. The majority needs to vote.
∰ You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. A world living in peace and harmony may seem a pipe dream — the white whale of society. However, it shouldn’t be impossible. The people of the United States should be able to live in a society where church and state are separated. This type of society can exist, for it is the basis of America. No one religion should be seen as more important or be more influential than another. Furthermore, religious dogma should not be the grounds for public policy or private medical decisions. Maybe I am just young and naïve. Maybe I am a dreamer. ∰ You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.