Posted March 3, 2005 – The separation of church and state has been a fundamental concept of Americanism and democracy.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether the placement of religious artifacts in government buildings is a violation of that concept. The issue is still under debate as the country decides just how far away from its Christian foundation it is willing to stray.
Why Religious Symbols Must Go
The Supreme Court already has determined that prayer cannot be required in public schools because it might offend those of different religions. Is the displaying of Christian symbols, such as the Ten Commandments or Bible verses, any different? If symbols of Christianity are afforded a special place by the government, then all citizens – whether they are Muslims, Buddhists or Satanists – could argue for equal treatment of their religious icons.
“If an atheist walks by, he can avert his eyes,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy. However, as Justice David Souter pointed out, “it would be crazy law from this court that said you can engage in religious endorsement.”
Why Religious Symbols Must Stay
Simply put: It’s part of who we are. Even if you don’t practice Christianity, there’s no doubt that it is a part of American history. Christianity has been a large part of the American experience, so much so that the Ten Commandments are carved into the U.S. Supreme Court building, and “In God We Trust” is printed on U.S. currency. Leave those symbols in place as a testament to our history and the principles and beliefs on which this country was founded. In addition, many of our enslaved ancestors looked to Christianity to survive the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow. Negro spirituals are a part of African-American history, and some of our most significant civil rights heroes were themselves Christian leaders. Even though it may offend, we should not run from our history or be ashamed of it.
Besides, America could use more moral reminders. When prayer was taken out of schools, guns replaced it. Even if Christianity is not practiced by every student in a public school or every defendant in court, it might benefit everyone to have “Thou Shall Not Kill” present as a reminder. What could possibly be the harm in having concepts such as “Love thy neighbor” and “Blessed are the peacemakers” displayed in public places?
“The Ten Commandments have an undeniable religious significance, but they also have secular significance as a source of law, a code of law and a well-recognized historical symbol of law,” said Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, President George W. Bush’s advocate before the Court.
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