Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion

One of my favorite lines from legendary journalist H.L. Mencken is his definition of puritanism – “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

That fear might be the driving force behind the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The FFRF is a group out of Wisconsin that pesters government agencies to maintain a separation of church and state. Its weapon of choice appears to be frivolous litigation.

Many Augustans first got wind of the FFRF last month when The Chronicle reported how the group started poking around into how Mayor Deke Copenhaver’s monthly prayer breakfasts are put together and paid for. The breakfasts have been held since 2005, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a regular local event that so consistently ameliorates racial healing in our community.

But to hear the FFRF fret about it, you’d think the mayor was grabbing people in headlocks and forcing them to pray – all on the taxpayer’s dime. Turns out, though, that the breakfast’s food is donated, and the only city expenditure is the time spent sending emails to the folks invited to participate.

THE FFRF also sent a letter to Fort Gordon. Why? Well, the fort’s Regimental Noncommissioned Officers Academy lets participants in its Advanced Leader Course perform community service projects, which is a great idea.

But apparently someone – presumably one of the FFRF’s 369 Georgia members – recently spotted soldiers sprucing up the property outside Catholic Social Services, and jumped to the conclusion that Fort Gordon orders soldiers to work for religious charities.

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but I will anyway – Fort Gordon does not order soldiers to work for religious charities. According to fort Public Affairs Officer J.C. Mathews, CSS is on the academy’s list of local organizations that request help from Fort Gordon soldiers. Since CSS is a private organization, soldiers can and do offer assistance voluntarily.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... .” The Founding Fathers thought that was so important that they made it the very first phrase of the Constitution’s First Amendment.

THE FFRF keeps hammering away about how the government should not establish a religion. I don’t think the government should, either.

But the FFRF seems to be real fuzzy on the “free exercise” part.

Are either the prayer breakfasts or the leader course’s volunteer program really establishing a religion? If so, they’re doing miserable jobs of it. You want some pointers on governmental establishment of a religion? Take notes from Iran or Saudi Arabia. (Just don’t let then catch you – you might get beaten or imprisoned.)

Meanwhile, in America, Congress isn’t ordering you or me how to worship, and everyone – even mayors and soldiers – has the freedom to publicly express aspects of their faith.

I’m sure the people over at the FFRF get a kick out of quoting Thomas Jefferson, since he’s probably America’s most famous deist. Here’s a quote I like, from 1782: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

See? Even he didn’t care who you prayed to, or if you prayed at all. But the FFRF sure does – and it sure seems to get its members steamed.

Which brings us back to the Mencken quote.

For all the FFRF’s bluster over the separation of church and state, its members consistently forget – or choose to ignore – one key fact: Religion, whether the FFRF likes it or not, makes people very happy.

There’s a ton of research to back that up, but in the interest of space I’ll mention just two of my favorite examples:

• A 2010 study by the University of Toronto-Scarborough found that believers who thought about God suffer less from the stress and anxiety associated with making mistakes.

When nonbelievers think about God under the same circumstances – well, you get the idea. They get more stressed.

• Why do people of faith seem happier? Research in the American Sociological Review cites the social joys from participating in regular worship. Closer human ties boost your satisfaction.

What makes FFRF members happy? Patting one another on the back congratulating themselves on being nonreligious, I suppose.

And you know what, if that’s what makes you happy, that’s fine. It “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” as a great man once said.

But the last time I checked, religion isn’t a yoke to escape but a choice to be made freely. The Constitution guarantees us a freedom of religion, not a freedom from it.

And a mayor’s monthly breakfast or a soldier doing yard work simply doesn’t establish a religion. The slightest action by a good person of faith doesn’t equate to full-throttle proselytizing.

Will the Freedom from Religion Foundation ever realize all that?

God only knows.

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DMPerryJr 08/06/12 - 09:04 am

My post about the dinosaurs was just for fun.I personally don't think our world to be a mere few thousand years old and I do not think mankind and the dinosaurs coexisted during Biblical times. And I guess I made the mistake of not realizing that some of my brothers and sisters really do believe such things. So your post just struck my funny bone.

I'm not here to scorn my fellow Christians. As long as you are against abortion, I don't care if you think that Moses rode into battle on the back of a brontosaurus. Taking a stand against the murder of innocent children is what matters to me.

If you were offended, please accept my sincerest apologies.

And God bless you too and have a great week. I'll be in the Bakken oil field next week, doing what I can to facilitate the melting of the polar ice caps, so I have a busy week ahead of me. I intend to have a great fracking time. :P

KasparHauser 08/08/12 - 11:30 am
SRS Policy vs. Reality

I'm sure the management at SRS says no overt religion on site, besides the tax wasting Day of Prayer celebration, but that still didn't (and, doesn't) stop just about every BBQ 'celebration' meal being preceded by an obviously Christian prayer, regardless of the very diverse and non-Christian makeup of the audience.

That includes area management who have started seminars with unseemly declarations of the efficacy of their one, true Christian triple-header gods.

That's the Reality, vs. the Christian apologetics...

aveteran 08/08/12 - 12:48 pm

I don't see how you can even suggest anyone "disagree without being disagreeable" after the hateful lies you just spewed against atheists and the utter contempt you have for the facts of American history. Where in the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or any other code of law is there any specific reference to christianity or the bible being the basis for those laws?

aveteran 08/08/12 - 01:00 pm

"eel: "Science provides no answers to when a "right-to-life" becomes vested"

Science might not but my God does."

Your god has no place in secular law. If YOU want to live by your god's rules (even though he exterminated or ordered the extermination of multitudes of children in the bible), then you have that right to do so. But you do NOT have the right to demand your religious values bind everyone else.

Nomaninthesky 08/11/12 - 09:06 am
Evolution is working as per ICL

The point is Noah was instructed to bring "kinds" of animals, not a set of each type of animal. Zebras, donkeys and horses were a KIND "meaning genera", such as dogs, wolves, and coyotes are a KIND of hundred of different types of canines were not necessary, just as hundred of different types of dinosaurs.

ICL is saying she believes in evolution. If animals can evolve why can't man evolve. If man didn't evolve then how do you explain the fossil evidence of mans evolution. If you say god put the fossils there to fool us on which day of creation did he place these fossils in the earth and why would god want to fool us? Back to the evolution part you are saying that all of these kinds of animals have evolved in the 3500 yrs since noahs flood. There is no way you can scientifically prove this story or even make it sound good.

Again, I am not taking on the Army by myself, but I can state for sure they are not "volunteers" without consequences if they didn't "volunteer."

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