To the editor:
Why isn't there a national religion in the United States?
History contains the answer.
You have to read the history of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, the Swiss Cantons, the independent states of Germany before their unification in the mid 1800s, and the early days of the colonization of North and South America. When the writers of the U.S. Constitution gathered to write a document giving supremacy over the new nation to an elected body made up of individuals without inherited powers by dint of marriage or familial connections or religious connections, it was done with those histories in mind. They were aware and informed of histories and philosophies.
Freedom of religion, that is freedom to believe as individuals may through religions of their own choice, was also freedom from any one religion having dominion over others and over the people of the country. The history that the writers of that Constitution were living with included the knowledge and memory of the terrible carnage that took place in the name of one religion having prominence over any other: Not only were monarchs beheaded and thousands of clergy put to death, but so were thousands of the general populace of the principalities and nations involved. This is not fiction, this is fact. The authors of the Constitution did not want to import that kind of carnage to the new country that they were forming.
In the American south, the Ku Klux Klan targeted blacks, Jews, and Catholics. Mormons were driven out of the eastern states. Black churches were fire bombed. In the United States there was open discrimination against different Christian churches by other Christian churches, against Jews, against protestants, against Catholics, native American religions -and there still is. There is open discrimination against non-Christians such as Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims, and that discrimination is only religion based, never mind the racism of skin color and national heritage.
We cannot deny the influence of the monotheism of Judaism and the Old Testament commandments of God throughout the line of thought and philosophies that led to our country's constitution but they alone did not change human behavior. People speak of the loss of values. Which values? Whose values? The U.S. has through its laws attempted to and continues to attempt to live up to the basic moralities contained within the Judaic heritage incorporated into Christian and Islamic theologies. Religion alone though has not provided all the answers. Well, perhaps religion did try but people failed.
So why choose a secular nation without a national religion? It is because only in a secular nation can all religions be protected and only in a secular nation can freedom from religion be protected, and only in a secular nation can the flexibility of law meet the evolving needs of the current circumstances of the nation.
Look around you and you can see on almost every road, in every town, and in every city, houses of worship that differ from each other: Christian churches, Catholic churches, synagogues and temples, mosques and meeting halls. Whose religion trumps whose? In this country, not a single one does.
Protection for one demands protection for all; protection from one demands protection from all.
Alan K. Chack