A lot of it was the same rhetoric I heard in 1999, after two teenagers murdered 13 people at a school just a 30-minute drive from the Aurora theater. It was the same story just hours after the shooting in Tucson too, with talking heads and spin doctors pouncing on a national tragedy to further their political agenda. Pundits would scream “FEWER GUNS” and “HARSHER LAWS,” while others yelled “MORE GUNS” and “LESS REGULATION.”
One theory, touted by a congressman recently, claims that all this violence stems from a decades-long initiative to take God out of our schools, courtrooms and capitol buildings.
This view is particularly prevalent in our community. I remember a man telling me about a beloved Walker County teacher who had Bible study every day in her class. He said that even after court rulings opposed such practices, she just continued the lessons anyway. Rather than starting a discussion over the separation between church and state, I just smiled and scribbled in my notepad.
I can certainly agree that society has moved away from the teachings of Jesus Christ. Many of our lawmakers care only about getting re-elected. As a country, we are so tribalized now that we forget that the person on the other side of the political aisle is indeed a person and not some autonomous mouthpiece of the anti-Christ.
As individuals, we get so wrapped up in our own petty melodramas that suddenly a year has gone by, and we struggle to name a single kind act we have committed.
I cannot, however, say that this country is — or should be — a Christian nation. Don’t get me wrong, it is my sincere hope that America’s policies begin to reflect true Christian values. But this country, our country, is a place where people of all faiths can be accepted. The United States belongs just as equally to Jews, Muslims and even atheists as it does to Christians.
Though I don’t speak for all liberals, I would like to say the vast majority of us don’t oppose students who mention God in a graduation ceremony or a judge who quotes the Bible before he sentences a murderer. And for the love of all that is holy, it does not offend us when someone says God bless you or Merry Christmas. What does offend us, however, is a teacher who preaches hell fire and brimstone to his economics class. We do, in fact, oppose lawmakers who seek to inject their own religious beliefs into the law. And what offends us most are people who say that “if you don’t believe in ____ (insert dogma here), you should get out of this country.”
The atheists, the agnostics and the whatevers aren’t leaving, and they shouldn’t. They are just as American as the Baptists, the Methodists and the Pentecostals. And believing in the separation between church and state is a political stance, not a spiritual one. I, like so many people, am a proud Christian who prays that this country’s policymakers do not allow our government to favor one religion above another.
You’ll find no more eloquent an explanation of the church and state concept than in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, and it bears repeating: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.