The never-ending election of 2012 gave me a lot to think about. Laws, God, faith, and freedom were suddenly no longer personal issues, but matters of public policy. I have always felt threatened by zealots. I am not zealous about matters of religion. What I believe is a moving target. I think about faith and religion a lot and I’m open to ideas, circumstance and experience. The result is that I don’t have any set of rigid beliefs or principles about faith or God. I was — am — of the opinion that I am not obliged to make a choice on this issue. It’s personal. It’s private. If I feel like sharing it with you, that’s up to me and if you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. I do not require the world to be made in my image or the image of my beliefs.
After a lifetime of pondering and reading, thinking and debating I reached a simple conclusion: I don’t know what The Truth is — and neither do you.
We already have the very best law we could write. It’s the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In this amendment, the Constitution explicitly prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
This law was adopted on December 15, 1791 as the first of ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights. We don’t need a new law. We merely need to honor the ones we already have. In the spirit of that law, I will let my conscience be my guide and everyone else should do the same.
Americans balk at being told what to do, much less what to think or believe. It’s our national bottom line: to believe, think and feel as we choose. And talk about it, argue about it, write about it, preach about it. And it’s okay because the right to believe is accompanied by the right to proclaim your beliefs to the world. What is not protected — and is explicitly prohibited — is your right to impose those beliefs or force anyone else follow them.
We are a nation of laws and there are so many. We are obligated to obey them or deal with the consequences.
Traffic rules, tax laws, zoning laws. Laws pertaining to education and ownership of property. Registration of vehicles, licenses to practice our professions. We have laws within laws: national laws, state law, local law. Laws of our county, town and village. Laws against crossing the street against a red light or dropping trash on the sidewalk. Rules about where you can go, where you can ride, drive or walk, bring your dog or your children. There are laws about where you can consume food and beverages as well as what food and beverages you can consume and at what age you have the right to consume them. Laws about when we can play music, hold a parade, or smoke a cigarette. There are rules governing every aspect of our lives … except in matters of faith, conscience and personal belief.
We have the right think and believe whatever we choose, and to talk about it without fear of prosecution or persecution.
This is not a Christian country. We have no national religion. We have more Christians — alleged Christians — than any other defined religious group, but that does not give them any special rights under the law. Personally, I came close to accepting Christianity until the bullies of the Christian right decided to try and take all my freedoms away. That was a deal-breaker for me. I might have come to it on my own, but I will not be bullied. I can be convinced, but I will not be coerced.
The Constitution of the United States is a brilliant document. It is — as all good legal documents are — subject to change and interpretation based on the realities of the world. The courts and the people have added amendments and altered how its provisions are enforced and applied.
Against all odds, that first amendment has stood the test of time. There’s a reason why it’s up there at the top. It’s the foundation of what we believe as a people, a beautiful thing. We should honor it. In doing so, we also honor ourselves, our country, our Founding Fathers and show that we have faith in our nation’s ability to recognize what is right. Instead of looking for new laws and rules, let’s try following what we’ve got and see how that works out.
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