Felicia Muftic: Forced religion in the U.S.? Not a prayer
April 6, 2011
Some of the most precious legacies left by our country’s founders are separation of church and state and the freedom to worship.
Attacks on those constitutional rights surface time and time again. Most recent examples, subject to court rulings, are a voucher movement to allow taxpayer money to pay for the tuition for students to attend faith-based schools and anti-Muslim fervor proposing laws to restrict the right to practice a certain religion.
In Colorado’s Douglas County the local school board voted to offer such vouchers. Others elsewhere wanted to ban mosques in neighborhoods and there have been attempts to restrict the rights to practice the Muslim religion.
Court rulings on the matter consume case law, laying down precedents which protect that legacy, but it does not stop others contesting its meaning and application. The political right, which embraces small government and professes to be libertarian in the matter of government intrusion into personal lives, has been the most eager to pressure governments to violate that separation on both the voucher matter and anti-Muslim laws.
Various countries have approached separation of church and state differently. Through brute political force, Kemal Ataturk turned Turkey into a secular state with secular laws, banning the fez, head covers, and the veil. In the past few years, women students who covered their heads were kicked out of schools and the conflict resulted in the emergence of Islamists gaining more political power as a cultural revolution against secularism got wings.
Post-Mubarak Egypt will be shaped by the conflict between those who desire secular laws and the Muslim Brotherhood who wants an Islamic legal system. One Brotherhood pitch against secularism is that a “secular system means Egypt could allow gay marriage.” Sound familiar?
We often hear those who fear institution of Sharia law as the law of the U.S. point to England which set up Sharia courts to resolve civil issues between mosques. In England, there is no separation of church and state: There is an official religion. It is the Church of England. English history is full of strife between official religions practiced by their monarchs and the religion of their opponents. It was in that frame of reference our founders included separation of church and state in the bill of rights. Contemporary Britain dealing with diverse immigration now has a practice of tolerance applied to all.
The French follow the secular model of Ataturk, banning the wearing of garb (including headscarves) and any symbols of any religion in public schools. The anger of the Muslim minority added to the frustration of discrimination flared up into scenes reminiscent of Watts during the ’60s.
Here is the beauty of the American system that sets us apart and, so long as we uphold our system separating church and state, why some of those kinds of conflicts are less likely to happen here.
The U.S. system does not follow any of these models. Both Constitutional amendments protecting free speech and separation of church and state have taken some causes of conflict off the table. If a person wants to wear a headscarf, a Burka, a yarmulke, a ruffled cap, side curls, saffron robes, a turban, a cross, or a Star of David, one can in our America. Likewise no U.S. government can require anyone to subscribe to a religion. Taxpayer-supported vouchers to underwrite tuition to attend a faith-based school have been interpreted as government support of religion, violating the constitution’s prohibition against government’s establishment of official religions.
If an exception to these rights is made for one religion, the legal precedent would be established to allow for other exceptions in the future. So long as we uphold these constitutional rights to practice a religion freely, to strictly observe this sacred separation of church and state, forced adherence to certain religious laws or canons will not have a prayer in the U.S. of A.
For more commentary, go to http://www.mufticforum.com
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