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Protecting Religious Freedom
July 9, 2001
by Maren L. Hickton

I am a Christian, and am glad that I am because it comes with many gifts, the most important: conscience. In the early years of my faith, I quickly learned that I probably wasn't going to be the next Mother Theresa and that I had feet of clay all the way up to my armpits. As much as I tried to reach what I perceived to be the equation of a Christian ideal, seeking God's guidance in turning my life over to His will, the sin of pride was and continues to remain the greatest obstacle. Thus, I continue to sin and my firm conscience of 30 some odd years will let me know when I do until the day that I die.

This is my faith, but it might not be yours. You may be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic or any other faith - and that is your right. We must be vigilant in protecting our individual rights.

When I heard that Attorney General John Ashcroft was conducting Bible Studies with his staff I was shocked, to say the least. While Ashcroft maintains that these meetings are voluntary, he certainly must recognize the weight they carry on his staff, especially those staff members who chose, for any reason, to refrain from participating. It is both unconscionable Christian and business conduct to place such a burden on employees, employees who may be participating for all the wrong reasons without saying so. This is not a situation where we are talking about the ACLU filing a ridiculous lawsuit about taking a Nativity scene down. Attorney General Ashcroft should not be conducting such meetings in his office space, where people can't simply look the other way, under any circumstance.

Then the Supreme Court ruled that is was okay for a Christian group to use public school facilities to conduct after school religious meetings. Did they bother to investigate this group or craft (unconstitutional) rules establishing acceptable religions? Does the Supreme Court recognize that they now have opened the door for Satanic Sam's after school club to use the same facilities on the basis of religious freedom? Are these Justices familiar with pseudo-religious cults in America reaching out to grab vulnerable, confused teenagers?

Today, there is another emerging group of leaders in America. They call themselves Christians, too. But they are utilitarian theocrats who mouth a variety of selected Christian scriptures and other moralistic rhetoric, confusing some people into believing that in order to receive favor, in order to receive otherwise legal entitlements (that the government would otherwise have to pay for), they may have to sacrifice - even their own faith, to be hired by their organization and/or receive a range of assistance programs, under the name of President Bush's "Faith Based Initiative Program."

Is the Pastor going to give aid to a member of his flock or a complete stranger who does not subscribe to his teachings? Who will get the aid first? Bush's program is rife with accountability problems and potential for participant religious coercion.

Granted, our Constitution is based on countless Christian principles by good Christian men with great intentions. The framers were wise before their time when they wrote the Bill of Rights including, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." especially with the unimaginable plurality of religions there are today. What we must decide is while there has been generally no dispute concerning the respecting an establishment of religion, we must ensure that while we do not prohibit the free exercise thereof, we also do not infringe, impose, obstruct, or in any way harm the rights of others.

As the world struggles to assist other countries in solving holy wars all over the globe, the last thing the United States needs is its own holy war or an inner struggle with sanctimonious leaders perverting God's word in attempting to social work this nation to his or her own will: When good is being done for the sake of power and those in power are seeking credit for what they've done, or when winning an agenda is more important than the sensibility of the agenda itself, prospective participants - like churches, synagogues, mosques, chapels, and recipients need to trust their instincts. Just close the door or run far, run fast.


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