Democratic Underground

Reaffirm Our Founding Principles
October 4, 2001
By Mark Folse

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I am disheartened, angry and more than a little frightened by the rhetoric on local radio talk shows here in Fargo-Moorhead, and in other local media, since the tragic events of Sept. 11.

On the radio and in the paper, those who would assert that we are a “Christian” nation “under God” taunt the opponents of the display of the Ten Commandments monument at the center of Fargo City Hall Plaza. One particularly belligerent local talk show host suggests that, after Sept. 11, the time has come for prayer in the schools, while one of his callers suggests that the United States should be conducting an official propaganda campaign to convert Afghans to Christianity.

I am not a member of the Freethinkers, the American Civil Liberties Union or any other organized group opposing the presence of the monument. I am an American who understands the founding principles of our country, and who is not afraid to stand up and say that the time to remove the monument is now. We should not have an exclusive display on civic property of the symbol of one religion, when we are under attack by religious zealots who would impose their radical and narrow religious and cultural views upon the whole world.

Ours is not a nation “under God.” Those words come from the Pledge of Allegiance, written just in the latter part of the 19th century and arising from anti-immigrant, nativist sentiment. Many of the founders of our country were radical Deists, who held views of organized religion and the Christian scripture that would shock many of the proponents of the monument, school prayer and a “Christian nation.” “In God We Trust” was only added to our money during the Civil War.

We are a nation defined by our Constitution, not by our religion. We are founded upon the models of pagan Rome and Greece and the radical notions of 18th century enlightenment “free thinkers” like Thomas Jefferson. One of our most fundamental defining principle is the freedom from government establishment of religion.

The pro-monument, pro-school prayer views espoused so freely in recent days offer the same sort of world view that gives rise to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, the trouble in Northern Ireland and the war in the Balkans, and any number of other atrocities. It is frightening to hear that same sort of bitter intolerance espoused here in America by those recently victimized by it.

I worry about my daughter’s new acquaintance in her fourth-grade class, a young girl recently arrived from Iran by way of Canada. How must this child and her family feel about their new country, so long held up before them as a beacon of tolerance and freedom, when they turn on the radio or pick up the newspaper? And what of the many other Muslims and others of non-Judeo-Christian tradition who now live among us.

Like most Americans, much has changed in my life since Sept. 11. Yes, I fear bin Laden and his minions and other terrorists. But I also fear the Taliban among us, masquerading as Christian patriots.

If we are to have a decalogue in our public square, let it be the Bill of Rights. Take the time some would dedicate to school prayer, and spend that time on civics and American history. Let our children be reminded that, while there is room in America for people to espouse any political or religious notion they choose, ours is a nation of free choice and free speech, of tolerance and diversity, where people are free and unafraid to stand up for their beliefs.