Our Founding Principles
By Mark Folse
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.
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
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
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
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.