Following the supreme court ruling on gay marriage, it wasn’t too difficult to predict the whole Kim Davis incident. The friction between the religious agenda and secular agenda has been at a special high these last few months, and will likely continue for the coming months. Just for some specific background on the U.S. a poll in 2012 found that while 95% of the nation said they would vote for a female president, only 54% said they would vote for an atheist. Interestingly enough, 91% said they’d vote for a Jewish person, 80% said they’d vote for a Mormon, and 58% would vote for a Muslim.
Early in our American History, many of the immigrants that first came to the new world were religious refugees leaving persecution in Europe, mainly puritans. Considering this it’s obvious why the founding fathers wanted religious freedom for the country because they didn’t want to see a repeat of what happened. To reinforce this, the country was founded on the idea of a secular government – the separation of church and state- so that people would be free to practice whatever religion pleased them.
As we’ve seen recently, the balance between church and state is a tricky one. In the United States, about 70% of the country considers themselves to be Christian, while about 23% are unaffiliated. Now from 2007 to 2014 the number of Christians dropped by around 8%, but this isn’t a very meaningful change considering it is still the large majority.
This is a significant pressure put on politicians to fulfill Christian values. Even if the politician isn’t particularly religious, they still have a huge force that want these values to be carried out. And since we are in a representative democracy, unsurprisingly the vast majority of politicians are Christian. So in theory we do have a secular government, but in practicality not really. The word of god is not often expressly put into law, but the agenda is still pushed through. This is obvious when watching the last Republican debate on Fox, when one of the last questions was about the candidates receiving messages from god.
So it’s quite apparent that the Christian agenda is casually pushed through government, and whenever something that goes against that agenda is passed there is a chaotic uproar. When politicians come out and denounce the courts on the basis of god’s judgement, that is very much not a secular government. And what people tend to forget is that so many claim that the supreme court ruling is religious persecution of Christians, but considering the national statistics on number of Christians that is pretty doubtful. In this case it would really be religious persecution against the gay community, which is exactly why the founding fathers put an emphasis on the idea of a secular government.
After examining how we got into this controversial mess we are in today, what do we do? Well likely the issue will be gone in a few months and people will have something else to yell about, but that doesn’t make the idea of a secular nation any less valuable. Even if somehow every member of congress were unaffiliated, they would still be pressured by the people to fulfill their religious convictions. And don’t think this only applies to Christian values. If we woke up tomorrow and suddenly 70% of the nation followed Hinduism, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if laws and customs were suddenly molded around that religion.
Keeping this in mind the only way to truly have a secular nation is if religion was vastly diminished in that nation. So diminished that politicians would feel virtually no pressure from religious groups to pass on their agenda. Even if many politicians themselves were religious, they couldn’t so easily pass on a religious agenda with a nation that is largely atheist.
An obvious rebuttal is that Christianity and other religions teach honorable values to people. Our laws were very much influenced by religion but that doesn’t make them bad. Just because a law against murder may have been lifted from the bible doesn’t make that law any more alienating. But while this may be true, this isn’t the point. A person’s morality may as well come from a religious doctrine but they can feel very out of place when others don’t accept that doctrine. Morality can obviously develop without religion, and in many cases better than if the person had experienced religion. The laws of the land and the religious doctrine may overlap in many areas but that doesn’t mean that religion should overtake the laws. A Christian’s and an atheist’s morality may be largely the same, but that doesn’t mean that the laws should reflect only the religious morality.
Now obviously if the nation was 100% Christian then the idea of a secular government wouldn’t be that important. But since the United States is not, and in fact the number of Christians is decreasing, that only means that the idea of a secular government is more urgent than before.