Essay, Research Paper: College Paper On Religion


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America has been named the "melting pot" of the world. It houses many
different cultures, nationalities, ideas and religions. There are Christians,
Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Mormons, Hindus, Spiritualists, Jehovah’s
Witnesses, Islamics, plus many more. America is unique in that all these
religions are represented in a nation that is only 200 years old. And America
has upheld, throughout history, that the freedom and equality of religion is
extremely important in order for this nation to function as a free nation. The
foundations of America were set as a result of England’s persecution; more
specifically, England’s religious persecution. The colonists wanted to create
a nation that allowed people to be free. They desired to speak what they wanted
to speak, do what they wanted to do, and practice what they wanted to
practice... without the government watching their every move. Thus came
religious freedom. The First Amendment to the Constitution states that
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof," meaning that an American citizen
would be able to practice his or her religion without any intervention or
persecution from the government, be it Islam, Judism, Mormonism or Catholicism.
Yet, with religious freedom, comes important questions concerning its existence.
Is religious equality just as important as all the other freedoms... such as the
freedom of speech, the freedom of press, the freedom to assemble, and others as
well? The answer here is yes. If this nation truly stands for freedom, the
American government cannot say that its citizens have the right to speak freely,
write freely, or assemble freely, but then maintain an established national
religion. That would be contradictory, and would not make America any better off
than England, which it had separated from just years beforehand. Certainly, all
the freedoms are equal. On the other hand, unlike the other freedoms mentioned,
religious freedom addresses a different type of need. It addresses the concept
of personal fulfillment, or perhaps, self-realization. Religion attempts to give
answers to basic questions: From where did the world come? What is the meaning
of human life? Why do people die and what happens afterward? Why is there evil?
How should people behave? As a word religion is difficult to define, but as a
human experience it seems to be universal. The 20th-century German-born American
theologian, Paul Tillich, gave a simple and basic definition of the word:
"Religion is ultimate concern." This means that religion includes that
to which people are most devoted or that from which they expect to get the most
satisfaction in life. Consequently, religion provides adequate answers to the
basic afore mentioned questions. Religion is, undoubtedly, a very important part
of life. The second question regarding freedom of religion discusses which
aspect of religion should be considered equal: the structure or substantive
content of religion, or the individual conscience of that religion. Because of
the diversity and impact that religion has in the lives of Americans, the
individual conscience should be treated as equal, not the structure or
substantive content of the various religions. No two religions are alike, just
as no two people are alike. The government cannot make all religions equal in
regards to their individual structure and/or practices because the individual
practices are what make each religion unique; appealing to the individual
conscience. If all religions had to be equal in practice, we would have
Buddhists saying "Hail Mary’s," or Christians bowing to Allah.
Perhaps Catholics would wear orange robes and have shaved heads, and Hare
Krishna’s could sing music out of the Protestant Psalter Hymnal. This would
defeat the whole purpose of allowing freedom of religion in the first place.
Religion must be able to differ in structure and substantive content. People
must be able to practice their own religion in the way they want to... and this
cannot happen if all religions in America are made equal in structure and
practice. The individual conscience in a certain religion, however, must be
treated the same as any other religion. A Christian conscience must be treated
the same as that of a Buddhist conscience. A Catholic conscience must be treated
the same as that of a Mormon conscience, and so on. One cannot discriminate
against a religion if all religions are indeed seen as equal in regards to the
individual conscience. It would be like discriminating against someone because
they do not like coffee with their breakfast. If one decides that they would
rather have orange juice with their bacon and eggs, that is up to them. It is
their choice. And just because someone else may happen to like coffee with
breakfast, doesn’t mean that either person is any more or any less equal to
the other. They simply have different tastes. So if one person was Jewish and
the other was a Hindu, neither of them could be regarded as superior or inferior
to the other. If their individual consciences were truly equal, they would just
accept one another for who they are, not what religion they choose to practice.
And other people in that particular environment would accept them as well.
Perhaps the Jewish person does not like some aspects of the Hindu religion, or
vice-versa, but that doesn’t mean that they are not equal. They simply have
different tastes. Another question arises: "Should a religious conscience
be equal to a secular one?" The answer to this is yes. If America is truly
"the land of the free," then all consciences and individuals should be
regarded as equal to one another, no matter if they are religious or secular.
Ideally, this is what America stands for: freedom. The freedom to be religious
-- and freedom to be secular -- are both included in that ideal. Finally, should
the government give support and encouragement to religious activity, or should
it stay out completely? Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter said it nicely: "If
nowhere else, in the relations between Church and State, good fences make good
neighbors." (Pole 69) The American government should stay out of all
religious affairs. One of the main reasons America broke away from England was
to gain religious freedom, and to not have to be pressured by the government
into following one specific religion. Therefore, the Supreme Court agreed that
"in the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly
committed to a position of neutrality." (Pole 122) The founders of this
country made an agreement that "Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The
government, from then on, vowed not get involved with any religious affairs or
concerns. And that is the way things should be. If the government gets involved
in religion, there is a chance that America could revert back to the ways of
England; where there existed an established national religion, as well as
grumblings among the British citizens about that religion. It has been said that
we must learn from our past, in order to live in the present, in order to better
our future. And in America’s past looms the unfortunate mistake of the British
government’s involvement in religion. History has proven that church and state
need not mix. "The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of
no dogma, the establishment of no sect." (Pole 112) This does not mean that
individuals can take advantage of this freedom. Just because the American
government is not going to get involved in any type of religion or religious
activity, does not mean that they are going to blind themselves to the area
completely. The church and state still communicate, even though they do not
often directly effect one another. And there are still civil laws that one must
abide by, regardless of what religion he or she belongs to. Mr. Justice Samuel
F. Miller stated, "In this country the full and free right to entertain any
religious belief, to practice any religious principle, and to teach any
religious doctrine which does not violate the laws of morality and property, and
which does not infringe personal rights is conceded to all." (Pole 112) A
Satanist who is caught sacrificing domestic animals as part of a satanic ritual
cannot plead the First Amendment if they are brought to court. Just because that
person has freedom of religion does not give them the right to use a household
pet as part of a satanic worship ceremony. It "violates the laws of
morality and property." This person must still abide by the laws of the
state, which prohibit him or her from committing such horrid acts, regardless of
whether they are religious or not. Even though church and state are separate,
religion is not a valid excuse for disobeying state law. In addition,
"religious freedom must also mean religious self-sufficiency, and state
intervention to assist a church in any way was a denial of the self-sufficiency
of that church." (Pole 96) If the government was going to give religion its
privacy, religion must not, in turn, depend on the government for support. This
freedom works both ways: Not only is the government kept out of religious
matters, but religion is, likewise, kept out of government matters. There would
be a true "separation of church and state." Religious freedom has
always been an important part of American history. It is the concept which
originally divided us from England, and without it, this country might not exist
today. Religious freedom, along with several other freedoms -- which are just as
important -- make America unique. It allows citizens to believe what they want
to believe, and practice what they want to practice without any pressure from
the government. Yet, religious freedom does not constitute civil disobedience.
The fact still remains that Americans are privileged in that they have this
opportunity called religious freedom. It is an important part of what indeed
makes this country "the land of the free."
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