Standing up for religion
CLEVELAND — Both the American and Pennsylvania Constitutions guarantee freedom of religion, and by implication, freedom from religion. The freedoms they both offer have been the subject of fierce battles for hundreds of years.
Regrettably, when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives considered Resolution 535 last month, which declared 2012 the “Year of the Bible,” there was no battle or dissent.
Rep. Rick Saconne stated in his introduction of the resolution that the Bible is the “word of God.” We take no issue with his belief, but is the Bible also the word of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? The legislature was never intended to be a pulpit. This resolution runs counter to our history of keeping religion out of government and government out of religion.
For centuries, Pennsylvania has been a beacon of light for those seeking the right to freely practice their faith. William Penn founded his colony in 1701 as a “holy experiment.” It offered religious freedom to people of all faiths and to people of no faith. The commonwealth’s constitution reflects that early vision. “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences … and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”
The message of House Resolution 535 runs counter to what we as a state and a nation represent. The great diversity of religions and people within our commonwealth is “the rock on which our republic rests.”
The idea of separation of church and state is often interpreted as an attack on religion, and nothing could be farther from the truth. The best way to preserve freedom of religion is to make sure that the state and religion are kept separate. This enables Americans to practice their various faiths freely and boldly without government interference or support.
The First Amendment has served us well by allowing us to render religious bigotry and religious preference incompatible with American life. It has made America the most religiously diverse country in the world. Religious freedom is worth fighting for, which is why it is so disappointing that none of our elected officials stood up for it Jan. 24.
(Nina Sundell, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)