The call for the complete separation of church and state is often portrayed by some religious beliefs as an attack – how dare those non-believers force prayer out of schools, how dare those non-believers force the removal of the 10 commandments from outside the courthouse, etc… and so what we find there is a complete failure to grasp an understanding that secularism is neither an attack upon belief, nor is it a defence of atheism.
Dan Barker runs the Freedom from Religion Foundation and so as you might imagine, he is very much in the cross-hairs of such criticism. So what does he say about all this? Well, he recently gave a talk and explained it by illustrating the concept quite well …
Barker said the Freedom From Religion Foundation receives complaints and threats everyday, which the police have asked that they report.
One of the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s recent ISU endeavors was removing the bibles from the Memorial Union hotel rooms, an act that resulted in reactions of both support and hate.
Now here is the very very important point …
“People are welcome to [believe in religion.] Our group is not trying to stop anyone from believing [in their religion,]” Barker said. “The only time that the FFRF complains is when the government gets involved.”
The First Amendment in the Constitution states the government is to be separate from the church or to be neutral toward religion. The document doesn’t say the phrase, “separation of church from state” directly, but says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Barker said the aim of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is not to impose on people’s religious standpoints but to protect religious freedom.
“Why should there only be one viewpoint in my [hotel] room? There should be all or none,” Barker said about removing the bibles from the Memorial Union hotel rooms.
Now that specific example very much nails it. No, he is not proposing that the bible should be banned, because if somebody wants one, all they need to do is to pop down to the front desk and ask. The point is that if a society is indeed going to be a safe place for people of all beliefs and none, then the public sphere needs to be a safe place, a neutral ground, where no one specific form of belief or non-belief is granted a special privilege to impose itself upon everybody.
Those who adhere to a specific religious belief often oppose secularism because they perceive it to be an attack upon their specific variation of belief, but if instead of the bible it just happened to be the Qu’ran alone that was in every single hotel room, or if it was a series of quotations from the Bhagavad Gita outside public court houses, you would suddenly find that that they would happily support the idea, and by doing so reveal that they simply hold an objection to their specific belief not holding a special privilege.
Secularism is all about the protection of religious freedom, it is based upon the recognition that humans have the right to believe whatever they wish to believe (even if it is obviously not true at all), and that no one belief should be permitted to dominate and trample all over all other beliefs – and that stance holds true for non-belief as well.
“We’re fighting for neutrality, the government is neither for nor against religion.” – Dan Barker