I am an agnostic. My family is Mormon. My husband is a Hindu who came to the U.S. for grad school. Within this spectrum of religious and cultural identities is the beauty and promise of the American dream; we are a nation of diversity and opportunity. We are a pluralistic society, one in which every individual’s religious and cultural identity should be respected. The strength of the United States is in the promise of tolerance for the entire spectrum of humanity.
Every-time I hear the intersection of politics and religion – the insertion of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the constant refrain of “God Bless America” by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the words of “In God We Trust” printed on our national currency – I find myself wondering where the American ideal went astray. Our nation was founded on the idea of a separation between church and state. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Separation of church and state is not meant to tear down the institution of religion; rather separation of church and state is meant to foster an environment in which individuals feel comfortable worshipping according to the dictates of their own conscience. The refrain of “under God” or “God bless America” assumes many things, the least of which is a belief in a singular God. This may feel like a small matter – the removal of a few words that may or may not offend most people. But if these words are to be repeated in a public environment, with the attendant pressure to follow along, then we need to respect the idea that religion is a deeply personal and private matter. Religion does not belong in either the government or government-funded institutions.
John F. Kennedy, in his 1960 address on religion, stated,
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."
With this election cycle heating up, the controversy surrounding candidates and their religion is only getting worse. God – and prayer – has been mentioned by both Democrats and Republicans alike. I don’t feel comfortable with the intersection of religion and politics; this is not the country we were meant to be. We are a far cry from the ideals upon which our nation was founded. If we are to truly become a nation where all people may worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, then we need to remove religious ideologies from the confines of government.
In the words of John F Kennedy: “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”