By Sandhya Bathija
Americans United has always strived to educate the public about what the Constitution says about religious freedom.
Some days, we feel we have done a good job and that most Americans really do understand that keeping the government separate from religion is the only way to secure religious liberty for all. Other days, however, we are reminded of how much more work we have ahead of us to make that message clear.
Today is one of those disappointing days.
The Winston-Salem Journal reported on a situation in King, N.C., where a Christian flag had been included in a veterans’ memorial in the community’s Central Park. An Afghanistan war veteran wanted the city to remove the flag to, as he put it, “bring attention to the fact that regardless of the form of government, it had no right to impose any type of religious belief upon its population.”
On Aug. 11, Americans United wrote a letter to the city urging them to remove the flag. On Aug. 16, the North Carolina ACLU did the same.
City officials, after receiving the letters, consulted with their attorney who also agreed that flying the flag of one particular faith violates church-state separation and does not honor all veterans who have fought for our country. The decision was made to remove the flag.
Since then, dozens of phone calls and e-mails have poured in from residents complaining about the move. More than 200 people attended a protest rally at the memorial on Monday night, hoping the council will reconsider. Another rally is in the works for next month, too.
The anonymous veteran who complained has also been personally attacked.
“What a coward,” someone commented on the Journal’s Web site. “He can face the Taliban but not American citizens who are probably his neighbors?”
It’s appalling to see how many misguided people have pounced on this veteran who not only bravely served this country, but has now also chosen to stand up for the Constitution. What’s worse, their comments prove that many know little about the principles our country is based on.
One person wrote that the city should put this issue to a vote. Another said “it’s time for this ‘minority’ to stop trying to rule the ‘majority’…”
Not surprisingly, these people haven’t been paying attention. They have been misled into believing that this is an officially Christian nation – an inaccurate notion many Americans have fallen for. The results of a survey conducted by the First Amendment Center, released on Sept. 15, showed that 53 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation.
Many Americans seem to be confused and believe that because majority of Americans are Christians that means the United States is a Christian nation. Many seem to think that the majority should be able to vote and take away the rights of the minority. That’s simply not how it works.
Our Constitution was set up to give everyone an equal playing field when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties. One of those rights is the freedom of religion. If the government were free to favor the faith practiced by the majority, the rights of the minority would be trampled.
It’s a shame that so many Americans can’t seem to grasp this concept, especially considering it’s this ideal that sets us apart from other countries where the government does impose a religious belief on all.
This veteran was just trying to uphold this fundamental principle, and for that, he has been ostracized by the citizens whose rights he sought to protect.
All this goes to show that Americans United and our allies have much yet to do.
Photo courtesy Winston-Salem Journal