The concept of freedom, or the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint was at one time thought to be the hallmark of American exceptionalism regardless it has never fully been realized for all citizens throughout the nation’s history. The Founding Fathers and Constitution’s framers were well aware that many European immigrants came to America to escape governments that hindered and retrained, often through harsh punishment including execution, their citizen’s rights that led them to included a Constitutional guarantee of basic freedoms in the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment.
Since Barack Obama has been President, Republicans, their religious right overlords, and the Catholic High Court have gone to extraordinarily lengthy measures to eliminate one of the primary tenets of the First Amendment; the religious freedom clause. Oh, to be sure the axis of Christianity has in fact ruled that Christians enjoy religious freedom to impose their will on the nation, but that interpretation of the religious freedom clause is as far from the framers’ intent as the Earth is from the Sun.
There are only two references to religion in the Constitution by design, and besides forbidding Congress from enacting laws establishing religion, Article VI paragraph 3 says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Historically, the “no religious test clause” has been interpreted to mean that no federal employee, whether elected or appointed, career or political, can be required to adhere to or accept any religion or belief.
The Supreme Court certainly understood exactly what the Constitution’s framers intended in both Article VI and the First Amendment, at least before the Court became the legislative arm of the Catholic Church, but that is the subject of another article. In its 1961 ruling in the case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the secular High Court held that “neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.'” Earlier, an equally secular High Court stated in its 1946 decision, Girouard v. United States, that “The test oath is abhorrent to our tradition,” and that “Over the years, Congress has meticulously respected that tradition and even in time of war has sought to accommodate the military requirements to the religious scruples of the individual.”
However, the United States Congress did pass a “religious test” law stating that armed services members ‘should‘ swear an oath that includes the words “so help me god.” The law is patently unconstitutional according to the First Amendment’s prohibition on Congress establishing religion, as well as the “religious test” clause in Article VI. The High Court has indicated on several occasions that although they occasionally show deference to the military, that deference does not and cannot be used to support the military practice of forcing its members to swear a religious oath under any circumstance.
The United States Air Force, itself sworn to “support and defend the Constitution,” cannot abide by, support, or defend either the First Amendment or Article VI and rejected an atheist airman’s attempt to reenlist to serve and defend his country unless he swears a religious oath. The airman wants desperately to remain in service to his country and is threatening a lawsuit if the Air Force kicks him out for not adhering to the unconstitutional religious test demanding he swear a religious oath. The religious oath requirement is newly reinstated to accommodate America’s recent lurch, and inevitable transformation into a theocratic state along the lines of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Even though serving in the armed forces is not an elected or appointed office, it certainly falls under the purview of “public trust of the United States,” and it is beyond the pale that the U.S. Congress dared to make a law mandating a “religious test” to serve in the military that effectively “established religion.”
From the nation’s founding and continuing to the present day, there have been theocrats attempting to require religion by government as well as demand adherence to one particular religion. During the ratification process of the U.S. Constitution between 1788 and 1789, the “religious test clause” was a source of fiery dispute among the states. The overwhelming objection was that “Jews, Turks, infidels, Heathens,” and dog-forbid, “even Roman Catholics may eventually hold national office under the proposed Constitution.” In fact, a Pennsylvanian, Benjamin Rush, complained bitterly that “many pious people wish the name of the Supreme Being had been introduced somewhere in the new Constitution,” and the Religious Test Clause became, and still is, a focal point for the religious rights’ reservations about, and virulent opposition to, the Constitution’s entirely secular language.
It is beyond comprehension, but there is a fairly substantial number of conservatives, Republicans, and most religious right adherents who are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only was America formed as a Christian nation, but that god almighty himself founded America and personally wrote the U.S. Constitution he hand delivered to the Founding Fathers. Interestingly, they have no explanation for why god failed miserably to make even a passing reference to himself, his only-begotten son Jesus Christ, or the Christian bible in what few Americans would dispute is America’s founding document. It is noteworthy to reiterate for the religious right and their revisionist history, for the millionth time, there was no American reference to “god” until the 1950s when theocrats made “In god we trust” the national motto. It is that motto that Congress, and the military, has embraced as if uttered from god’s mouth to reject the reenlistment of an airman serving his country, supporting and defending the Constitution, and willing to pay the ultimate price without the need of a deity or swearing a religious oath.
It is unclear why the Air Force is sticking to their demand that the unnamed airman either forfeits his religious freedom and swear an unconstitutional religious oath or leave the armed services. This government, and Department of Defense,
has no qualms ordering its members to rush into harm’s way and pay the ultimate price out of sheer patriotism, obedience, and devotion to supporting and defending the Constitution, so why they demand a religious oath to fight and die for America is beyond comprehension. However, there is, and has been, devious machinations by Christians who have infiltrated the highest ranks of the military to demand religious adherence of service men and women regardless the Constitution’s robust protection of religious freedom.
It is a terrible travesty that despite the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s framers due diligence to prevent theocrats from inserting their religious sensibilities into every aspect of every Americans life, their efforts are being eroded at an alarming pace. It is becoming more apparent every day in America that religious freedom means aberrant Christians, corporations, and the United States military can impose their theocracy on the people, government, and service members with veritable impunity. And, it is entirely because of Republicans empowering the religious right, an unconstitutional congressional law, a religious military, and five Catholic conservatives on the Supreme Court; it is the new definition of freedom in America.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.