Late last month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a resolution that declares 2012 as “the year of the Bible.” Citizens who respect equality and liberty in government might wonder if the same resolution would have passed if it declared February “the Month of the Koran.” Our legislators carefully don’t run afoul of the commonwealth Constitution, which says “no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship,” because the resolution refers to a collection of writings and not to a worship style or establsihed religion.
We often hear that the United States of America is a “Christian nation” or was founded on “Christian principles.” But there is a difference between culture and government. Our nation was founded by deists, Unitarians, apathetic Anglicans, and people of various other Christian denominations. The founders recognized the influence of the predominant Judeo-Christian cultural tradition on their new society, but were very careful to leave those specifics out of the documents that constitute our nation and provide our legal foundation.
Despite the assertions of atheists and other opponents of religious behavior in government, Congressional chaplains, prayers before government meetings, Nativity scenes, crosses and other blatant religious paraphernalia on government property are not unconstitutional because Congress didn’t make any laws to authorize these things. The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, these displays of religious specificity on taxpayer-funded property, or during taxpayer-funded government activities are rude to those fellow citizens who adhere to a different religious tradition, or none. And they send the message that the participating elected officials may privilege the adherents of one religious tradition over those of another, or those of no religious faith. This is not in the spirit of good government.