LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Democracy works best with religious freedom

In response to the letter by “Grizzly” Murphy which was published recently in the DSN [“Religion, government ‘inseparable allies,’” April 7]: Although Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the influence of Christianity on American life, he attributed that strength to the fact that religion in America was a free choice, not one compelled by the government.

The American government did not meddle in, nor require adherence to or support of, any particular religion. Americans, according to Tocqueville, were infused with the values of religion, which they exhibited through their public behavior. However, this was not because the government and religion were coordinated or cooperating as inseparable allies.

All the major religions, as well as non-religious moral philosophies, promote some version of the Golden Rule for their adherents. “Do to others as you would have others do to you.” All governments, whether religious, free to practice any or no religion, or atheistic, have laws that prohibit murder, theft, and lying under oath. All anticipate that their citizens can and will behave civilly, no matter what their personal beliefs.

Democracy works best where people are educated and are free to follow any religion they choose. This does not mean that government should require that any particular religion be practiced as part of either publicly supported education or the participation in governmental activities.

As a matter of history, the first European settlers who settled in what was to eventually become the United States did so not to escape religious persecution, but to establish their own religion over any others. Christianity, either as a tradition or choice, has been the dominant religious faith here. This faith has helped to promote the values necessary to make democracy flourish: literacy and moral behavior.

It should be noted that many of the most prominent proponents and founders of the independence and government of the United States, including Washington, Franklin, Payne, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Hamilton, did not attend public worship services. In fact, most of these mentioned were not even Christians, but Deists, Unitarians, or atheists who did not even believe in the divinity of Jesus. Mention of God does not occur in the Constitution.

Yes, religion, and Christianity in particular, has been a powerful and generally positive influence in America. Hopefully, it will continue to encourage Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.” Everyone should be able to pursue and argue for (evangelize) his own beliefs where they promote the public good.

However, public education and governmental practice should not promote any particular religion or belief. We are all well-served when people of good faith are motivated to follow the Golden Rule. I am happy to join Mr. Murphy in this belief.

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