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State Religion: An Amendment Away?

April 20th, 2016

American flag waving in the wind

The constitution was written in such a way so as to avoid any religion being held over another.

In order to fully understand the precarious nature of a situation, it is sometimes necessary to step back and view it from another perspective. In the context of constitutionally protected religious freedom in the United States, this perspective can be obtained by looking to other countries around the world. A recent development in Bangladesh’s constitutional jurisprudence, for example, can be instructive when considered in light of our own in order to demonstrate how constitutional protections can be eroded by a majority vote or dictator’s whim.

Constitutional Equality vs. Actual Equality

Some believe that for many Christians (in particular evangelical Protestant groups), the idea of establishing a nationally “favored” religion may not sound like a terrible one. Media reports lately have included a number of challenges to state laws and actions by religious groups clamoring over a perceived “War on Religion” in the United States. As the majority of religious Americans identify as Christian (inclusive of all groups), some argue that this would merely be the reflection of our nation’s innate principles. These same individuals cite to the religious natures of the first Americans and the role of religion on the forming of laws in our fledgling country, in order to bolster their argument for a national religion. What they may not realize, however, is that the Constitution was written in such a way so as to avoid any religion being held over another. It was also written in a way to prevent the atrocities toward the public that occurred in Europe over the ages in the name of religion.

In Bangladesh, a newly refreshed court case has made its way to the country’s highest court requesting that Islam be removed as the state religion for the country, in order to uphold the country’s constitutional protections decreeing that all religions were to be equal. The clash between secular and Islamic interests have not ended since these provisions were written.  Despite the specific language in the law stating that all religions are equal, the country’s military ruler amended it to make Islam declared the state religion. The current government also amended the constitution in order to reinstate equality of all religions, but at the same time solidified Islam as the official state religion.

What is So Bad About a ‘State Religion’?

The short answer to this question is, “It depends on what you believe.” For those followers of the dominant religion, they may find that a state religion is more convenient and offers services that they once received solely from the church. However, those citizens who believe in an alternative religion than the official doctrine may find themselves marginalized in ways that they never had to worry about before. Specifically, in situations where all else is equal, their personal strongly-held beliefs may be the difference between them obtaining the job, car, house, or public service they sought and their family going without.  

A society in which there exists any state ordained classification of citizenry is by its own nature an unequal one and opens up the potential for rampant state sanctioned discrimination. Is something so personal and so open to interpretation as a religious belief really suitable to be a guiding force for an entire population of citizens? It is important for all Americans to remember that we are forever only one amendment away from tyranny and must always be aware of what makes us truly free.

United Life Church

The United Life Church is dedicated to the protection of the religious freedoms as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. To that end, we will continue to monitor any challenge to those protections whether they come from an act of Congress or challenge in the court system.  

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