The second installment of FJ Rocca’s Civics Lessons series.
The word secular is easily misunderstood or misinterpreted and sometimes deliberately misused. The term secular does NOT mean Godless, as many people in our society will say. The term comes from the Latin saecularis meaning “of the world” and “not of a religion.” The term does NOT mean against religion or atheistic. A thing that is secular is separate from religion or is not associated specifically with any religion.
Many activities are secular. For example, walking down the street or driving a car, brushing one’s teeth or eating breakfast are secular activities. Likewise, in our American society, government is supposed to be secular, not because religion is banned, or proscribed, but because it is not prescribed by our Constitution or the laws derived from it. There is a good reason for this. The Founding Fathers of our republic wanted to guarantee that each and every individual citizen of our country could practice his or her religion freely as chosen. The guarantee extends to those who choose not to practice a religion, as well.
In fact, the Declaration of Independence uses the term “creator,” but wisely does not specify who or what that creator is. Even atheists cannot argue logically that the term refers to God, because human beings exist, therefore were created by someone or something. Arguably, even nature itself could be interpreted as a creator by this definition. The non-specific term creator was used to guarantee that no one religion could claim the authority of Government, and the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which is a part of our Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” It is important to understand that the term “respecting” means “with respect to” and not owing respect to any specific religion.
The First Amendment does NOT say that religion should be kept out of all government actions or activities, only that Government cannot establish a religion of its own and cannot require people to practice a specific religion. Atheists who protest religious symbols on public lands or in government offices deliberately misinterpret the First Amendment in. I believe they do this in order to establish their own religion of anti-God. But the First Amendment prohibits this, just as it prohibits other religions from dominating government.
The Founding Fathers were very wise in the way they treated this very important and delicate matter. Governments that are dominated by a specific religion are skewed in favor of those who belong to that religion and, worse, often repress or persecute those who do not. Witness the persecution of Christians in so-called Islamic Republics. This is a good lesson in what happens when government is not kept safely separate from specific religious affiliation. For example, the imposition of Sharia Law on our system of government and in our courts would directly violate the First Amendment and abrogate the rights of American citizens living in our country. No collective group has rights over any single individual citizen in our nation. When a single individual’s rights are threatened, everyone’s rights are likewise threatened.
A secular form of government, properly established to ensure and guarantee individual rights and freedoms, will protect and enforce the right of every individual citizen to practice or not practice a religion as a matter of personal choice. Therefore, people of any and every religion, provided that religion does not violate the rights of others, may practice that religion without interference. There are some practices associated with some religions that are prohibited by our civil laws. For example, polygamy, marrying of people under legal age and physical beatings or so-called “honor killings” are absolutely forbidden by law, because they are direct and egregious violations of individual civil rights specifically and of human rights generally.
Understanding this definition of secular vs. sacred is important if we, as citizens, are to perpetuate the extraordinary society given to us by our Founders. It has been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Freedom is as fragile as it is priceless. It is far too easy to let liberty slip away through complacency. Each of us must be eternally vigilant to prevent anyone from taking it away.
In our society, it is easy to mistake the false promises of politicians for benefits. When someone promises to fundamentally transform our nation, we should be very wary, because those who promise that change are really promising to transform our rights and freedoms, as well. Such people should never be put in charge of our nation or our freedom. Our government should be secular, but our freedom must remain sacred.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.