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Whose God?

Was the resolution to remember or to proselytize?

by Chiara Petro

I am dismayed that this resolution recognizing God as the foundation of the American national heritage was put before the Knox County Commission. I personally find religious intolerance to be abhorrent and feel this resolution was heading directly towards promoting religious intolerance in Knox County. I also find that there are a number of historical inaccuracies, seemingly based solely on the resolution writer's personal feelings and not historical fact.

It would behoove the commissioners to remember that it is the Constitution of the United States and not the Declaration of Independence that is the law of this land. Furthermore, the only mention of religion in the Constitution is found at Article VI, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States;" and the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The Supreme Court has upheld that the 14th Amendment makes the free exercise clause applicable to states.

If the Founding Fathers never intended there to be a separation between church and state, why the specific wording of the 1st Amendment? More precisely, this separation was due to the dangers, seen first-hand and learned from history, during the American Colonial period and church-state partnerships in European government, which produced oppression and tyranny.

This does not mean they were not believers, rather it means that the Founders had respect for religious pluralism.

Jefferson wrote, reaffirming that there was indeed a separation between church and state, two letters. The first to the Danbury Baptists; the second to the Virginia Baptists in 1808, wherein he quotes his phrase "wall of separation between church and state." This wording has been upheld by the Supreme Court as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause in several cases, dating back to 1897. The personal and political writings of James Madison also reflect the need for a separation between church and state.

Let's look at the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the events that led to the inclusion of the words "One Nation under God."

A Socialist Utopian, Francis Bellamy originally wrote the Pledge. There was no mention of God in the original pledge, and it was recited for sixty years without that phrase.

In addition, some Christian denominations do not pledge their allegiance to a flag, believing that is idolatry, which is in violation of the Ten Commandments. Patriotism, like religion is a highly personal ideal, and it can neither be forced upon another nor coerced.

At the time the phrase was added, our nation was fighting the Communists. This was a country fearful that the Communists, surrounding and within our borders, would turn us all into mindless creatures. Ultimately, people believed the addition of the words "One Nation Under God" would make it easier to root out the Communists in this country, believing they would remain silent rather than utter the phrase.

I contend the passage of these laws was not an affirmation of a belief, it was done out of fear of the "Communist Scourge."

I would ask the Commissioners to specify which set of Ten commandments they are referring to, since there are several different sets for the major Judeo-Christian sects. There are at least three versions, those being the Protestant version, the Roman Catholic version, and the Hebrew version, all of which are slightly different.not just in wording but also in order. For instance, the Protestant 5th Commandment is Honor thy father and Mother, while the Roman Catholic's 5th Commandment is Thou shalt not kill. Not to mention that the Protestant and Roman Catholic versions dropped the 1st Commandment of the Hebrew version and broke up the Hebrew's 2nd Commandment to be their 1st and 2nd Commandments.

Would the commissioners also recognize the tenets of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and all the other religions—be they of Abrahamic origin or other of the world's religions—and advocate that they be placed in publicly owned buildings including public schools next to all versions of the Ten Commandments? I contend that, in choosing to support the display of the Ten Commandments, and specifically a particular set of the Ten Commandments, the Commissioners would in fact be leading towards establishing a religion in this county.

It would serve the commissioners well to review their European and early American history with particular regard to the church in politics. I would also ask the commissioners to question themselves whether having citizens proclaiming God as the foundation of our national heritage is in effect as a remembrance, or if they are advocating proselytization?

Chiara Petro is a Knoxville housewife and home-schooling mother, who has an abiding interest in 1st Amendment issues.

September 18, 2003 * Vol. 13, No. 38
© 2003 Metro Pulse