Religious liberty vital for freedom

People generally assume that I’m a huge proponent of separation of church and state. After all, I’m liberal. I’m religiously ambiguous. On the surface, I could be the posterchild for a completely secular society. But to the surprise of conservatives everywhere, here is a liberal who isn’t quite sure where she stands.

There’s a reason that the topic is controversial. Incorporating religion into schools mixes an incredibly personal issue with an environment that is, by definition, public. A person’s religion is often a part of his or her culture and heritage. It is always something incredibly individual and deeply private. A person’s beliefs are exactly that — personal.

On one level, I recognize that religion is so personal that the idea of someone imposing his or her faith upon anyone is ludicrous and abhorrent. The First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom is one of the most important civil rights we have. At the same time, because religion is so personal, there is no way to escape it. Religion is a belief structure, and what you believe is an inherently individual right.

The line blurs when it comes to people advocating the protection of religious freedom and the removal of all signs of religion from society. I’m just as annoyed as the next kid by the streams of fliers wallpapering the Price Center informing me that Jesus is the anti-depressant of the masses. I’m just as bemused as the average student by the differences between the UCSD Episcopalian chapter and the Methodist chapter. But I recognize that those fliers and booths have a right to be there, just as CalPIRG has the right to ask for membership and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance has the right to post statistics.

But some people don’t feel that way, and it’s hard to tell people when not to be offended by something. It’s hard to tell people not to take someone else’s assertion of religion personally. And perhaps those people have a right to be offended. Perhaps those signs and booths are offensive to particularly sensitive people. But they still have a right to be there.

That’s at the heart of my equivocation. It’s a struggle to balance being sensitive to an infringment of beliefs and the freedom to express ones ideas, and all of this in the background of a public environment.

Religion should never be inflicted on anyone, and it should certainly never be in the hands of the government. The Bush administration has made it quite evident that it supports a union between government and religion. Demonstrated through support of posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms, prayer in public schools and giving money to churches for the purpose of charity work, the financial support of religious organizations has obviously made its mark. I question a system that would allow trespassing into such a private realm without concern for the ramifications that such actions would have.

Religion has a place in society. It’s been the catalyst of wars and holocausts, social injustices and works of art, and one could never understand those wars, holocausts, social injustices or pieces of art if one didn’t have at least some understanding about those religions.

I wish I knew where I stood on the issue. I wish there were a clear-cut yes or no answer that would make it easy to understand just how to negotiate the separation of church and state. But I’m just not sure, and I’m almost suspicious of people who are.

Of course the situation is a struggle. Of course it’s not an easy line to define. But although religion should never be inflicted on anyone, neither can it be ignored.