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Freedom of religion also freedom from religion

A letter to the editor from The Morning Sentinel --

In a letter on April 22, Stephen Russ said a recent federal ruling on the National Day of Prayer was "ridiculous." He continued, "One's decision about whether to pray or to participate in organized prayer is an entirely personal decision, protected by the Constitution." He then bizarrely claimed that the ruling undermines this personal decision.

What makes this really weird is that Russ also quoted the judge's decision, where she said that prayer is personal and government ought not interfere with "an individual's decision whether and when to pray." This specifically speaks to the fact that the National Day of Prayer is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion; via the government, it encourages individuals to specific religious action.

How would Russ and other believers feel about a National Day of Godlessness? What so many believers miss is the fact that one cannot have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. An endorsement of a specific religious act will run counter to another religion every time.

But even should there somehow not be an inter-religious conflict, believers are not to be given preference over atheists and other non-believers. It, of course, happens all the time, but, ideally and constitutionally, it should not.

And, in fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that atheism is as protected as any religion. This does not mean atheism is a religion -- no more than not collecting stamps is a hobby -- but it does mean that the government cannot have a preference for religion over a lack of religion.

But just for giggles, let's say the National Day of Prayer is constitutional. It then follows that the government also can encourage a lack of praying. How would Russ and other believers feel about a National Day of Godlessness? It would improve society, I think, but it certainly would be unconstitutional.

Michael Hawkins


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