This is the first of what I hope will be several posts discussing common misconceptions about atheism, atheists, religion and the law which are used by theists when they debate us. I will tag all of them as "Rooker Retorts" to make them easy to find.
"The First Amendment gives us freedom of
religion, not freedom from
Chances are, you have seen this quip before somewhere. Whenever secular groups speak out against endorsements of religion by local or the federal government in the United States, some theist makes this comment. It always happens.
This is a theist's clever way of demonstrating his wit and grasp of the English language. Yes, that's right, 'of' and 'from' are two different words. Good work spotting that; here's your cookie.
Here's the thing - anyone who makes this comment is demonstrating a complete and laughable ignorance of the First Amendment.
The phrase "freedom of religion" is not part of the First Amendment; it merely refers
to the First Amendment and to the freedoms embodied within.
Here is the actual text of the First Amendment
. The important bits are in bold:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That sentence forbids the Congress to establish or endorse an official state religion. That sentence forbids the Congress to outlaw the exercise of religious beliefs. It is a statement of what the government is not permitted to do. It is not a statement of what citizens are required to do.
The First Amendment gives you the right to express yourself; it does not give you the right to force me to listen to you while you do it. The First Amendment gives you the right to worship according to your religious beliefs; it does not give you the right to force me to worship your religion as well.
The same sentence that acknowledges the right of theists to express their religious beliefs also acknowledges the right of atheists to ignore them. In other words, the Constitution does protect your freedom from
religion. If someone says otherwise, they are wrong. Call them on it.