How many of us have heard our friends and relatives say those few words: Don't push your beliefs on me? I can not count the times I have heard from people that their biggest complaint about religion, any religion, is when the practitioners push their beliefs. This can manifest in a look, a snide comment, or the phrase, "holier than thou" being tossed around.
Sometimes, the person who is feeling pressured is the same religion as the person doing the pressuring. A believer may chastise a parent for something the believer considers biblical. The believer tells a parent they should have stoned their unruly child and the parent says that no, that's in the Old Testament. Both parent and believer read parts of the same book, but the parent is getting the holier than thou attitude from the believer. They share the same beliefs, but one just takes their beliefs more seriously.
Imagine, if you will, another world:
Person #1 A Mormon knocked on my door this morning and asked me if I had heard the good news. I wish they wouldn't push their beliefs on me!
Person #2 You need to relax and not be so sensitive. I can't believe you are whining about this. Are you such a wimp that hearing about their beliefs is going to hurt you? Sticks and stones!
#1 But they came to my house!
#2 This is a free country, they are exercising their freedom of religion. If you don't like it, why don't you move to Russia?
#1 I love this country! I just don't want them pushing their beliefs on me.
And so on.
Now this is how the above fictional conversation ties into real life. I started a conversation with a co-worker about an interesting hypothesis I had heard on another podcast. It seems the crime rate in the 90's went down somewhat and the speaker was wondering why. Well, some new research suggested that what had happened was that after Roe V. Wade made abortion legal, women were not raising children they didn't want or couldn't care for. Before 1973, abortion was illegal, so women could either use a coat hanger and risk infection and a host of other nasty maladies, or have the child and care for it as well as a goldfish. Since the highest crime rate demographic is the 18-24yo range, then in the early 90's the first wave of children born in 1974 would come of age. I was born in 1974. According to the researchers when abortion was legalized children destined to grow up in troubled homes and become criminals were not born. Hence, the crime rate was lower.
My coworker didn't miss a beat. He said ," since prayer was taken out of schools, the crime rate has shot up". I shot back to him with, "before women had the right to vote, there were no nuclear weapons." First, I applaud him for realizing a logical fallacy whether he knew it was or not. It is called correlation without causation. True, but irrelevant. It could be said that just because something happened before something else, the first caused the second. Has crime gone up since prayer was "taken out of school?" No. Why? Because prayer was not taken out of school. Abington Township School District v. Schempp was the precedent set in 1963 that did not outlaw prayer, but outlawed forced bible readings or any religious coercion by those in power over those under them. Children can pray in school all they want. So can teachers, administrators, janitors, lunch ladies, etc. The school is not allowed to force the beliefs of those same people on the students.
For example, a teacher can not lead a class in a prayer. Any prayer. You may be asking, "why not?" Think about it. Which prayer? Whose belief? Should children have to get on their knees and face Mecca at the teachers direction? Should the children have to turn their eyes skyward and thank Sol Invictus for such a beautiful day? Are you asking yourself, "why can't the children just put up with it?" "Why not just leave the room and wait quietly in the hall? The other students surely won't think those infidels are bad people, will they?" "Why are those students and their parents that don't want to participate in our worship of Yahweh trying to deny our freedom of religion and pushing their lack of belief on everyone else?"
Another way to look at it is this. Children go to school to think, they go to church to believe. If you don't want the beliefs of others forced on your child, why would you become angry and accuse those fighting for your child's right to remain free from the pressure of someone trying to force their belief? This is exactly what is being said every time I hear those around me bemoan about forced bible reading being halted in schools. Dr. Newdow is despised for attempting to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. Incidentally, the phrase wasn't in the original pledge and think about the words as written," one nation, indivisible." Ask yourself if 'Under God' was replaced with "Under Zeus" would that make the nation "indivisible?"
I spend a dollar buying water balloons and "In God we trust" stares back at me. If God were changed to Zeus, would that represent something you would like our government to speak to the world about you? About us? What "we" trust in, what makes America the country it is, is our Constitution. How would our country be different if we didn't have such a well written document?
Recalling the above conversation, I hope you can see that the movement to keep church and state separate isn't whining. It's not because we want to deny anyone their free speech, or freedom of religion. It's not because we are trying to force our lack of belief on anyone. It is because we are trying to stop others from pushing their beliefs on you.