Does America Have Freedom From Religion?

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 religion."

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.

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Comment by Laurel on July 21, 2009 at 12:31am
Thanks for the comments. I so sorry about the picture I will try to take it out.
Comment by LaRae Meadows on July 20, 2009 at 5:15pm
It protects you from a government religion but it does not stop you from being exposed in private. So yes, you have the right to be free from religion in a court house but not from the bells from the church across the street.
Comment by Kristi Leitholt on July 20, 2009 at 2:42pm
Mmmkay, I feel really dumb. I have heard that argument many times and could never think of a good rebuttal, although I knew their argument was false. Never occurred to me to actually check the text of the amendment. LOL. But--again, this is why I love this site. I'm learning so much every day!
Comment by Rooker on July 20, 2009 at 11:33am
Hi Laurel,

Could you delete that and repost without the picture? That thing is huge and I'm on a tight bandwidth limit with my ISP.
Comment by Louis on July 20, 2009 at 11:24am
It's the same kind of idiots who think God is written in the Constitution. Truly the most ignorant of the ignorant.
Comment by Laurel on July 20, 2009 at 11:00am
I just got back from a small town in Missouri, they a local church had a huge well known celebration on the 3rd of july ~1500 people including amish. Free food fireworks praise music no
it was more like we are sinners it will be lovely ont the other side. I was scared when the speaker said " Are there any bulgaians here?-audience NO are there any yugoslavians? audience NO Louder ARE WE MUSLIMS audience NO he asked this twice finished by saying were Americans. The hate in the air was nuts. Finally he told everyone how he didn'tlike the president. He even got charged up about atheists Im glad I dont live there . He was teaching intollerance and hate.... fear as his tool of choice.

Comment by Ron Edwards on July 20, 2009 at 8:37am
Yes, it is sad how most ignorant theists make up wording such as this case or twist the constitution and their lame bible to fit any agenda or propaganda at hand. What is truely sad and in turn makes the whole of humanity look totally stupid is when supposed intellegent entities such as media and governments follow their lead.



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