Thursday, May 17, 2012

Valedictorians . . . and Worldviews

The Tennessee Legislature has been considering a bill to permit students to express religious beliefs through homework and art without fear of reprisal for presenting those views.

Opponents, of course, argue that’s a violation of the so-called separation of church and state. One legislator said she’s “a little bit confused,” thinking the legislation if passed would “pretty much blur the line” of separation.

I’m weary of this rhetoric. The Constitution clearly expresses the state cannot impose religion on the people. But nowhere does it deny individuals the right to express and integrate their faith wherever they are, even in public, government-sponsored settings.

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” That does not say someone relating spiritual beliefs – whether in homework, an artistic creation, or even a valedictory address – is “establishing religion.”  And it does not restrict where someone can freely exercise religious convictions.

To deny someone the right to communicate what they believe – as it relates to both subject and setting – seems a clear violation of another portion of the First Amendment, which further states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….”

Just because we hold different views, must
we be prohibited from expressing those views?
I realize there are situations when free speech needs to be restricted – shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, for example. But whether in an essay, on an test, or even during a graduation address, to deny individuals the right to appropriately express their faith – or lack of it – within the context of their message, disregards both the intent and spirit of the revered First Amendment.

The underlying issue is “worldview.” If someone is an atheist, everything he or she sees, hears and interprets is sifted through a “there is no God” worldview grid. Similarly, someone possessing a deep faith in God views the world around them from the perspective of His existence and daily involvement in their lives.

In Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul wrote, “For in Him (Jesus Christ) we live and move and have our being.” His worldview was of God being vitally involved in every area of life.

Just as the oxygen we breathe surrounds our every step whether we acknowledge it or not, spiritual beliefs permeate our thoughts and actions. What we believe – or don’t believe – has a profound impact on what we do, how we think, how we respond to circumstances we confront, and how we interact with people and the world around us.

That does not justify proselytizing or belittling views of those who disagree with us. First Peter 3:15 provides an excellent guideline for communicating our beliefs, whether in a homework paper, a college exam, a podium, or a private conversation: “…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I can’t separate my faith from my everyday life any more than I can separate my head from my body. Nor should I be expected to do so. Isn’t it about time our government acknowledged that and ceased seeking to skew the fine principles of the Constitution to appease a vocal minority?

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