Many people today are concerned about the "separation of church and state." More often than not, this means keeping religion out of the public sphere. They say the public sphere ought to be "secular," free from talk of religion lest someone be offended. Religious freedom is interpreted as the freedom not to hear another person's religious convictions.
Unfortunately, this freedom of religion is freedom from religion. The Founders specifically guaranteed the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech by demanding that the government not make any laws to limit these freedoms. The first amendment in the bill of rights states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…." The Founders understood that these freedoms were in danger of being eliminated from the public square.
Sadly, these freedoms of the individual are no longer respected. The ultimate freedom is no longer the freedom to speak or practice one's religion, but the freedom to not be offended by anyone else. It is now seen as rude if one person defends their religious beliefs publicly. Beliefs about morality are no longer welcome in the public sphere. The only place left for religion is within the walls of a person's home or church. This new understanding of religion's place in culture has destroyed the freedom of religion which the Founder's sought to protect. Worse yet, Americans have ceased to understand religion altogether.
Most in today's culture believe that a person's religious beliefs do not have a broad impact on their view of life. In reality, a person's beliefs about right and wrong, justice, and how they live their day-to-day lives are dictated by their religious beliefs. For the Christian, these standards are rooted in a belief in the God of the Bible. For a Muslim, they are rooted in the Koran. And for an atheist, they are rooted in the belief that there is no God.
People do not realize that a "secular" public sphere inherently assumes that there is no God. Since every person's religious beliefs impact the way they view the world, a secular sphere discriminates against those whose opinions are rooted in their belief in God. The secular sphere accepts the beliefs of the atheist—that God does not have an impact on public life. For instance, a Christian will often differ from an Atheist in his or her view of public law because their core beliefs are different. One example of this is Christians who oppose euthanasia on the basis that God gives humans life and does not give them the discretion to end their lives. In contrast, many atheists would argue that, since there is no God, humans are free to end their own lives whenever they deem appropriate. By removing God from the public debate on euthanasia, secularism discriminates against the opinions of the Christian.
The idea that a person can divorce his or her daily judgments from their beliefs about God is a faulty view of the human being. Our core beliefs constantly affect our choices and actions, whether we are consciously aware of this fact or not. Thus the idea that these "religious" beliefs can be banned completely from "secular" discourse is simply false. A ban on the discussion of God merely discriminates against those who believe in God in favor of those who do not.
This kind of religious discrimination is seen clearly in a recent lawsuit filed in the UK by The Christian Institute against Google. The Christian Institute sought to purchase an advertisement from Google, "so that whenever the word 'abortion' was typed into the popular search engine, its link would appear on the side of the screen." Google refused this request, stating, "At this time, Google policy does not permit the advertisement of web sites that contain 'abortion and religion-related content'".
If Google had simply declined to allow advertisements involving the controversial topic of abortion, their decision would be completely understandable and fully within their rights as a private company. By removing a controversial topic from their advertisements they would not be discriminating against one religious view in favor of another. But this is not what they did.
Instead, Google accepted "adverts for abortion clinics, secular pro-abortion sites and secularist sites which attack religion," while refusing to accept The Christian Institute's "religious" ad. They did not shun the topic of abortion—just the "religious" view on abortion. In other words, they have discriminated against those whose view on abortion is influenced by their belief in God in favor of those whose view on abortion is influenced by their belief that God does not exist. This is a clear case of a company choosing to discriminate against one religious view in favor of another, and it is unsurprising that The Christian Institute filed suit against Google, claiming they had violated the UK's Equality Act 2006 which outlaws discrimination "on grounds of religion or belief".
Google's policy is yet another example of the modern embracing of secularism. People no longer understand that everyone is religious. In other words, everyone assumes certain facts about God, morality, and justice as they lead their lives. Those who do not believe in God are still making certain assumptions about God which impact their view of the world, and even those who "do not believe in right or wrong" have assumed that no God exists who divides right from wrong. Everyone has beliefs about God and beliefs about morality which impact their decisions.
The word "secular" is used to mask discrimination against religion—as if there were people who had no thoughts on God or morality. The theory of secularism is used to ban those who believe in God from the public square, leaving freedom of speech only to those who do not believe in God. If we continue to fail to grasp the true nature of secularism, those who believe in God will not be granted equal standing in public discourse.
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