January 11, 2010

The ACLU and Religion

For many people on the political or religious right, the ACLU is one of the most despised organizations in the U.S. For the wealthy, it might make sense to oppose the ACLU's efforts to protect the civil liberties of those who refuse to simply accept the status quo. However, much of the hatred directed at the ACLU by those who are not wealthy appears to be based on misinformation and propaganda.

One of the most common things we hear about the ACLU is that they are determined to eliminate religion. This is not even remotely true. Here is how the ACLU of New Mexico recently described their stance on religion:

In reality, the ACLU is a tireless defender of the constitutional right of people to worship, preach, sing carols and celebrate religious holidays—both in public and in private. Have a nativity scene on the lawn of your church? Great! Display a menorah in the front window of your home? No problem. Want to go caroling with your friends? We'll bring the cookies and cider!

Contrary to what you often hear from the right, the ACLU regularly defends religious freedom. And yes, this includes the freedom of Christians in the U.S. to practice their religion as they want.

What the ACLU does oppose is the government favoring a specific set of religious beliefs to the exclusion of others. The Bill of Rights establishes that the government should not be in the business of endorsing any one religion. For that reason, the ACLU takes issue when the government sponsors a religious display—not because we are waging war on Christmas or any other religious holiday—but because it's unconstitutional.

See the difference? I hope so because it is an important one. The key issue is whether the government is illegally favoring religion and not what religious individuals chose to do at home or in their church. The ACLU supports religious freedom but also respects the separation of church and state.

Why are we fed misinformation about the ACLU? Because those in power want to remain free to abuse our civil liberties. Anti-democratic elements within our society do not want us to be informed of our rights and capable of exercising them. It is time we stop allowing them to win.