Why do you have religious freedom

USA explained

A right for a Protestant is a right for an Orthodox is a right for a Catholic is a right for a Jew is a right for a Humanist is a right for a Mormon is a right for a Muslim is a right for a Buddhist - and for the followers of any other faith within the wide bounds of the republic.

- The Williamsburg Charter (1988)

Never before has this author received so many emails at once as after the decision of a US judge to grant asylum to a German family on the run from compulsory schooling. Who would have thought that this is what is so important to interested readers? One could almost assume a targeted campaign if it weren't for half of the responses being enthusiastic and the other half being appalled.

[Because there were so many emails, this entry counts as a group response. That's rude, but given the crowd, we should have ditched a form email anyway.]

It is common to all readers that they provide an introduction to the homeschooling want to have school lessons at home. In fact, the topic has always been on the agenda. However, you have to deal with them one after the other, namely first

  1. the general structure of the American school system
  2. and then homeschooling as a special case.

So this will take a moment. In addition, the competent authority is currently contesting the judgment.

Today, as a first step, we want to get out of the way a question that was asked openly in many of the emails and resonated with others: Don't American judges see that there is also religious freedom in Europe and especially in Germany?

Uh Honestly no. Unfortunately, you have to say that so hard.

Because freedom of religion is given a completely different status in the USA, similar to freedom of expression. So much so that they are called first liberty is called: Freedom of the spirit, so the argument goes, is the prerequisite for all other freedoms.

Correspondingly stands the freedom of religion first in the First Amendment, before freedom of expression. Let's look at that First amendment again with a new emphasis:

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.

This part of the Constitution is called establishment clause because it forbids the "establishment" of a state religion. In addition, the Congress must not hinder the free exercise of religion: The Supreme Court speaks of a "benevolent neutrality" (benevolent neutrality) of the state. However, it has also found that the exercise finds its limits in other rights (one may believe in vampires, but not behave like a vampire). This is not fundamentally different in the Federal Republic.

The most important difference to Germany is: No religion may be given preferential treatment. We will keep coming back to this.

(We have already discussed some religious topics: The 14th Amendment to the Constitution makes the First Amendment also binding for the states; that no law is not softened by something like “a federal law regulates more details”, but really means “no law”; Blasphemy falls under freedom of expression; there are no national holidays according to European standards; Sunday is not protected. We treated religion and the military separately.)

Centuries of religious persecution in Europe are to blame for this radical interpretation. Those of different faiths were either deported to the New World or fled there on their own. Because this author has Scandinavian ancestry (among others), let's take a look at Sweden:

The government of Sweden was connected to the State Lutheran Church, and, until 1858, people who practiced another religion faced being fined, put in jail, or exiled from the country.

The history of the Pilgrims, founders of Plymouth Colony in 1620, will be learned by the interested reader in school. Unfortunately, what was usually not dealt with is what happened afterwards. Because resistance to religious coercion arose in the colony quite early on. In particular, a Puritan named Roger Williams believed that freedom of conscience was a gift from God.

What nonsense, said the other pilgrims, and put him in front of the door.

Undaunted, Williams founded a new colony with like-minded people in 1636, now the state of Rhode Island. This lair of radicals, insulted as "Rogue" Iceland, granted all citizens freedom of belief for the first time. This attracted people who were not welcome in the other colonies such as Jews (see the Touro Synagogue) or Quakers.

Williams used 1644 in his script The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience for the first time the concept of a “wall” between church and state, which was later taken up by Thomas Jefferson. In the meantime, the English parliament had Williams ‘book burned. Separation of Church and State? A Catholic could take the throne right away!

A few years later, the British philosopher John Locke also campaigned for freedom of belief (except for Catholics, of course). When it was time for the Constitution about 150 years and a War of Independence later, the principle had become so prevalent in America that the relationship between state and belief was not even seriously discussed at the meeting [1]. The really radical and highly controversial innovation was found in Article VI:

2705o religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

No religious oath, so Jews as elected politicians? Well, if it absolutely had to be. But wait a minute, also Catholics? Anger Hadn't these people read Locke?

Although the states followed quickly, there were still remnants here and there. Maryland's constitution long saw one declaration of belief in God in front. It was not until the Supreme Court brought the state to its senses in Torcaso vs. Watkins in 1961: Atheists are also protected by the constitution.

Radical Christians in the US now and then claim that all is well and good, but actually the Constitutional Fathers assumed their Christian faith as the basis of the new state. During the recent presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain made a name for himself with a misleading phrase in this direction. That's stupid stuff, like the one that was signed with the Muslim Tripoli in 1797 Treaty of Tripoli shows:

[T] the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion [...]

The United States may have been founded by Christians, but the state has always been secular. Correspondingly, there is also no reference to God in the constitution.

This separation also applies 220 years later. There are no crosses in American courtrooms (there is trouble even with "second-hand crosses") and the Ten Commandments are also forbidden there. Religious symbols or monuments may not be built on public land. At the moment, the Supreme Court is clarifying what should happen to the existing monuments (Salazar vs. Buono). In extreme cases, they would have to be demolished or relocated.

[New readers of this blog may now ask what the motto is In God we trust or that One nation under God is from oath of the oath. As we discussed earlier, these lines were introduced in the 1950s in the fight against the ungodly Reds. Both are accordingly controversial.]

The exact course of the American “wall” between church and state is (as in Germany) not entirely clear to this day. You can get a feel for the argument by looking at the work of the largest American civil rights group, the ACLU. Your complaints against religion in the state take up most of the space in the media. In fact, there is no shortage of cases in which she takes action against overzealous opponents of religion.

In practice, one thing in particular is strange for Germans: the American state has no right to differentiate between “real” and “false” religions. This applies in particular - the interested reader will have waited for the word - Scientology. The movement founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard is a belief under American law like Christianity.

Accordingly, the US State Department criticizes the situation in Germany, which it describes as discrimination, very officially every year in its human rights report:

[German] Federal and some state authorities continued to classify Scientology as a potential threat to democratic order, resulting in discrimination against Scientologists in both the public and the private sectors.

That is not to say that Scientologists' crimes are not prosecuted in the United States, as Operation Snow White shows. However, opponents of the organization are not trying to obtain a ban that the constitution never will. Instead, they work with the fullest possible examination of the organization and the way it works (and biting ridicule). Since Scientology contains a "secret doctrine" which should only be accessible to the initiated, they try to bring the contents to the public. Scientology responds to this with complaints.

The state cannot ban a religious community. But he can very well decide whether she will benefit from tax breaks. You can find out which organizations receive this benefit on the website of the Federal Tax Authority (IRS). For example, there are 19 entries with the word "wicca". After a long dispute, the IRS also classified Scientology under 501 (c) (3).

Let's go back to our American judge and what he would think of the situation in Europe. What does he know when he's following the news?

That minarets are not allowed to be built in Switzerland, for example; that in France women wearing burqas should be excluded from local public transport; that Belgium does not like the garment either; that Ireland has just passed strict blasphemy law; maybe even that the German Federal Constitutional Court has confirmed the special protection of the Advent Sundays:

[T] he constitution itself subjects Sundays and public holidays, insofar as they are recognized by the state, to a special state protection mandate and thus makes an assessment that is also rooted in the Christian-Occidental tradition and is linked to it in terms of calendar.

What a clear preference for Christianity for an American and thus a violation of religious freedom.

If our judge does more research, he will also find out that in certain European constitutions not humans (as in We the People) first comes:

Conscious of his responsibility to God and people [...]

That doesn't sound like a separation of church and state. He will probably also notice at some point that everyone in Germany - depending on the federal state - should be forced to have as little fun as possible on Good Friday. Something like that is also incompatible with the American idea of ​​religious freedom - why should Muslims and Jews not be allowed to dance, let alone Hindus and Buddhists, just because the Christians are in a bad mood?

And then there is the church tax. Oh, the church tax. The medal for services to transatlantic relations in gold with oak leaves and swords is only given to those who have tried at least once in their lives to explain to a US citizen why the German state acts as a tax collector for the churches.

The common American will at first think that this is a joke: one church tax he knows best from films like the Disney version of Robin Hood (the one with the serpent Sir Hiss). He therefore considers it completely absurd that a democratic industrial state could still do something like this in the 21st century.

If you have persuaded him with a lot of persuasion and in extreme cases with the presentation of the income tax card that something like this really still exists, the American becomes nervous: How does the German state ensure that the Muslims do not finance any attacks with the money? Then again, it does not make sense to him that the church tax is not even collected for Muslims. Wait a minute, religions are disadvantaged here!

And that is the problem in the end: The American concept of religious freedom implies that the state must not favor belief. From the American point of view, the situation in Germany is inadequate because the state has a different self-image here.

At least the interested reader can comfort himself: Great Britain is failing completely. Catholics are still not allowed to take the British throne.

[1] Miracle at Philadelphia. The Story of the Constitutional Convention. Catherine Drinker Bowen, Back Bay Books 1966

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This entry was posted on April 3, 2010 at 4:17 pm and is filed under entry.