Cosmetic Application of the First Amendment (or “I Cast a Spell on You”)

This past week has been an eye-opener for me when it comes to protecting the rights under the two religion clauses of the First Amendment.  You know the two I’m talking about: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause — gotta love ’em.  How people use these clauses? Well, that’s another matter.

Bill Maher aired an eleven-year-old clip of Christine O’Donnell, the GOP candidate for a Senate seat in Delaware, in which O’Donnell said she dabbled in witchcraft. Apparently this was part of a blackmail scheme to have the candidate appear on Maher’s show.

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to practice their chosen religion.  Understanding this basic concept, I do not disrespect or judge the religions and beliefs of others.  In fact, realizing that I was protected by this clause, I looked into many religions to find what worked for me outside of Christianity.  This includes witchcraft, Buddhism, Taoism, and atheism.  My relationship with God, now, is stronger because of my ability to choose my beliefs. So, again, I don’t understand why O’Donnell’s “dabbling” is an issue.  What’s her position on health care reform? What will she do in the Senate, if elected?  Heck, why do I care about the Delaware Senate seat?

But apparently witchcraft is a “big” issue, at least from what I’ve observed these last few days.

When you search the term “witchcraft” on CBS News, the first page of results is filled with Christine O’Donnell. When you search for “Wellesley Middle School”, “field trip mosque”, or “Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center”, you get stories about the mosque controversy in New York.  Better yet, when you search “Christine O’Donnell witchcraft” on Google, you get more results than “Massachussetts field trip mosque”.

You’re probably asking yourself right now, “Why do you care about a field trip?  Heck, why would I care?”  Because that field trip was the worst violation of the First Amendment I’ve seen in a long time.

What happened: a group of public school kids take a field trip to a mosque, as part of a lesson about world religions; several boys on the trip participated in prayer.  No one stopped it.  (Where was the teacher?!)  This happened in May.  The superintendent of the school district apologized in September, AFTER video of the service was made public.

This is why I feel most arguments I’ve heard about “separation of church and state” and free exercise of religion are cosmetic; people are “fighting” for it wrong.  What happened on that field trip is the very thing that the First Amendment is designed to prevent, isn’t it?  Isn’t that the argument for separation of church and state?

Where is the outcry over this field trip?  Where is the ACLU?  Where are all the people who argued that “under God” should be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance?  Where is the President?  Oh right, he’s off editing the Declaration of Independence.

Teacher-led prayer is no longer allowed in the classroom.  A “moment of prayer” law is unconstitutional because it establishes religion.  A non-denomination, non-religion specific prayer can no longer start a high school graduation ceremony.  But kids kneeling and praying during a school-sponsored field trip, that’s okay.

The beauty of the First Amendment is that it reinforces the idea that humans are endowed with free will and choice.  So, I ask those who want to fight to protect the First Amendment to think about what you’re really fighting for: is it the right or for your own beliefs?