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An American Civil Religion

Updated: Jan 30


Preston Foster

January 27, 2024

It is obvious that America’s founding fathers understood that religion was a core component of American life. The evidence? The protection of religion was prioritized in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Sadly, but very predictably, religion is used as a wedge issue in America. For the evangelical Religious Right, religious belief is, very proudly, their justification for the Dobbs decision, which removed federal protections of a women’s right to choose whether to bear a child, even though a clear majority of Americans agree that that decision is, indeed, a woman’s right.

Historically, religion has been weaponized effectively in America. Religion is the basis of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which is the unabashed religious justification for America’s greatest sins: the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Blacks. These justifications, largely based on a self-interested, supremacist version of religion, rationalized and prolonged the sufferings of people deemed not to be God’s ordained.

Ironically, our hope for a unified approach to religion in a nation that is becoming less religious in traditional terms, may be found in the establishment of a national civil religion. In that civil religion, commandments are, by definition, inappropriate, and off-putting. So then, here are the 10 Suggestions of the American Civil Religion:

1. Freedom of individual conscience is a universal right.

2. Legal freedom of and from religion is the intention of the First Amendment.

3. The government of the United States of America is secular, from its founding.

4. In a civil society, morality is defined by the law.

5. No one is above the law because of their religious convictions.

6. Religious freedoms are to be protected without preference to any religious tradition.

7. The civil rights of the atheist, the agnostic, and those of believers are equal.

8. Care for others in our society should be encouraged.

9. The separation of church and state protects one from the other.

10. The existence of any religious majority does not justify the imposition of its morality upon religious minorities or others.

These suggestions may not sufficiently address both the growing urge in some for theocracy in America and the growing hostility toward religion from others, but, I believe, they can be the basis of an elevated civil conversation about the issue.

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