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Front Page » February 26, 2002 » Opinion » Opposes 'In God We Trust' legislation
Published 4,968 days ago

Opposes 'In God We Trust' legislation

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BYU political science professor

The Utah Legislature is considering legislation that would post the sign "In God We Trust" in a prominent place in Utah public schools.

At first glance, this legislation may sound like a good idea. But let's examine the matter more closely.

What is the purpose of this legislation? Proponents might argue it is designed to promote belief in God. If that is the case, then it is clearly unconstitutional.

The First Amendment declares that the government should make no law regarding the establishment of religion.

Also, it is the wrong approach. You cannot legislate belief in God.

Religious belief or the absence thereof are personal matters.

Government should not be in the business of telling people what to believe. In fact, the worst way to try to get someone to believe something is to shove it down their throat.

The result, then, will be counterproductive.

There are more effective mechanisms for religious believers to seek converts than to use the levers of government power.

For example, I spent two years as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seeking converts.

But never once did I consider using the power of the state to get people to believe.

Proponents may argue that the social problems of our society require that we assert trust in God.

But the approach should be to fix the social problems, not to attempt to legislate belief in God, which is impossible and, again, a violation of the United States Constitution.

They also may suggest that these signs will state a fact - the nation - "we" - trust in God.

But the use of the word "we" would suggest the whole of the American public. However, in this case, it does not.

There are Americans and Utahns who do not believe in God.

Are they then not part of us because their beliefs are different?

It seems patently un-American to exclude people on the basis of religious beliefs.

If religious freedom is part of our national heritage, then it has to include the freedom to not believe.

Therefore, those who do not believe should be part of us as much as those who do.

We should emphasize the commonality of our beliefs - which include American values such as liberty, justice, equality - and not particular religious beliefs or even religious beliefs at all.

The proponents of the legislation, then, may complain that the minority are dictating the policy of the majority.

Our government is based on majority rule, but also minority rights. The majority can make policy as long as that policy does not infringe on the rights of the minority.

The Bill of Rights is our reminder of the importance of protecting minorities.

The establishment clause and the religious exercise clause of the First Amendment are designed specifically to protect the rights of those who are not in the majority.

It has been a sad fact of American history that tyrannical majorities, sometimes in the name of religion, have persecuted minorities

The Latter-day Saint people know this fact all too well. Utah should not be a place where the majority forgets what it was like to be a minority.

Unfortunately, this legislation also flies in the face of the recent Alliance for Unity effort that celebrates the diversity of our community.

At the very moment when the people of Utah are seeking to find common ground with each other by respecting each other's differences, this divisive legislation emerges.

It is the latest in a string of efforts by right-wing Christian groups to impose their religious beliefs on others.

The American Family Association based in Tupelo, Miss., has launched a nationwide campaign to lobby state legislatures to mandate the placing of these posters in public school classrooms.

It is important to note that the individuals and groups lobbying for the legislation are the same people who believe the Harry Potter movie condones evil and are boycotting Disney movies for the same reason.

I object to Christian right wing groups from Mississippi dictating Utah policy. And I plan to contact my state legislators to express my objection.

Utah is a state where we can celebrate our differences - even religious ones - and people who do not believe in God are just as welcome here as those who do.

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February 26, 2002
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