Current Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry attacked nonreligious Americans during a signing of the “Merry Christmas” bill this week, insinuating that Americans don’t have the right to be secular.
Alongside state Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), Raw Story reports that Gov. Perry signed the new bill into law which will allow public schools to display religious holiday greetings and references.
“I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state…Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”
Nichols also doubled down on the statement made by the governor, attempting quote the nonreligious Thomas Jefferson to validate the new law.
“I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance…One of those freedoms is the freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and as the governor was saying the Constitution refers to the freedom of religion, not the freedom from religion. So, challenges to these freedoms that we enjoy can come in a lot of different ways..They can come in very large ways like the war on terror or our freedoms can be taken away in small ways like the removal of a Christmas tree from a classroom.”
While conservative Christians and the religious right often talk about the alleged “Christian faith” of the founding fathers, the reality shows otherwise. Though some of the founding fathers were Christian, an overwhelming majority of them were deists, someone who believes in a higher power, but pushed back at the structure of religion and the church. Thomas Jefferson actually created the first secular university in the country, due in large part of his disdain of organized religion and the church. According to Dr. Daryl Cornett of Mid-America Theological Seminary, Jefferson sole purpose was to move away from the teachings of the church.
“Jefferson also founded the first intentionally secularized university in America. His vision for the University of Virginia was for education finally free from traditional Christian dogma. He had a disdain for the influence that institutional Christianity had on education. At the University of Virginia there was no Christian curriculum and the school had no chaplain. Its faculty were religiously Deists and Unitarians.”
In a letter written to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802, Jefferson specifically mentions the need for a wall of separation between church and state.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
The idea of having a Christmas tree in a public school shouldn’t be a big deal, just like putting a menorah on display in a school during Hanukkah shouldn’t cause a riot. The problem that Perry and other conservative Christians have is that, while they want their Christian beliefs protected by the constitution, they want to eliminate the right of others to disagree.