Our Greatest Strengths May Also Be Our Greatest Weaknesses.

Since its inception, the US has been celebrated for its guaranteed freedoms: Most notably the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to own a gun, and the freedom to choose our leaders no matter how flawed and unqualified they may be. But those freedoms come with a cost.

Under our Constitution, profiteers and ideologues such as Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and the mysterious Q are free to distribute a torrent of half truths, mistruths, and outrageous lies intended to divide us and to weaken our nation. As a result, there are no shared truths. Not even the need to deal with the horrors of a pandemic has been able to pull us together. Far too many have been willing to take the word of pundits and politicians over that of caregivers and scientists. Even after nearly 350,000 deaths, they continue to believe the pandemic is a hoax. By refusing to wear a mask, they are making a political statement. And they are convinced that vaccines have been created as a way for the government to track them or, worse, poison them.

White supremacists, white nationalists, and other hatemongers hide behind our freedom of religion to discriminate against those of other religions, colors, cultures, and sexual preferences. They even use their religions to deny women the freedom to control their own bodies.

The gun lobby uses the 2nd Amendment and fear tactics to expand gun ownership. Not for hunting. But for “protection.” This is despite the fact that more gun owners are likely to be shot with their own gun than to use it for self-defense. And despite the overwhelming number of gun deaths enabled by easy access to guns. Further, as hate and division have grown, millions of Americans have assembled arsenals with the expectation of using them against their political “enemies” and their own government!

As for our “free” elections, consider the fact that many American citizens are routinely denied the freedom to vote. Especially those Americans of color and those living in poverty. They have not only been victimized by reduced polling places, reduced voting hours, and the purges of voter registrations. Many have been required to take time away from work and drive long distances in order to obtain necessary voter IDs. And one need look no further than the chaos created by Donald J. Trump to see the consequences of electing greedy, unethical, and unqualified government outsiders.

It’s not hyperbole to state that our freedoms may also lead to our nation’s demise.

The question is: How can we address the weaknesses of our system while maintaining our Constitutional freedoms? How can we prevent the liars, the unethical, the profiteers, and our enemies from using our own Constitution against us, especially now that our Supreme Court has been politicized?

We can end division by, once again, demanding that media report the truth. That could be accomplished by a return to some form of the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and television channels to operate in the public interest by clearly labeling opinions and separating them from the news. The same rules could be applied to all other media.

We could also take the politics out of religion by enforcing current laws that take away tax exemptions for churches that routinely engage in political activities. We should also tax churches that collect millions in donations, permitting their pastors to live in mansions and travel in private jets.

We can address our gun problem by instituting national gun laws, including universal background checks and red flag laws. We should also end the sales of military-style weapons, such as AR-15s, AK-47s, 50 caliber sniper rifles, and large capacity ammunition clips which add to the killing power of mass shooters. And we should conduct buyback programs to recover those already in our citizens’ hands.

Finally, we should reform our electoral system by eliminating the Electoral College, by instituting universal voter registration, and by standardizing elections from state to state. In addition, we should demand that anyone running for national office submit to extensive background checks and release all financial information, including 10 years of tax returns.

Do I think any of this will happen? No. But if we don’t make any changes, it’s pointless to continue to spend trillions on national defense. Before any external enemy can destroy us, we will likely destroy ourselves.

No Religious Test.

Dr. Ben Carson’s recent statement that no Muslim should ever be allowed to become president of the US not only reveals his willingness as an evangelical Christian to discriminate against a significant portion of the US population. It also reveals his ignorance of the Constitution. To wit, Article VI states, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

If that statement is not clear enough, the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The author of this amendment, James Madison, believed it necessary since many of the original states had not only favored one denomination over another. Many of the states collected taxes from their citizens on behalf of their established religions. For example, Georgia, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia had established the Anglican church as their official religion. Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire were Congregationalist. While Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island had no established religions. Moreover, each of the states were populated with citizens who practiced an array of other religions.

Further, many of the Founding Fathers declared no preferred religion. Some, like Thomas Jefferson were deists, meaning that they believed in a Creator, but did not believe in organized religion. Indeed, Jefferson had gone so far as to create his own version of the Bible, eliminating the Old Testament and all of the passages detailing the accounts of revelations from God. He chose to focus, instead, on the teachings of Jesus calling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

Given all of this, it’s preposterous to believe that the Founders ever intended the US to be a Christian nation…or a nation favoring any religion.

Yet, today, right wing evangelicals would have us believe that the US was founded exclusively on Christian principles. When more educated people deny their claims, the evangelicals then cry that “Christianity is under attack” and “the only thing that will return the US to its former greatness is to reaffirm its Christian principles.”

Hogwash!

For one thing, as I’ve explained, the Founders expressly forbade any established religion or faith. Second, studies have shown that atheists are actually more moral than their Christian counterparts. Studies have also shown that, rather than Christians being under attack, atheists are the group most subject to discrimination.

If you doubt that, ask yourself if an avowed atheist or a Buddhist or a Taoist or a Hindu or a Muslim could ever be elected President of the United States. Ask yourself what would happen if an atheist refused to issue marriage licenses to Christians based on religious freedom in the same way Kim Davis has discriminated against same sex marriage. Note how all of our candidates fall over one another to show that one is more “Christian” than another. With all of the candidates’ declarations of God Bless America, the answer should be obvious.

Clearly, we have established a religious test for office contrary to the Constitution. And I think the Founding Fathers would be horrified.