A matter of free choice

Posted by Tom Camfield

OTHERS HAVE NO RIGHT to dictate my religion.

First Amendment, U. S. Constitution, adopted Dec. 15, 1791—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . .”

The dictionary definition of religion is not restricted to worship of a divine entity but also includes “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance” (I presume science as an example, or even journalism) or “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”

“A personal set of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices” fits me. Mine are taken in major part from the Christian religion. I accept Jesus as an historic social activist—but no holy trinity.

Can atheistic individualism be a religion? Of course. Google http://www.religionfacts.com/big-religion-chart for many pages of world religions (some with numerous gods). Atheism is included, along with Shintoism, Scientology, Stoicism, New Age, Hinduism, Deism, Buddhism, Epicureanism, etc.

Back in 1941, when I turned 12, I joined Port Townsend Boy Scout troop 479, sponsored by B.P.O. Elks lodge 317. Scoutmaster was Russell Sheffer and assistant scoutmaster was Harry Pollard. There were two other local troops, 477 and 478, one of them church-sponsored. Our troop met in the basement of the old B. S. Miller building that’s now occupied by the Silver Water Cafe. We later moved meetings to the log Scout Cabin on Morgan Hill, which gave way to real estate development in fairly recent years.

We sang some memorized ditties at our meetings, learned to run/pace a mile in 12 minutes in case of emergency, swam on the local beach (present boat haven area), did overnight camp-outs occasionally (one climaxing a “bike hike” to the then-unpopulated Chevy Chase area)—and other things now in part forgotten. My 78-year-old scout handbook is somewhere in the attic, along with some merit badges, etc.

We recited the Scout Oath, Laws and such on occasion—but we didn’t make a big thing out of the Christian religion every time we turned around. I recently read from a story in The Washington Post: “. . . one sizable group of young people are still excluded from membership and leadership — nonbelievers. Even as the number of nonbelievers grows steadily in the United States, the Boy Scouts still require a religious oath. Since 1911, every new member has had to promise, 'On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.' The bylaws of the BSA have a 'Declaration of Religious Principles,' to which all boy scouts and scout leaders are required to subscribe: ‘Recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe . . . [is] necessary to the best type of citizenship’.”

Looking at the First Amendment, I see nothing demanding religion of any precise sort (or “God” even mentioned in the entire document)— or in the Scout rules any definition of the particular God to which fealty is demanded. Apparently, everyone is expected to assume it’s the basic Christian god of Biblical fame.

Personally, being way left of agnostic, I’ve never cared much for throwing “God” into our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or putting “In God we trust” on all of our money. Such things are purely political, those in power attempting to force their form of religiosity onto the masses—contrary to the First Amendment. It’s unconstitutional.

“BSA added in 2015 the requirement that scouts earning a new rank must ‘tell how you have done your duty to God.’ When, in 2002, a 19-year-old Eagle Scout from Seattle, Darrell Lambert, was found to be a nonbeliever, he was summarily expelled from the Boy Scouts.”

Post writers Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore also added: “Requiring scouts to believe in God is as pernicious and unconstitutional a discrimination against nonbelievers as the current requirement in the state constitutions of Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas that one must believe in God to hold public office in that state. All these requirements, in scouting and in government, may be seldom enforced, but they stand as public judgment on the un-Americanism of non-belief.”

Even as the number of nonbelievers grows steadily in the United States, the Boy Scouts still require a religious oath, presumably to the generally accepted Christian god. These comments of mine aren’t intended to insult anyone’s choice of a god—except for one prominent figure in politics today who seems to exalt his very self in that position. He blithely dismisses the suffering of many with supposed “thoughts and prayers,” which I can’t help but believe are totally non-existent.

Meanwhile, if you walk into my living room while I’m at the computer, you likely will hear iTunes playing “Me and Jesus have our own thing going . . .” (Tom T. Hall vocal). And we’re still hanging in there.

Comments

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Justin Hale

Trump-O-Phobia raises it's ugly head and Tom ruins an otherwise interesting blog.

Tuesday, April 2
Tom Camfield

Now that you went to the trouble to identify him by name, can you actually picture Donald praying for some suffering individual? I figure his hypocrisy is showing big time whenever he occasionally walks through the door of a church on a non-golf day, supposedly to recognize a power higher than his own.

Wednesday, April 3