This past week, our country has seen two separate victories, in policy and politics, for tolerance and the separation of church and state. California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage was overturned in federal court. The proposed mosque (which is really a cultural center with a space for prayers) at Ground Zero (which is really several blocks away) has avoided major roadblocks and garnered the support of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
To some, both of these items are good news. While very different issues are at stake in each case, they are both examples of the government saying, we will not legislate religion. In the case of Prop 8, the judge who ruled it unconstitutional did not declare that gay marriage is right or wrong; he declared that denying marriage to homosexual individuals harms those individuals, and that granting the same harms neither heterosexual people nor the institution of marriage. (This would seem to be a "duh" statement, but hey, some people need it spelled out.)
Similarly, those supporting the right to build an Islamic center are not necessarily defending Islam (though many are), but the right of a religious organization to go about its business without government interference. It's also a reminder that we can't decide by popular vote which religions are allowed and which are not.
To others, of course, these decisions are tragedies. In both cases, people on the right are essentially lamenting the same thing. "The gays are trying to force their gross gayness on the rest of us! The Muslims are trying to force their gross Islam on the rest of us!" The first statement barely deserves a reply, except for this video:
The second fear, that there are radical Muslims who seek to institute Shari'ah law in the United States, is not entirely unfounded. The sad truth is that there are people who have bastardized a peaceful religion and would love to see their warped ideas of rightfulness (i.e. stoning a widowed woman for possibly touching another man) brought to law everywhere.
This is a quotation from an article in the NY Times by Laurie Goodstein, about people opposing mosques being built all over the country, without even the veneer of respect for hallowed ground to block out the blatant discrimination and hostility in their objections:
“As a mother and a grandmother, I worry,” Ms. Serafin said. “I learned that in 20 years with the rate of the birth population, we will be overtaken by Islam, and their goal is to get people in Congress and the Supreme Court to see that Shariah is implemented. My children and grandchildren will have to live under that.”
Do I want to live in a world where I am forced to get permission from my male relatives to brush my teeth? No, I do not. And I don't think that anyone should have to. (And I don't really worry that it will happen in the U.S.) But here's the thing. Right now, right-wing Christians are working hard to press their own religiously-based agendas on our nation's legal system. Even Glenn Beck admits that gay marriage and abortion are moral issues and not worth debating as political issues. Glenn Beck!
Pressing for abstinence-only sex ed, petitioning to take away all abortion rights, banning gay marriage - overzealous Christian activists would have us believe that they are fighting these fights for the good of society, not just because of their religion, but that's just not true. These same people were thrilled to hear that former president Bush read the Bible every day when he was in office (a dubious claim), when really we should be disturbed that a president is basing decisions largely on his religious beliefs instead of on the Constitution.
Right now, according to estimates by the Census Bureau, the majority of Americans identify as Christian (with the largest subset being Catholic). But it is certainly possible, as the woman quoted above fears, that one day - in 100 years, or 200, or 500 - the country could be majority Muslim (or whatever alien religion we will have inherited after the invasion in 2319). A majority can and will shift. What needs to remain strong is the constitutional basis for our laws.
Every religion has the right to preach its particular set of morals and ethics, but we should ALL stop trying to get the laws to reflect the nuances of Christianity. The more we are able to write Christianity into law, the easier we make it for ANY religion to slowly take over our government.