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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

4th place: Grad student essay contest — Kyra Miller 

Kyra Miller

Freedom has never felt so costly

FFRF awarded Kyra $2,000.

By Kyra Miller 

Since the founding of the United States, secularism has been the law of the land. But this idea of a separation of church and state has never been favored in practice. Throughout history, religion, particularly Christianity, has crept its way into every branch of government and every social institution. Many institutions, from law enforcement to medicine to education, have ties to religion, and these ties have led to inequalities and injustices that are still being felt today. Although a comfort to many on an individual level, religion is a threat to the lives of many and the freedom of all. 

The threat that extreme religious views poses on society and individuals comes in many forms, one of the most prevalent being that of legislation. Every day, laws are being proposed and passed with the justification being nothing more than moral superiority on the basis of religion. These laws often help nobody directly but instead infringe on the rights of many, often minority populations, and put many people at risk for harm. These laws and orders are passed on the executive, legislative and judicial branches, elected officials often voting in favor of their own holy views rather than in the interest of their constituents. 

A study by the Pew Research Center found that about 88 percent of Congress identifies as Christian, compared to 65 percent of U.S. adults, and only 0.2 percent of Congress identifies as religiously unaffiliated, while 26 percent of U.S. adults identify as nonreligious. It is common on the debate floor to hear congresspersons profess that “their faith” makes them vote a certain way, as if faith has any room in government. 

But it is not just lawmakers who pose a risk to the lives of U.S. citizens. Extremist groups and terrorist groups have been increasing within the United States in recent years and these groups are often fueled by religious motivations. One report found that 67 percent of “terrorist plots and attacks” were carried out by white supremacist groups. The Department of Homeland Security named these groups as some of the most lethal threats within the United States. These far-right groups often use religious justifications for their attacks and activities and Christianity is often at the root of these justifications. The danger that these groups pose is often dismissed or minimized because the members of these groups often look like and share similar viewpoints as a majority of U.S. citizens. But their extremist nature and inflated ego from being unchallenged make these right-wing groups even more dangerous. Members of these groups could be anywhere, and anyone who does not agree with their beliefs could be their next victim. 

Religious extremists and their beliefs that everyone should hold the same views as them is also a threat to the science and medical community. This war between science and religion dates back thousands of years and today still inhibits many people from getting the help they need. Not only have medical professionals refused to give patients the medication or treatment they need because it goes against their personal beliefs, but so many people and children under the care of their religious parents are refused treatment because it goes against “God’s plan,” or they deem medical intervention to be unnatural. This action of forcing a person’s own beliefs onto others, especially vulnerable populations, is a danger to individuals and the collective. Scientific and medical advances will always fall behind as long as religion remains intertwined in the institutions that they are supposed to be separated from. 

The First Amendment states that people have the right to participate in any religion or no religion. This freedom to not believe can feel like an attack to people who choose to believe, but it is only faith in ourselves and our community without religious intervention that can fight against the dangers of religious extremism.

Kyra, 22, attends Rutgers University, where she is working toward a master’s degree in forensic science with a concentration in forensic biology.“I am hoping to build a career where I can work within a specialized interest and work in the processing of rape kits,” writes Kyra. “I want to have a part in rewriting the definition of justice so it can help to build a better future for everyone.”