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Honorable mention: Grad student essay contest — Brionna McCumber


Brionna McCumber

The foundation of America is religious freedom

By Brionna McCumber

American patriotism loudly sings words that we all know: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our inalienable rights as citizens. Our freedoms. We hold sacred the documents that strung together our nation in its earliest years and remain true to its words.

English religionists began to move into the Americas to settle communities in the

1600s to escape religious persecution from the English government and the Church of England. The United States of America became a sovereign nation in 1776 with the publication of the Declaration of Independence, followed by the signing of the Constitution in 1787.  The migration of religious settlers that led to the foundation of the United States created a free nation where citizens could not be subject to religious persecution again. In fact, the Constitution prohibits Congress from passing any laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” Freedom of religion has always been a key moral for American citizens.

Modern U.S. citizens are a majority of varied Christian faiths (71 percent), with about 7 percent of citizens belonging to other religions and 23 percent unaffiliated. Many Americans consider the United States to be a “Christian nation.” The correspondence of morality and participation in religious activities can be blinding to many individuals. Many churches encourage members to surround themselves with others of similar beliefs. Politicians have the option to disclose their personal or familial religious beliefs, which can act as a way to gain voter numbers. Religious institutions often preach political stances under the guise of morality, causing conflict among religious voters. Politicians who announce their religious views and advertise agreement with these political stances from religious institutions promote their campaigns seemingly with support from the church. This can cause religious individuals to feel like they need to vote for a certain candidate to remain in good stance with their religion. This causes problematic underrepresentation of minority groups in elected positions.

Freedom of religion in the United States is for everyone of all faiths and non-faiths. This allows for all members of the government to be of any or no religion. By common statistics, this makes the greater part of government officials Christians. Allowing the use of God in political discussions is an infringement of religious rights of non-Christian citizens. Millions of people in the United States do not believe in God, and millions of others believe in alternative religious characters. When politicians discuss God at the pulpit of a debate, not only are they immoralizing non-Christian peoples, but they are transforming the debate into a sermon. Religious opinions are broadcast as politics, giving religious advertisement over the community.

My personal experience with the problematic use of religion in government has a foundation with the controversial involvement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) with the Utah state government. The LDS church reports that 68.55 percent of the population of Utah are members.

I shared an article on a social media page about the recent violations of human rights in the U.S. government, and expressed my own concern as a minority member. A religious relative from the Alabama responded to the post that I should “Talk with God.” What does God have to do with politicians advocating to remove protections for minorities? I further explained my intentions and concerns related to the politics that affect my freedoms. My relative, however, was too deeply rooted in her religious connections to the politician, she could not see the other choices. “Things feel better when we talk to God about them. I am a supporter of the administration. Love you!” My plea for help was blown away by the devotion to supporting a “Godful” nation.

As citizens of the United States, we are obligated to participate in the care for our country. The officials we choose to elect shape the direction of the country and future politics. In order to keep an unbiased, fair government, we must remove God from political debate. We must set human goodness as the bar for morality and vote for individuals of varying backgrounds and beliefs. We must keep America free for everyone.

Brionna, 23, is from Pleasant Grove, Utah, and attends Colorado State University. “I am an entry-level graduate student excited to start a program working with zoos and aquariums in the fields of education and conservation. I have worked in education for the past four years and have a deep love for natural science. I love working with animals and students. My wife and I recently got married during the COVID-19 pandemic.”