1st place — Clayborne Cook: ‘For the Constitution tells us so’
FFRF awarded Clayborne $3,000.
By Clayborne Cook
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so.” As an impressionable youngster, I was unknowingly duped into belting songs like this throughout my childhood during weekly Sunday school lessons. As I grew older and worldlier, I began to discover all the other things “the bible tells me so,” and how incredibly dangerous and restricting many of these notions are to my personal freedom and that of others. Yet, despite these dangers, the bible, in direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, has continually shaped the political decision-making process, thus increasing inequality and negatively impacting the general welfare of the American people. Now more than ever, we must take long-needed action to effectively ensure that public policy is developed and enforced in an equitable and constitutional manner, absent of biblical teachings or other religious doctrine.
Personally, I have read the bible in its entirety, not out of pleasure, but out of a personal motivation to better understand the content of the world’s best-selling book. As a human, and also as a human-rights advocate, this was not an easy feat. What was most difficult was not getting through the actual content of the book, but coming to terms with the fact that millions of U.S. citizens, including public officials, accept its contents as “the word of God” and support the sinister instructions laid forth. Two particularly abominable verses I encountered in my reading include Leviticus 20:13, which states that “if a man lies with a male […] they shall surely be put to death,” and 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which declares that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission [and should not] assume authority over a man; she must remain quiet.” These two commands, among a slew of others, openly promote the persecution of gay community members and women. Moreover, as a public-health student earning a certificate in health equity, with a specific focus on bridging health disparities related to sexual orientation and gender, I know that this inequity would likely not exist today had there been a true “wall of separation” between public policy and biblical teachings. For example, one could argue that this very oppression endorsed by the holy scripture was the cause of insufficient action during the early stages of the HIV epidemic, as well as the long-accepted belief that domestic violence is a private family matter; both of which led to a great deal of unnecessary suffering that is still felt to this day.
What makes matters even worse is that the tide of biblically bolstered legislation is not receding but strengthening, much like the tides caused by human-generated climate change, another phenomenon that has unfortunately been denied using bible-based arguments. This year alone, bills requiring bible instruction have been introduced in West Virginia and Iowa.
Likewise, over the past several years, similar bills have been enacted into law in Kentucky, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, while additional states have debated following suit. Such legislation is extremely dangerous to the future development of our country, and is in violation of the Constitution. We as a nation must assure and foster the capacity for freethought, and imposing “bible-literacy classes” upon our children is completely counterintuitive to this ideal.
Overall, bibliolatry has no place in the realm of government affairs, and “no law [should be made] respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In order to guarantee that our constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of our children are not infringed upon, we must collectively be better informed and resist political decisions that blatantly contradict our Constitution. Additionally, we have to establish an environment in which citizens are not concerned with their state and national representatives’ religion when deciding who to vote for, but with the solutions that they promote to improve the general welfare of the American people.
Lastly, I believe it critical that we support organizations that are devoted to challenging unconstitutional decisions which disregard the separation of church and state. Together we can reverse the tides, and in doing so, we must constantly remember that what “the bible tells [us]” should not be equated with what the U.S. Constitution tells us.
Clayborne, 26, of Norfolk, Va., attends the University of Pittsburgh and is seeking a master’s degree in public health. He is the first member of his family to attend college. He has participated in the Peace Corps Master’s International Program, in which he served for three years as a health education and promotion specialist in Moldova. He plans to return to Moldova after earning his graduate degree.