Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

Honorable mention — Shelby Burton: Laughing at the Lemon test

Vol. 35 No. 9 November 2018
Shelby Burton                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

By Shelby Burton

In founding America, the Constitution’s framers strived for the United States to become a secular nation where no one would be subjected to the theology of the rulers. Unfortunately, we have a surplus of rulers who have trained our citizens to see “religious freedom” as freedom for the religious majority to suppress the will of the rest of the country, as opposed to “freedom from religion,” as it was intended.

Despite the Lemon test, a ruling by the Supreme Court in 1971 that the government cannot specifically endorse a religious belief that doesn’t fulfill a secular purpose, officials are pandering to a base that intends to create laws that fulfill exclusively religious purposes. New candidates are being elected to carry out this misguided and unconstitutional task, as well.

As a future medical provider, I’m particularly concerned about the continued teaching of creationism in public schools. Unfortunately, when we continue to misinform students in even basic science courses by failing to explain evolution, anyone pursuing a future profession like mine is at a disadvantage among peers by being introduced to such a crucial topic late in her education. Furthermore, when the public has no grasp of evolution, they’re subject to a lack of understanding of mechanisms that directly impact them, such as antiretroviral therapy, antibiotic resistance and climate change. Less benign than ignorance is the outright contempt and discrimination justified in the name of religion, codified into laws.

While I was in college, my town was trying to pass what was called a “non-discrimination ordinance” to add gender identity and orientation to the protected classes, allowing townspeople to combat homophobia. In letters to the editor, people opposing the bill only cited religious reasons for why LGBTQ people shouldn’t share their rights. In other states, legislators have cited religious freedom as an excuse to stigmatize people they don’t agree with — leaving those people defenseless against an onslaught that’s difficult enough to face on a personal level, let alone a legal one. The same problem is faced by women seeking reproductive rights. The extremism exhibited — to the point of defunding public health services because of a small proportion of controversial practices — especially impacts those who most need the law on their side. The law is being used as a weapon with which true believers can carry out “the will of God.” When the death sentence is proposed as a punishment for women who have an abortion, it’s obvious we have strayed from our constitutional purpose. It creates a state of fear when low-income women have no access to family planning tools and then must be wary that their legislators want to kill them for having an abortion.

The most concerning of these infringements on rights and progress is the underlying mentality that has been a

llowed to permeate our society. Religious voters recently have been electing individuals who will fight for their “religious freedom” at the expense of true religious freedom or, in some cases, any freedom at all. When people are willing to select candidates carrying out unconstitutional goals, as in the case of Roy Moore and Mike Pence, we arrive in our current state of affairs. It’s this lack of concern for those unlike us — especially in a country that was intended to allow equal rights for all — that points to a much deeper problem. This imposition of one set of beliefs upon others who do not share those beliefs denies them the true freedom they were promised as Americans.

Shelby, 26, from Henderson, Nev., attends Touro University Nevada. She is working toward a D.O. degree in osteopathic medicine. As an undergrad, she attended Rocky Mountain College and graduated with a degree in biology. She hopes to become a pediatric oncologist.