There is a difference between religious freedom and religious privilege. Neither Jay Ambrose nor Attorney General William Barr showed they understood the difference: Ambrose in his recent op-ed column, “William Barr is right about religion,” and Barr when he spoke at University of Notre Dame. Christian nationalists  —conservative Christians working to make their religious beliefs national law — such as Ambrose and Barr choose to promote their zeal for Christian privilege under the guise of religious freedom for everyone.

Barr claims he and all public servants should have the freedom to apply their religious beliefs to their official duties. According to Ambrose, Barr was told Christians shouldn’t apply their faith to their public duties because it might disregard the rule of law and threaten the rights of nonbelievers. That’s exactly what it would do; it would also threaten the religious freedom of those who are not Christians as well.

Because America has always been a nation of multiple faiths, the Founding Fathers included the separation of church and state in the First Amendment to protect everyone’s religious freedom. Consequently, the Constitution grants religious freedom to everyone and religious privilege to no one. If public officials get to apply their religious beliefs to their public duties and that public official applies sharia law, conservative Christians would lead the opposition.

Barr’s claims that “traditional values” are being degraded. However, young people are rejecting conservative Christian values because they don’t reflect what young people experience. Approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population (and 30 percent of millennials) is not religious. Most young people don’t care if someone is gay; they are more interested in who that person is, not who they sleep with. They also tend to support a woman’s right to choose because they know a fertilized egg is not a person in the same way an acorn is not a tree.

A relatively new group, Christians against Christian Nationalism, is opposing the Christian nationalist influence on American politics and law. They are a “coalition of largely liberal-leaning Christian leaders.” They encourage religious people from all faiths in America to “push back against fusions of religion and government they say are distortions of (the Christian) faith.”

Conservative Christians tend to cherry-pick passages from the Bible that offer solid advice on moral human relations as a way to show Christianity is the source of morality. However, they conveniently ignore the passages that don’t. Most people I know believe in one of the Christian denominations and are good, moral people. They are moral people because morality stems from the natural inclination to want to treat others with respect — not because a deity told them they must.

So what are the values that Barr and conservative Christians find so threatening? They are the life-affirming values of Humanism, a progressive philosophy that relies on “reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience, (that) encourages (people) to live life well and fully.” Humanism is not a doctrine that adherents must believe; it is “a philosophy that has evolved through the ages and changes as our knowledge and understandings advance.”

Humanistic values are “derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis” of the natural world. Applying science and reason, humanists conclude that “humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change” and that no supernatural deity was required.

Humanistic values include ethical values that are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. They say that life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals, that humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships, and that working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

Humanists are concerned for the well-being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views: “Thus engaged in the flow of life, (humanists) aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.”

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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