Editor's Note: Americans United recently sponsored an essay contest for high school and college students. More than 150 entries from students in 43 states were received.
We are pleased to reprint the winning essay in this issue of Church & State. It was written by McKenzie Hartman, who recently graduated from Metro Early College High School in Columbus, Ohio. McKenzie received a $500 prize for her winning essay, and her school was given a $500 donation from Americans United to use for educational supplies.
McKenzie plans to attend Ohio State University this fall and major in International Studies.
The second-place winner was Trey Brown, a high school senior in Gwinnett County, Ga. Third place was captured by Madeline Glawe, a senior at East High School in Wauwatosa, Wise. Brown and Glawe received awards of $250 and $100 respectively.
It is primary season, so the cable news headlines are consistently plastered with the latest "breaking news" from the campaigns. Since one of the primaries is for the GOP and many of the candidates' comments are about the dismaying sectarian conflict across the Middle East, religion is never far from anyone's mind.
Yet even in the face of the devastation wrought there, some of our candidates seem to forget that this country is not, never was and hopefully never will be, anything other than a secular state.
In middle school history classes, teachers and textbooks love to espouse tales of the brave settlers who crossed the ocean to flee the Anglican Church of England. Catholics settled Maryland, Quakers established Pennsylvania, separatist Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth and Puritans settled elsewhere in Massachusetts. Rhode Island and Connecticut were founded to escape the religious fervor of Massachusetts, however, so perhaps the colonists' tolerance is a bit exaggerated.
When the Founding Fathers penned the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they forever enshrined the United States as a place of religious liberty. If ever we fail to uphold that freedom, this country will lose much of what made it revolutionary.
The founders knew that to promote one faith is to proclaim the rest inferior in a pluralistic society. For the government to legitimize the discrimination of a set of its people, or people elsewhere in the world, is wholly unacceptable. As James Madison wrote, "What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual...