Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) this week signed a strange bill into law this week. Apparently hoping to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, the governor put his signature on a bill that says “a school district may educate students about the history of traditional winter celebrations, and allow students and district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding the celebrations, including ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Hanukkah,’ and ‘happy holidays.”
At an event to celebrate the new measure, Perry declared, “I’m proud we are standing up for religious freedom in our state. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion.”
My friend Rob Boston had a good take responding to the argument.
[R]eligious freedom must, by its very nature, include the right to reject all religion or else it isn’t really religious freedom. […]
Consider this as well: Under the right conditions, we all want freedom from religion – or at least freedom from certain religions. A Methodist is not a Muslim for a reason. If the public school system or some other arm of government began imposing Islam, Scientology, Zoroastrianism (or even liberal Christianity) onto people against their will, I’d expect Gov. Perry and his followers would immediately demand to be free from that religion.
This has long been one of the right’s more inane talking points: “The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”
But this is silly. The Constitution actually guarantees that there will be no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. If I’m a Buddhist, I have the freedom not to be a Baptist. If I’m Catholic, I have the right not to follow Confucianism. If I’m Jewish, I have the freedom not to be gentile.
Of course we have a freedom from religion. There are hundreds of faith traditions, and Americans are free to believe as they wish, including the ability not to follow a spiritual path at all.
Rob concluded, “Perry and his pals would like Americans to think that we must choose between ‘freedom of’ and ‘freedom from’ religion. That’s nonsense. Those two concepts complement one another and do not fight. We can have both. We must have both. We do have both. It’s the only way we can remain truly free.”