The nightly cityscape is lit up by holiday lights, Christmas trees and menorahs. From the looks of things you wouldn’t think that a war on religious freedom was occurring in New York City.
But there is one. And it’s been going on for quite some time.
If in baseball, its three strikes and you’re out, then for the religious community, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is
Tom Seaver, the NY Mets all-time
Strike one: Bloomberg barred the participation of faith leaders in the city’s official 10th anniversary 9/11 remembrance ceremony. Many believe that Bloomberg wanted to avoid any controversy involving the participation of a Muslim cleric.
Strike two: Bloomberg’s Department of Education has banned (effective February 2012) churches and other religious groups from renting space in public school buildings for weekend worship services, a significant source of revenue for our cash-strapped city.
Strike three: our city’s cash-strapped housing authority (NYCHA) is evicting churches from community spaces despite their stabilizing influence.
The Mayor’s new sexuality education mandate is viewed by many religious leaders as yet another strike, a fourth one. Muslim leaders, who are boycotting the Mayor’s annual Bagels with Bloomberg interfaith breakfast, would argue that the NYPD’s covert surveillance of their community is a fifth strike. To others, his embrace of same-sex marriage is yet another strike, a sixth one. Two outs!
In the criminal justice system, two or more violent felony convictions and you become a persistent offender subject to life in prison. Mayor Bloomberg has racked up an impressive rap sheet in his war against religion in the public square.
As a result, Rev. Michel Faulkner and other faith leaders have begun serious talks about denying the pulpit to Mayor Bloomberg, other public officials, and political candidates unless and until they pledge to end the war on religion. Faulkner says political candidates must stand up for religious freedom.
The US Constitution’s First Amendment protects freedom of religion and prohibits the establishment of a state religion (e.g., Anglicanism in Great Britain and Islam in the Islamic Republic of Iran) with the separation of church and state clause. The Constitution also prohibits a religious test for holding public office. But nowhere in the Constitution is government charged with scrubbing the public square clean of religion. In fact, the first amendment restricts the government, not religious groups and individuals.
Religious freedom must be protected by government, not limited by it. The secularization of New York City seems to be this Mayor’s fervent mission.
In recent polls, 61% of New York-area residents report that religious faith is very important to them. Religious belief and spirituality, however, seems unwelcome in Bloomberg’s New York.
Religious “disbelief” is not equivalent to religious belief and should not be given equal treatment. Nonbelievers are free to exercise their choice, but they are not free to impose that choice on everyone by insisting that other voices be silenced.
The exclusion of religion from public life is and of itself is a governmental imposition. We only have to look at Communist China, the People’s Republic of Korea and other totalitarian regimes to see where religious expression is controlled by the state. Nonbelief is the official state religion and it is ruthlessly enforced.
Despite his inflated assertion that he’s commander-in-chief of the world’s seventh largest army with an anti-aircraft missile defense system, our Great Mayor’s march towards secularism will not so easily be imposed on New Yorkers.
New York City is not Beijing or Pyongyang.
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