Gathering Places


Thursday, June 21, 2001

Can’t all of us,
and our deities,
just get along?

A great deal has been written lately about permits for crosses, applications to erect circles with arrows, 20-foot pentagrams, fellowship meetings at the Capitol, a baccalaureate service sponsored by Republican Rep. William Stonebraker and an ethics complaint for doing that.

As a state representative with a fish stuck on my door, I'd like to offer my views on all this separation of church and state stuff. If people want to put up circles and pentagrams, let them. It's a free country, and no one should dictate anyone's beliefs, least of all government. Personally, I am happy our Constitution says government "shall not establish a religion."

Can you imagine a government religion? The Ten Commandments by now would be the 24,769 Commandments. The 10 percent tithe your pastor begs you for would become a 50 percent tax, deducted from your paycheck whether you attend church or not. Every preacher would belong to the UPU (United Preachers Union) and God would wear cowboy boots and his first name would be Gary.

No thanks!

Our Constitution assures freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Like the fish on my door, you will find doors with a Star of David, Chinese good luck symbols and Hawaiian symbols. Indeed, my fish can be considered a religious and a cultural symbol: American culture.

I suppose American culture began with those hardy individuals who crossed the Bering Strait into Alaska. We don't know if they were seeking food or fleeing danger. The Pilgrims who came later from the opposite direction were fleeing religious persecution. Millions followed them, seeking freedom. They all brought their own beliefs. More importantly, they could practice their religion without fear and without government interference. Every religious symbol in the United States, of any religion or belief, is also a symbol of American culture, the culture of freedom.

The fish on my door tells people something about me. I'm not a touchy-feelie kind of guy, so the fish tells people that I have an abiding love for all people, that I consider each person a child of God and a special individual. It tells them I believe that they are more than some biological entity that evolved out of a primordial soup millions of years ago.

It tells them I cherish life; also that I am imperfect, fallible, unworthy and a sinner. Getting any politician to admit that has to be a miracle in itself. The fish doesn't ask other people to believe anything. It's not one of those talking fishes you see on TV.

Personally I think we've taken this political correctness stuff a bit too far. Are we really going to get to the point where you are not going to be able to have a cross on a gravestone because the grave is in a city cemetery? Where a legislator can be hauled before the Ethics Commission for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. What happens if someone sneezes at the Capitol and you say, "God bless you!" Or, someone remarks: "The devil is in the details."

It's time to lighten up a bit. For all the talk about tolerance, it's time everybody started to practice what they preach.

Jim Rath is a Republican state representative
from South Kohala-North Kona.

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