Quick Note: The Problem With Majorities

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The Religion Clause blog links to a new Rasmussen survey about attitudes towards religious symbols on public lands, and the celebrating of religious holidays at public schools.

“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 74% of Adults say religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents should be allowed on public land.  Only 17% disagree and feel these symbols should not be allowed. […] Eighty percent (80%) of American Adults also favor celebrating religious holidays in the public schools, another area subject to repeated legal challenge. This includes 43% who believe all religious holidays should be celebrated in the schools and 37% who think only some of those holidays should be recognized.”

These results will no doubt spur various activists into thinking that they have a mandate to return Christ to the public square, and Bibles to the classrooms. But the problem with these seemingly overwhelming majorities in favor of “religious symbols” on public lands, or “celebrating religious holidays” in schools is who gets included, and who gets left out.

In the survey questions, Rasmussen asks: “Should religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents be allowed on public land?” A careful look at the question itself would show its limitations. The examples are all from the dominant monotheisms, the “real” religions (Despite the recent up-tick in anti-Muslim fervor in this country, few would actually argue that it isn’t a legitimate faith.). What would happen if that question was expanded to include Wiccans? Druids? Asatru? Satanists? What about truly fringe New Age faiths like Summum?

As for religious holidays in school, do you think they’ll really acknowledge the Wiccan Wheel of the Year alongside Christian and Jewish holidays? We’re still having trouble just getting excused days off for Pagan holidays, much less having them celebrated in the school. It should also be pointed out that the 80% of people who support supporting religious holidays in public schools are nearly split down the middle on the question of if “all” faiths would be included in that. Considering the fact that equal treatment for Pagans still gives politicians and school boards the vapors, I’m not enthused at the prospect of opening the doors to celebrating religion in a supposedly secular education system.

The reason religion has been slowly removed from the public sphere isn’t, as some would argue, because of rampant anti-Christian or anti-religious sentiment. Instead, it is because equal treatment is usually denied (whether maliciously or through ignorance) to minority faith groups by the majority and a total removal of religion from the equation is the only thing that can ensure fairness to all belief systems and philosophies. The reason our nation has certain protections built into its constitution and its amendments is so we don’t end up with a system where two wolves and a lamb vote on what to have for dinner. There may be massive majorities in favor of inserting faith back into our schools and the public square, but the problem with majorities is that they aren’t always right.