Supposedly enlightened democracies congratulate themselves on their freedom of religion, but have no perception of the need for freedom from religion. They define freedom of religion as the absence of government interference in each citizen's superstitions. Nevertheless, they usually do not countenance the right not to believe in any supernatural deity or untenable theology or imaginary mythology.

I hasten to state that I do not advocate the forcible abolition of religion. I admit that I would shed no tears at the disappearance of organized religion -- but not at the price of the elimination of freedom! Attempts by tyrants to stamp out religion -- Robespierre, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot -- result in massacres, but still fail. What I wish for is simply: a) that governments would prevent religious institutions from interfering in government and refrain from granting them special privileges, and b) that government and public opinion would accord to atheists the same respect and the same freedoms that they accord to devotees of religion. Neither wish has so far been granted in this vale of tears.

The Masonic Constitution (1723): "Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believe in the glorious Architect of heaven and earth, and practice the sacred duties of morality... He will never be a stupid Atheist or an irreligious Libertine."

The Encyclopedia (completed 1772): "Atheists cannot have an exact and complete understanding of the morality of human actions."

The Napoleonic Code (1804) emancipated Jews and Catholics from restrictive laws in Protestant countries and did the same for Jews and Protestants in Catholic countries, and decriminalized blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege, and witchcraft. Nevertheless, the church was not removed from politics but merely made a branch of government. Napoleon was quoted as saying: "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet."

In 1940, Bertrand Russell, a world-famous philosopher and mathematician and an avowed atheist, was appointed to the faculty of the City College of New York. The mother of a student sued in the New York Supreme Court, claiming that her daughter might be harmed (even though her daughter was not eligible for his graduate-level course). Russell was prevented from appearing in court. The judge read four books by Russell, and then ruled that he was morally unfit for the post. An appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union was denied.

A public opinion poll in the USA found that 50% of those questioned would not vote for an atheist for president, and 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. Candidates for public office dare not declare their atheism. The first ever to do so was Representative Pete Stark, in 2007.

The constitution of Norway (1814) guarantees freedom of religion in so many words -- but decrees that Evangelical Lutheranism is the state religion. More than half the members of the Council of State must be members of the state church.

The constitution of Australia (1900) prohibits, in so many words, an established religion, interference in religious observance, and religious tests as qualification for holding office -- but the Preamble invokes "a humble reliance on the blessing of Almighty God," and in practice the government funds religious schools and allows broad exemptions to religious institutions.

The constitution of France (1905) establishes, in so many words, the secularism of the republic -- but the Catholic church is tax exempt, and in Alsace and Moselle the clergy are paid by the government and religion is taught in the public schools. Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in 2007, on a platform that included "modernization" of secularism and of the separation of church and state. In practice this has meant "faith-based" initiatives and subsidies for religious institutions.

Ataturk's constitution for Turkey (1923) established, in so many words, the secularism of the republic -- but religion is directly controlled by a government ministry which pays the imams, and religion is taught in the public schools.

The constitution of Germany (1949) guarantees freedom of religion in so many words -- but some churches are recognized and funded by the government, and religion is taught in the public schools.

In two modern democracies, the inconsistency is outlandish:
     In England, there is complete freedom of religion, but the Anglican Church is the established church. The monarch is head of the church, and therefore my not be a Catholic or marry a Catholic. In short, there is freedom of religion for everyone -- except for the royal family.
     In Israel, each religious community is allowed autonomy in religious matters. For the Jewish majority, this autonomy is administered by a rabbinical establishment that includes political parties, members of the legislature and the cabinet, and officials with legal powers paid by the government. These control not only religious functions, but also ethnic status, marriage and divorce, burials, sabbath and holiday laws, and dietary laws. They refuse to recognize other Jewish sects or secular Jews. In short, the Jewish state accords freedom of religion to all its citizens -- except the Jews.

My ideal is very easily defined. The status of religion in my utopia would be exactly like the status of astrology in today's Western democracies.

Astrology and religion are very much alike. Both are ancient widely-held beliefs in something imaginary, based on no evidence whatsoever. Both are vigorously defended by their adherents, who believe that the myth guides them through life. Both require armies of functionaries who must acquire a great deal of esoteric knowledge. They convey the message from the superhuman extraterrestrial powers to the eager devotees, and are well paid for their mumbo-jumbo.

The rulers of modern liberal democracies no longer employ astrologers or consult horoscopes. The rulers have no objection if masses of citizens believe such nonsense and spend huge sums of money on it; but it never enters their minds to allow astrologers to meddle in affairs of state, or to impose rules about family life and sexual practice, or education, or food, or medical practice, or holidays, or rituals, or dress codes. They never insist on displaying the twelve signs of the zodiac on government property. They never print "We Thank Our Lucky Stars" on the money. They never exempt astrologers from taxes, or even afford them special parking privileges.

This is my utopia. It never was, it never is, and I fear it never will be. Even the USA, that advertises itself as the land of the free, does not come close

The Maryland Colony, founded as a Catholic community, enacted the Toleration Act in 1649. This act has been acclaimed as an example of religious freedom and limitations on hate speech in colonial America. The enthusiasm is unwarranted. Only trinitarian Christians were allowed to practice their observances, but the right could be revoked at any time. Denying the Trinity or the divinity of Jesus was punishable by death. Insulting the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, or the Evangelists was punishable by whipping. The prohibition of hate speech was limited to a ban on insulting the permitted sects by calling them heretics.

Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, not an atheist. He could have written in the Declaration of Independence that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights -- but he wrote that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."

Thomas Paine was a Deist, not an atheist. He called the Bible "a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind" -- but he wrote in Common Sense: "Let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter [the Constitution of the USA]; let it be brought forth, placed upon the divine law, the word of God;... by which the world may know... that in America the law is king."

The Treaty of Tripoli (1797), Article 11, begins: "As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..." The Constitution, Article 6, states: "All treaties made... under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land." This would seem to settle the argument, but it has been ignored, even by the Supreme Court.

When the first Congress debated the First Amendment, there were suggestions of employing the expression "freedom of conscience." This caused an uproar. Perhaps some members saw that this might be a loophole permitting atheism. The final compromise wording was: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The words "separation of church and state" are conspicuous by their absence, and this omission plagues America to this day.

Advocates of the separation of church and state insist that that is the real meaning of the First Amendment -- but alas, those are not its words. Jefferson, in a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut in 1802, referred to the Fist Amendment as "thus building a wall of separation between church and state." In 1947, Justice Hugo F. Black of the US Supreme Court was still insisting, in his decision on Emerson v. Board of Education: "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state." The religious fanatics, however, never relax their guerilla warfare against this weakness of the First Amendment.

In 1863, a group of Protestant ministers proposed a "Christian amendment" to the Constitution. They believed that the Civil War was a punishment for omitting God from the Constitution, and proposed amending the Preamble. One proposal was: to replace "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union..." with: "We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, in order to form a more perfect union..." President Lincoln replied: "I cordially approve... and will take such action upon it as my responsibility to our Maker and our country demands."

The original words of the Pledge of Allegiance were: "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Religious leaders repeatedly tried to insert "under God," to make it: "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." In 1954 they finally succeeded. President Eisenhower, who had recently been baptized a Presbyterian, was enthusiastic, and signed the change into law. Several lower courts have since ruled it a violation of the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has consistently refused to accept this view.

Striking while the iron was hot, a month later Congress enacted a law requiring that the motto "In God We Trust" be printed on all coins and paper money. Subsequently, President Eisenhower approved the law, and also made this the official motto of the USA. The fact that the motto "E Pluribus Unum" had already been officially adopted by Congress in 1782, and thenceforth printed on all coins and paper money, apparently did not discommode either the Executive or the Judicial branch of the government. The courts have consistently rejected claims that the new motto is a violation of the First Amendment.

The vague compromise wording of the First Amendment begins: "Congress shall make no law..." This opens the door to a contentious exercise of states' rights, that has been used to justify "blue laws" that prohibit or curtail activity on the Sabbath, and to attempt to revive the religious test to qualify for office. The latter is expressly forbidden in the Constitution, Article 6: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Most state constitutions originally required a religious test. Even after the Supreme Court had ruled these unconstitutional, state after state reluctantly repealed them only when forced to do so by the Court. To this day, eight state costitutions retain this unconstitutional requirement. The excuse that it is not enforced -- at least to my mind -- is not satisfactory.

In 2004 there was another unsuccessful attempt to insert God into the Constitution. A proposed "Constitution Restoration Act" was introduced in both houses of Congress. The proponents hoped to use this opportunity also to reinstate the religious test for holding office. The proposed act included the text: "the acknowledgement of God as the sovereign source of law by an official in his capacity of executing his office."

The vague compromise wording of the First Amendment continues: "...respecting an establishment of religion." The religious fanatics identify this as the most vulnerable loophole. They persistently chip away at the "wall of separation," detail after detail, each time successfully arguing in court that such a little thing does not constitute "an establishement of religion." So we have one "monkey trial" after another in dogged attempts to discredit the theory of evolution and replace it with the creation myth in Genesis, the new Pledge of Allegiance, the new official motto, the addition of "so help me God" to the oaths of officials and witnesses, prayers in the public schools, invocations by clergymen at official events, the National Prayer Breakfast, displays of the Ten Commandments, Christmas as a legal holiday with official displays and events.

Their latest convenient euphemism is "faith-based initiatives," presidential projects in association with religious institutions. These are administered by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, funded with billions of dollars. President Obama appointed a 25-member advisory council, undoubtedly well paid. The Constitution forbids Congress to enact an establishment of religion, but this is the Executive branch using taxpayers' money to subvert the First Amendment. Nobody in Washington DC seems to object, not even the Supreme Court.

The vague compromise wording of the First Amendment concludes: "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In practice, this means that any group can get away with almost any outrageous behavior, simply by calling itself a religion and invoking the protection of the Constitution.
     Cults proliferate, in spite of their pernicious mind control, sexual abuse, child abuse, financial fraud, mass forced marriages, and in extreme cases mass suicides.
     Televangelists promising pie in the sky proliferate, in spite of their pernicious scandals involving embezzlement, fraud, and marital infidelity.
     The Roman Catholic Church imposes celibacy on its priests, monks, and nuns, and teaches that this makes them holier than others -- when anyone whose brains have not been addled by religious twaddle knows that lifelong repression of normal sexuality must damage the personality. In the 1980s the fact of epidemic pedophilia among priests suddenly became public, and caused a scandal and a media frenzy. The Church paid lip service and instituted token reforms. A few of the criminals were defrocked; even fewer were actually imprisoned. The frenzy has died down, but since the rule of celibacy remains unchanged, there is no doubt that the situation also remains unchanged.
     The Mormons were allowed to operate a "theocratic democracy," -- that is, a tyrannical regime with polygamy and forced child marriage -- until the admission of Utah to the Union. To this day fringe groups continue to preach and practice the same extreme theocratic code, without interference.
     Christian Scientists have allowed sick children to die without medical treatment. In 44 states, they are permitted to reject vaccination, medical treatment, and doctors' prescriptions on religious grounds.
     Muslims force their women to wear veils, agitate for the recognition of Muslim religious law in American courts, and turn a blind eye to radicalization in mosques. In the course of 20 years there have been over a dozen "honor killings," but these are whitewashed by law enforcement so as not to appear "culturally insensitive."
     The Westboro Baptist Church pickets the funerals of servicemen killed in action, saying that their deaths are God's punishment for Ameica's toleration of homosexuals, Jews. Catholics, and almost anything else. They are not arrested or silenced, because the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.
     (But there is a common belief that religion is the only source of morality, and therefore atheists must necessarily be immoral.)

Elected officials must swear to protect, preserve, and defend the Constitution, and candidates know that if elected they will have to swear the same -- but some fearlessly proclaim their contempt for the First Amendment.
     Texas Republican Party Platform of 2002: "Our party pledges to do everything within its power to dispel the myth of separation of church and state."
     William Rehnquist, 100th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in his decision on Wallace v. Jaffree (1984): "The wall of separation between church and state is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging; it should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
     Lieutenant-General William G. Boykin, United States Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence in 2003-2007: "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States; he was appointed by God."
     George Bush Sr., 41st President of the United States, speaking at a public press conference on August 27, 1987: "I don't know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God."

George Carlin said: "I'm completely in favor of separation of church and state. My idea is that these two institutions screw up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death." How really rightly honestly and truly true!