During a time when atheist groups are vehemently targeting any and all instances of faith and government intermingling, politicians in Pennsylvania have made a bold proclamation. Last week, the state's House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution (H.R. 535) declaring 2012 the "Year of the Bible."
This specific, Christian declaration is more symbolic than it is binding, but the official nature of the announcement is attracting attention. While it is ceremonial in nature, the pledge does raise some important considerations. WGAL.com reports:
Beyond questions about whether any other holy book would be honored by state lawmakers in a similar way, News 8 political analyst Dr. G. Terry Madonna said there are also fair questions about a government spending time on these types of measures when they can't seem to agree on other pressing issues.
"This nation faces great challenges that will test it as it has never been tested before … and renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people..."
Already, atheists are responding to the the bold move. In an interview with Examiner.com, Patrick Elliot, a staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said:
"It is shocking that House leadership would classify this as a 'noncontroversial resolution' and put it to a vote. It is even more astounding that representatives would pass this. It seems that either they did not know what they were voting on or they were intentionally interfering with the rights of conscience of their constituents in violation of the U.S. Constitution. This is a blatant violation. [...]
Once the government enters into the religion business, conferring endorsement and preference for some religions over others, it strikes a blow at religious liberty, forcing taxpayers of all faiths and of no religion to support a particular religious view."
The following was also written on the Americans United for Separation of Church and State blog:
One of the great ironies of this situation is that Pennsylvania was founded as a refuge for those seeking religious tolerance. In his “holy experiment,” William Penn famously welcomed religious dissenters of many different stripes to his colony. He thought God, not government, was the “only Lord of Conscience.”
It’s a shame that today the Pennsylvania House has turned its back on that admirable tradition and sent a message of intolerance to those who do not share the majority faith.
Watch a WGAL-TV report for more about this controversy:
It seems the battle over just how far politicians can go when it comes to faith and religion is, as we've noted many times before, far from over.