On June 5, 2013 at the Philadelphia Public Schools Celebration of Excellence Awards Ceremony, DVAU’s Janice Rael presented a scholarship of $1000 to Nadijah Campbell of J.R. Masterman High School for her winning essay in the Delaware Valley Americans United Chapter’s first ever church-state separation essay contest! Thank you Nadijah for showing us that young people really do understand the importance of church-state separation.
Here is Janice’s presentation speech, and below it, the winning essay by Nadijah Campbell!
Celebration of Excellence Awards Ceremony
June 5, 2013
My name is Janice Rael, and I am the Founder and Vice President of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. For over 60 years, Americans United has educated the public about the importance of church-state separation in preserving true religious freedom. The Delaware Valley Chapter was founded 10 years ago to promote and protect our Constitutional guarantee of separation between religion and government.
Under DVAU’s new President, Ed Joyce, the DVAU Church-State Essay Scholarship has been our biggest outreach program to young people in the Philadelphia area. We asked high school students to talk about their views on church-state separation, and how it affected their lives.
DVAU got many entries for the contest, but one really stood out from all the rest. In her short essay, Nadijah Campbell, of the J.R. Masterman High School in Philadelphia, described a society run by a theocracy. Her powerful opening words were: “Imagine a world where your every action is watched and governed. You are told what to wear, who to believe in, and where to go.” Nadijah explained that some countries are living this reality, but America is not.
In her winning essay, Nadijah Campbell shared her understanding of how our Constitutional principle of separation of church and state has helped our country earn freedoms for people and groups who may be marginalized in a theocratic society, such as women and lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender people. She went into great detail about the subjugation of women in some cultures, and declared, “Everyone’s ability to succeed would be affected if America’s foundation was that of a religion that degraded women.” She showed us that she really understood why it is important to keep religious dogma out of government policy.
But her most compelling statement illustrating the importance of religious freedom was a personal one. Nadijah said, “If it wasn’t for our freedom of religion, I wouldn’t be alive today.” Wow. That made us pay attention. She explained that she has a Catholic mother and a Muslim father, who would not be allowed to marry or have children in a one-religion society. When DVAU’s Ed Joyce read these words, he knew that he had found the absolute best essay of all those we received. Ed was very excited when he shared Nadijah’s essay with me, and I was very impressed by her passion and eloquence.
The end of the essay warns us that the United States would become “disunited and lost” without our Constitutional protection of religious freedom. We loved this essay, and it was clear that Nadijah really got it. She understood the implications of living under one religion’s rule. She exemplified everything we hope to see in young people today, young people who are educated, who understand our nation’s history, and who can see the importance of government neutrality on religion to protect our culture, our values, and our wonderful religious pluralism.
Therefore, it is with great pride and admiration that I present this scholarship, for $1000, from DVAU, the Delaware Valley Americans United chapter, to Miss Nadijah Campbell of J.R. Masterman High School, to honor her for her excellent testimony in her essay on how separation of church and state has made her life, and all of our lives, better, equal, and united. Thank you Nadijah for your amazing and captivating essay on religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
And here is the winning essay by Nadijah Campbell!
Imagine a world where your every action is watched and governed. You are told what to wear, what to say, who to believe in, and where to go. Despite not believing in the culture, you have to abide, and if you do not you could be jailed, or even killed. Some countries without religious freedom have people who live in a world exactly like the one just described. They fear their own religion and follow the rules because there is no other option. If our Founding Fathers had not created our Constitution’s first amendment religious clause our freedom would be taken away just like some of those who live in countries with religiously oppressive governments. America today has become a place where cultures can mix and diversity of everything from race to religion is accepted. Americans are allowed to question things they think are unfair, while learning what it is that makes us all different. This acceptance of diversification would not exist had freedom of religion been non-existent. The absence of our Constitution’s first amendment clause would cause America to no longer be the land of the free, where anyone is accepted and anyone has the opportunity to excel, but instead something completely opposite.
Many religions do not believe in women rights, meaning that having a government based solely on one of these restrictive religions would lead to women being maltreated. They would be prohibited from questioning anything or thinking for themselves and would often be treated as inferior. There is also likelihood that because of this suppression of independence our progression as a nation would be greatly hindered. Many religions believe that the women have to stay home and care for their family while men go out to work. Today however, many families need the income of both the mother and father to make ends meet. Having restrictions on women would cause many families to starve. Our economy cannot survive with half the population being unemployed. Women in some religions are perceived as whores if they do not cover up, or remain virgins before marriage and unfortunately these women often suffer repercussions due to diverging from a religion that has been forced upon them. Arranged marriages could even become tradition. Our women- your sister, mother, aunt, daughter, and best friend- would suffer from this extreme sexism.
Everyone’s ability to succeed would be affected if America’s foundation was that of a religion that degraded women. Our country as a whole would not have equal opportunities as stated in the Constitution, and thus, not including the freedom of religion clause would be going against the Constitution’s own promise of equality for all. A government with a religion based upon these values would eliminate women such as Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Hilary Clinton who have all developed into positive influences for the world. Instead of making the world a better place, women would be silenced.
Currently, whenever the people believe their rights are being violated, they settle their disagreements in court without the worry of not being heard. Democracy allows for discussion which gives everyone the opportunity to voice their opinions and help the government arrive to the best conclusions for the good of the entire country. If religion ruled our land there would be no conversation. Regardless of how much reason one may have in defense, ultimately a priest, rabbi, Imam, or any other religious authority will be the one who decides the fate of an entire nation. Communication is needed to come to rational resolutions. Without having freedom of religion guaranteed as a right, gay marriage wouldn’t even be a question. In the catholic religion, marriage is defined as a unity between a man and a woman, and most other religions do not believe in those who are LGBTQ. There would be no healthy discussions or debates like the ones now held today to settle the issue of legalizing gay marriages. Gay couples would be ostracized from entire communities and may have to flee the country for fear of death because they are “disgraces” to their religion.
Not everyone believes in the same thing and because religion is one of these very controversial topics it can cause internal problems and spawn chaos. In a country where people are forced to believe in something that they don’t, no one can be happy, and wars begging for freedom are started. Our country would be a battle ground.
If it wasn’t for our freedom of religion clause I wouldn’t be alive today. My mother is Catholic, and my father is Muslim. These two religions would not be allowed to procreate under a one-religion society. The racisms of religion would cause territorial hostility and leave people blind or antagonistic, without reason, to any other religion that is not theirs. The restriction of practicing any religion will create an ignorance of cultures within our country and prevent America from the possibility of advancing. I have friends that represent every religion in the world, and because we have the freedom to practice, or not to practice, whichever religion we want, we have learned a lot about each other’s cultures and are more open-minded. Living in a non- religious based society has allowed me and many others to become more educated about different beliefs, and this makes us more respectful towards others. Whether or not we agree with someone’s religious practices, we have an understanding of why they choose their religion, and what their religion is really saying. In a religious run country we wouldn’t be able to coexist because our ignorance would cause us to hate the unknown. Men, women and children would become brainwashed to think one way. Everything from the mixture of cultures, the courage to stand up for our rights, and the constant inquiry, that makes America what it is today would no longer remain. The United States of America would become the disunited and lost country.