Tag Archives: church and state separation

Secular Coalition hired a Republican as Executive Director? What????

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image of Edwina Rogers - new Exec Dir Secular Coalition of America
Edwina Rogers – new Exec Dir Secular Coalition of America

On this National Day of Reason, it was announced that Edwina Rogers, whose previous experience is as a Republican DC lobbyist, who also had worked for President George W Bush and former Senator Trent Lott, was hired as the new Executive Director of Secular Coalition of America. Naturally I was a bit concerned but after reading some of what she had to say about her new job, I think she will be fine as long as she sticks to the SCA agenda.
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Unbiased “God in America” uses biased scholar

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I started watching the PBS mini-series “God in America” tonight and while the program claims to be unbiased one of the people interviewed is an old friend of the late Dr. James Kennedy, who holds a limited view of the separation of church and state.

Daniel Dreisbach is interviewed extensively in the first couple of episodes as they deal with religion in Early America through the writing of the Constitution. This disappointed me.

Dreisbach was a friend of the late evangelical Dr. James Kennedy. I wrote about his appearance in a FOX “news” religion special in 2006. See “Fox News report on “Religion in America” was slanted”. He used the usual religious right claim that the wall of separation of church and state written by Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist was a one way wall meant to keep only the federal government from establishing a church and didn’t apply to the states.

In a long interview on the “God in America” website Dreisbach continues the sham: (their questions are in bold)

[What was behind the ban on religious tests for office?]

… There is a forgotten religion clause in the unamended Constitution of 1787. And in Article VI, Clause 3, there is a prohibition on religious tests for federal officeholders. This is a rather significant departure from the Old World practices, where oftentimes a public officer was required to take a religious test.

Now, there have been those in our own time who have viewed the religious test ban as the cornerstone of the secular state and in some respects a precursor to the First Amendment, which was not added to the Constitution till 1791.

I see the religious test ban a little bit differently, because I think this also reaffirms this idea of federalism. I would argue that the religious test ban was written into the Constitution not out of a general denunciation of religious tests, but rather it was written into the Constitution to support and defend religious tests, albeit the religious tests that were already in place at the state and local levels. The great fear in 1787 was that this new federal newcomer would sort of come crashing onto the scene and supplant the various policies and practices at the state level. …

“Wall of separation”: Why did Jefferson write that letter to the [Danbury Baptist Association] and explain stuff to them?

[….]

I think that what we read in this “wall of separation” statement is not a broad principle that church and state must always be separate. Rather he’s reaffirming the principle of federalism. He’s explaining why he, as president, cannot issue such proclamations, and yet he, as the governor of Virginia, had issued days for prayer, fasting and thanksgiving.

And again, I would say that this is the lens through which you must look at whatever the Constitution has to say about religion. It is fundamentally about the separation of powers between what the national government can do and what state and local authorities can do. And the wall of separation is really, in my opinion, an affirmation of the principle of federalism.

Now, this is a metaphor that was picked up much later in American history. It was mentioned by the Supreme Court in an 1879 decision, but it’s really not until the mid-20th century, in an important Establishment Clause case in 1947, a case called Everson v. Board of Education, that the Supreme Court picked up Jefferson’s metaphor and virtually elevates it to the status of constitutional law. So today it’s very hard to have a conversation about church and state without invoking this “wall of separation” metaphor. It’s come to define the way in which many Americans, including scholars and jurists, talk about, think about the prudential and constitutional relationship between church and state. …

For white Protestant males, it wasn’t much of a wall, was it? For blacks, Catholics, Mormons, it must have felt much more like a wall.

I certainly think that we have seen a transition in our understanding, interpretation and application of the wall of separation or, more broadly, this idea of separation of church and state. It certainly means something very different if you live in a culture, in a society that presumes a Protestant cultural hegemony, and you move into the future, as we have done, to a society that is much less Protestant and is much more secular in nature.

We have a kind of religious diversity unimagined by the Founders. … So there has emerged a kind of a secular construction, a secular interpretation of separation of church and state, which is significantly different than a strictly Protestant conception of what separation of church and state means.

I think this is why so many very pious Protestant Christians today denounce the wall of separation, because they see it not as something that protects the exercise of one’s religious expression, but something that is used to exclude them from public life. It’s an instrument used to deny them the ability to contribute as citizens to public debates if their debates are informed by religious ideals.

Do you think they’re right to feel that?

There are certainly examples in our society today where this wall of separation has been used — and, I think one could argue, misused — to exclude faith-based ideas and faith-based arguments in the broader secular culture. …

Isn’t that the problem? The moment it becomes a faith-based idea, secularists and people who don’t believe the same thing feel that God or religion has skipped over that wall.

I don’t think that there’s any objection to allowing the faith-based ideas or arguments to be expressed. I think that the state cannot adopt policies that are not defensible on legitimate secular grounds. So there’s two parts to this. I think all arguments should be open in that marketplace, but the state is limited in the kinds of policies that it can adopt. …

Interview: Daniel Dreisbach

It seems that even after four years, Dreisbach is still wrong about church and state.

I am also concerned that the other people set to be interviewed during the rest of the series don’t seem to have any atheist or freethought cred – I didn’t know any of them.

An evangelical spin

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Walter Russell Mead writes, in a recent article in the Atlantic, that “America’s evangelicals are growing more moderate— and more powerful” in American politics. He opens the article talking about Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” and how it highlights the path American evangelicals are headed these days by comparing religion in Britain at the time of his book.

Mead says:

Smith observed a relationship between these revivals and the process that we now call urbanization. Young people, arriving in cities in search of work, faced new opportunities and temptations without the structure that village life—with its communities of relatives and others that watched and guided young people—had provided. “A single week’s thoughtlessness and dissipation is often sufficient to undo a poor workman forever,” wrote Smith about life in London. But the city’s small sectarian religious congregations gave rural immigrants a social-support network and a moral code that could keep them on the straight and narrow as they built new lives. These movements were a response to the dislocations of modernity; there was no reason to expect them to fade away.

Yet in the teeming religious marketplace of Britain’s cities, Smith also saw pressures that would limit the political impact of religious beliefs and prevent theocracy. With so many competing denominations, he noted, religious leaders could acquire political influence only by finding allies outside their own version of the faith—and the process of forming those alliances would drive them toward agendas that could appeal to a wider, multi-faith audience. To be politically significant, he wrote, religious extremists had to move toward broader and necessarily more-moderate coalitions. Their entry into politics would, itself, moderate them.

Born Again: America’s evangelicals are growing more moderate— and more powerful

I agree that freedom of religion leads to a “free market” of religion and that creates market pressure but I don’t believe that evangelicals are growing more moderate or more powerful. It isn’t the free market reducing their power, it is the gross abuse of that power that causes a backlash.

There have been cycles of religious revivals over the past couple of hundred years. There have been at least four Great Awakenings where religion became popular and more influential in politics. Some results of this influence was the abolition movement, labor reform, prohibition, and even the land mark church and state rulings in the 1960’s – where the special status in government of the Protestant religion was eliminated as result of their attempt to pass laws at the expense of Catholics.

The main thread of these awakenings was religious people attempting to do what Mead details as favoring “absolute moral codes, conservative interpretations of religious doctrines, and political activism to enact their values into law.” And such needs haven’t been moderated only reduced for a time before the next awakening when it seems evangelicals go too far as seems to be happening recently.

The 1980’s were a very scary time for supporters of church and state separation as is the current the President Bush administration. I feel that the influence of the evangelicals will be reduced with the new administration.

There maybe non-denominational mega-churches sprouting every where but the silence of their members toward the abuse of politics by the religious right is telling.

Flag Lowing for the Pope is Un-American

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While surfing the web Saturday night I came across a blog where the writer complained about the Freedom From Religion Foundation complaining about the Governor of Wisconsin ordering the lowing of flags on state buildings to mark the death of Pope John Paul II back in April. Here is part of the story the blog quoted:

Half-staff flags for pope questioned

Doug Erickson Wisconsin State Journal

A Madison secular organization is protesting Gov. Jim Doyle’s order to fly flags at half-staff at public buildings all week to remember Pope John Paul II.

The gesture “appears like an endorsement of Roman Catholicism over other religious viewpoints,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Gaylor said her organization would have looked the other way if the order had been for just Friday – the day of the pope’s funeral – instead of all week.

“This seems excessive,” she said. “Not everyone in the country is Roman Catholic, and (the pope’s) not even American.”

The blog author went on about how the FFRF complaint was trivial since the Pope was known for fighting Communism. He also said that FFRF and the American Humanist Association’s Tony Hileman (also quoted in the Journal article) were “cry babies”.

Here is an expanded version of the comment I left on that blog:

The Pope is the leader of a church and half mast flags for a week at the order of a Governor for the leader of a church is excessive and quite frankly goes against the tradition of separation of church and state. Back in 1960, when JFK was running for President, evangelical Christians and other Protestants complained that Kennedy was unfit for office because he was Catholic. They smeared him as a pawn of the Vatican and a danger to all the good Christians in the US.

Kennedy decided to meet the issue head on in a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, which was a southern Baptist group, in September 1960. He said in part:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute — where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote — where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference — and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source — where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker — or a Unitarian — or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim — but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end — where all men and all churches are treated as equal — where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice — where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind — and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe — a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none — who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill — and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in — and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened “the freedoms for which our forefathers died.”

And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths, that denied office to members of less favored churches, when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom — and when they fought at the shrine I visited today — the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes and McCafferty and Bailey and Bedillio and Carey — but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress — on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I attended myself) — and instead of doing this do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we have all seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here — and always omitting of course, that statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts — why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution at any time, by anyone, in any country.

And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland — and the independence of such statesmen as de Gaulle and Adenauer.

But let me stress again that these are my views — for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

ADDRESS TO SOUTHERN BAPTIST LEADERS (1960)

So it makes the week long flag lowering and President Bush kneeling at the foot of John Paul II’s body at the funeral all the more un-American. If we continue down that road then everyone will need a tissue.

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