Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

U.S. separation of church, state best model

Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters January 6, 2008.

"As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old
secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them."

Brad Taylor (“Civility best preserved when government minds its own secular business," Dec. 26) presents two fallacies:

1. That government’s “task” is to provide that “individual believers holding diverse convictions may challenge one another without…interference”: Untrue. The First Amendment provides that government will not prefer one religion over another; and it forbids one’s harassment of another.

English Puritan theologian Roger Williams fled injustices of religious intolerance in 1630 to seek freedom of expression, without intimidation or coercion, in America. Williams’ utopia was ratified in 1663 by royal charter to establish the colony of Rhode Island “with full religious liberty” where no one shall “be in any wise molested or called in question for any difference in matters of religion.” (Source: “The metaphor of the wall of separation: Baptists and the First Amendment” by Mercer University President William D. Underwood, Baptist History and Heritage, Sumner-Fall 2008.)

More than 320 years later, the United States Supreme Court reiterated (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984) hat the Constitution “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.” (Source: Wikipedia.)

2. That “[t]he greater the distance between church and state…, the greater our religious liberty”: False. Complete neutrality, or absence of religious involvement in government affairs and vice versa, is termed “laicite.” It is the political system of secularism, which suppresses expression of religious belief in public and oppresses those who do it. By definition, religious freedom is “the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance” (source: Wikipedia).

A leading secular state is France, where in 2004, religious symbols were banned in public schools. President Nicolas Sarkozy criticizes this type of “negative laicite;” and he intends to develop a “positive laicite,” which, as noted at Wikipedia, “recognizes the contribution of faith to French culture, history and society, allows for faith in the public discourse and for government subsidies for faith-based groups.”

As France strives to progress beyond its stymieing century-old secular politics, the United States would be unwise to regress to embrace them.

French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, in his 1835 work Democracy in America, finds the synergy of faith and politics that he experiences here remarkable; and he concludes that religion in society is necessary to temper government’s propensities to seize authority (or to impose priority) over peoples’ expression of their convictions, and to inhibit peoples’ tendencies to surrender it.

American sociologist Robert N. Bellah studied President Kennedy’s use of the name “God” in his 1961 inaugural address, and JFK’s statement that “separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension,” to conclude that “American civil religion” is “the subordination of the nation to ethical principles that transcend it.” (Source: “Civil Religion in America,” 991 reprint; University of California, Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.)

Bellah and Tocqueville agree that it is integral in our democracy that people be free always to worship their God rather than be forced to relinquish their convictions in the public square.

French philosopher Jacques Maritain, a drafter of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is quoted at Wikipedia praising the U.S. model of religious freedom in the mid-20th century as superior because it had both “sharp distinction and actual cooperation” between church and state. He called it “an historical treasure.” He begged: “Please to God that you keep it carefully, and do not let your concept of separation veer round to the European one."

by Nancy E. Thoerig 01.06.09

Listen to President Kennedy's inaugural speech:

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