(Update: Published in Cumberland Times-News Letters on Tuesday, February 10, 2009.)
As county leaders consider a monument to the U.S. Constitution, proposed by local citizens who advocate secular government, let’s hope they remember that laicité is not the American way. Hopefully, the monument truly will honor the Constitution, and not deliver a statement that decries religion.
"Religion gives us that arc – the continuum of a personal and
national past, present and future. The majority of Americans hope and trust in a providential God – however we define or name Him."
The governor of Washington State found herself in a quandary at Christmastime when she permitted atheists to post a viewpoint, rather than set up a holiday display, in the Capitol building. The brouhaha that ensued made a mockery of First Amendment rights. Our commissioners would do well to avoid a similar free-for-all on the courthouse lawn.
The type of secularism that irreligious groups promote (laicité) suppresses citizens’ freedom to express their faith in public; and it oppresses those who do. It requires political leaders to disregard their consciences when making decisions for the citizenry; and it shuns those who don’t.
Our Constitution’s First Amendment serves exceedingly well to keep church and state separate, to the extent that neither shall rule the other; and it engenders a rich synergy among political and spiritual elements in our society that is unique among the nations of the world.
It is fitting that early in his first day in office, the President of the United States prays. At the National Cathedral web site is the full video of the Inaugural Prayer Service held Jan. 21. We see President Barack Obama, along with Vice-President Joe Biden and other officials, join a full array of American religious leaders to commend our nation to God and to implore His benevolence. Parts of the prayers are borrowed from the Inaugural services of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
According to historian Peter Henriques, in his 2006 book, Realistic Visionary, Washington (baptized Anglican) was an orthodox believer who attended services regularly, though he kept a public silence about details of his beliefs. The first President’s Inaugural Address is replete with supplications to the “Almighty Being who rules over the Universe” on whose “divine blessing…the success of this government must depend.”
Lincoln often attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church while living at the White House. In 1846, when he ran for Congress, Lincoln published on a handbill: “That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures….” In an 1873 Scribners Monthly, after Lee’s victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, he says: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go” (Source: Wikipedia).
Entering the nave at the National Cathedral, President Obama and his entourage walked past Herbert Houck’s statue of Abraham Lincoln kneeling in prayer.
In his 2006 Call to Renewal keynote address on religion and politics, Barack Obama states that “Americans are a religious people;” and he cites these figures: “90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion.” He goes on to say that our “religious tendency…speaks to a hunger…that goes beyond any particular issue or cause. (Americans’) work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives.”
Religion gives us that arc – the continuum of a personal and national past, present and future. The majority of Americans hope and trust in a providential God – however we define or name Him.
Our political leaders must uphold the First Amendment. They would do well, also, to preserve and be guided by our nation’s religious heritage.
by Nancy E. Thoerig 02-06-09