Merry Xmas

I've been thinking a lot lately about how Christians in this country seem to feel that they're under attack, and how to mitigate some of that feeling. I think it's important to maintain a secular government—and given that so many of the founding fathers were deeply religious it's all the more remarkable that we got a secular government at all—but that those of us who are not particularly religious sometimes take things too far when we insist on separation of church and state. I think we who get so annoyed by those who wear their religion on their sleeves—we who object to religion being pushed on us—sometimes fail to realize that we are being just as pushy when we insist that religious symbols be removed from any and all public property and any and all state-, local-, or community-sponsored events. Come on, now. Is it really so offensive to have to look at a cross when you're traveling on a Utah highway? And would you know that the land that the cross was on was publicly owned just from driving by it? Would the cross be less offensive if the land were privately owned?

Anyway, it's something I've been thinking about, because although I am not myself religious, and I am often thoroughly freaked out by the religious right, if I am not mistaken what the Constitution says regarding religion is:

" religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." [Article 4, Clause 3]


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." [First Amendment]

and... well, that's it.

I could write quite a bit about how there should be many more mentions of Article 4 in the same breath that "Supreme Court nominee" is mentioned, but what I'm most interested in at the moment is the First Amendment. I beg those of you who want to keep religion out of government to give your friends and neighbors the opportunity to practice their religions when and where they see fit, before they feel so attacked and oppressed that they go nuts.

Oops, too late.

Note: Although I find the Post article both hilarious and horrifying, I'm actually completely serious about tempering the attacks on religion in this country. Chill out, people. Nobody's trying to make you say anything you don't want to say or believe anything you don't want to believe. Yet.

Posted by Lori in civics and news/media and religion at 11:15 AM on December 7, 2005


I'm not particularly religious, but I think a large part of the problem has become that certain folks believe that "separation of church and state" means "the state cannot have ANYTHING to do with the church". So, no taxpayer-funded nativity scenes, no "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegience, no "In God We Trust" on money, none of it. Of course, nothing in the Constitution says that the state cannot have ANYTHING to do with a religion... but tell that to the hardcore atheists and those whose political persuasions equate religion with certain political philosophies.

Posted by: Clay at December 7, 2005 2:35 PM

That's exactly my point in mentioning the Constitution; so many people think that the words "separation of church and state" are explicitly in the Constitution, and they're not. How Article 4 and the First Amendment are interpreted is ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, but what I see there is a middle ground that can be occupied by people of all religions and none. As it now stands, I think the secular left risks becoming -- or probably already is -- just as uptight and reactionary as the religious right, and that's not good for anyone.

And the Christmas card flap? Good lord! ;)

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 2:51 PM

I don't understand linking to Jefferson's "wall of separation between Church and State" letter and then saying it's not in the Constitution. Does the principle not exist because we now refer to it with different words? It doesn't matter that those actual words are not in the Constitution. Jefferson clearly had a clue what the framers of the Constitution were on about when they added that 4th amendment, he called it a wall of separation, and the Supreme Court has recognized that. 'Innocent until proven guilty' isn't in the Constitution either, but undeniably represents a fundamental principle. Both phrases encapsulate the principle in an easily understood, memorable way, and so live on.

I don't get complaining about roadside crosses. I don't get complaining about 'holiday' cards or trees. And I don't get that religion is under attack in this country. I do see a lot of paranoia, but blame that on the paranoid (and those egging them on for their own reasons), not their friends and neighbors. I think the safe middle ground you speak of is where we are, and that it is under attack.

Posted by: tav at December 7, 2005 7:56 PM

You're absolutely right that the principle is there. What I think people mistakenly believe is that the words are there also, so I was providing a reference to show where those words *did* come from.

I also agree that the feeling that religion is under attack is a bit paranoid, but I worry a lot about the polarization -- or at least the perceived polarization -- that's going on in this country. It seems to me that those of us on the liberal left (or the liberal middle, where I find myself) who don't feel the need to participate in religious activities can at least not be openly hostile towards those who do. I also worry that if we push too hard for extreme secularism, that what we might end up with instead is a religious state. Maybe it is I who am paranoid, but it's something that worries me nonetheless. :)

You make an excellent point that "the safe middle ground [I] speak of is where we are, and that it is under attack". Well said.

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 7, 2005 10:03 PM

I agree that there is a LOT of polarization going on in this country right now... it started during the Clinton years, and it's just gotten worse during the Bush II presidency. Part of the problem is that certain groups have become so blatantly PC (politically correct) that they have begun attacking EVERY established tradition that conflicts with their values.

Sadly for their cause, the PC folks have shown themselves as hypocrites. It's not enough for *them* to refrain from religion, they don't want to be exposed to it AT ALL. But by insisting that they be totally free from religion, THEY have become the oppressors. Never mind the fact that 90% of the people in this country who pay taxes subscribe to some form of Christianity; they want not one dime to be spent on expressing that "common" faith.

I think it would behoove these folks to sit down and watch one of my favorite movies, "PCU"... and take to heart the chant from the end of the movie: "We're NOT gonna protest!"

Posted by: Clay at December 9, 2005 8:04 PM

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