What Happened To
State-Church Separation?
Carol Sayer

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Jonathan & Carol Sayer"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: September 19, 2001 2:07 AM

The separation of religion from government is still the law. It is our highest law, the sacred protection of religious liberty which prevents us from having to practice or endorse or support religious views that are contrary to our own religious views.

President George W. Bush just happens to be violating that precious law by bringing his own religious views into play at every opportunity.

Before last week's tragedy, his doing this had already proved quite damaging both to his own presidency as well as to the country he pretends to serve. His blatant religiosity, for example, is probably the single reason why his "faith-based" plan failed so completely, being either questioned or rejected from almost all sides, because his religiosity has offended and alienated many who would have otherwise supported his plans.

Since the tragedy, his exploiting the situation to inject his own religious views into every aspect of how he handles this most delicate situation has severely divided the country between Bush's brand of Christianity and the rest of us, including non-Christians as well as the many Christians who consider Bush's style of public "street corner" religious posturing to be the ultimate manifestation of hypocrisy (see Jesus's "Sermon on the Mount," Matthew, chapters 5-7, particularly chapter 6).

His religiosity is probably worsening the very serious problem of anti-Arab bigotry. As bad as that would have been under even an atheistic President, Bush, by sending clear messages that the United States is (according to him) a Christian nation can only be escalating the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that we see and that we probably could expect to see from some elements with or without Bush's unwitting encouragement. With his open and unashamed displays of Christian religiosity Bush appears to endorse the Christian notions of exclusivism and Christian superiority as a national policy. Exclusivism is that doctrine which teaches (at minimum) that only religious people are good people or can be moral people and (at worst) that only those who accept Jesus as their personal savior are "saved" and thus only they have audience with God. The superiority complex is merely a result of the exclusivism.

According to the United States Constitution, Bush's job is to represent all the people as our President. The Constitution provides an oath of office for the President, but President-elect Bush did not use the Constitutional oath, he conspired with Chief Justice Rehnquist to write his own oath and he took that oath instead upon entering office.

The first thing President Bush did after reciting his own perversion of the Oath of Office was to "have a Protestant Evangelist minister officially dedicate the inauguration to Jesus Christ, who he declared to be 'our savior,'...invoking 'the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ' and 'the Holy Spirit' (in the words of Alan Dershowitz). By doing this (according to Dershowitz), he "excluded the tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists from his blessing by his particularistic and parochial language."

Later that same day, he invited a coalition of politically active Roman Catholics into the Oval Office and wasoverheard by members of the press (on what Bush didn't think was a live microphone) reassuring the Roman Catholics that the money from his "faith-based" plan would end up providing their churches with additional funding to fuel their anti-abortion efforts:

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Take the life issue. This issue requires a president and an administration leading our nation to understand the importance of life. This whole faith-based initiative really ties into a larger cultural issue that we're working on ... because when you're talking about welcoming people of faith to help people who are disadvantaged and are unable to defend themselves, the logical step is also those babies.

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In other words, by funneling tax dollars into Church treasuries, Bush will better be able to "defend" "those babies" ("those babies" is a term often used by anti-choice activists to refer to the human fetus at any stage, even though the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is a fetus until birth, and as such does not enjoy the same legal status as a real baby, one who has already been born and who is viable without the need of a pregnant woman to survive; the Supreme Court permitted abortion for any reason during the first trimester of the pregnancy).

Before the day was over, Bush had prescribed a day of prayer, in effect instructing American citizens to practice a religious rite (prayer), by the authority invested in him by means of his office. Prayer is a religious ritual which many of us not only don't believe in, but some of us consider wrong. Others of us who are regular Christians (as opposed to Evangelical Christians) believe that prayer is an entirely private affair, the motivation for doing it coming directly and exclusively from the heart and never by order of a President. Such Christians might consider a church prayer meeting or a family meal to be private, but would never tolerate being told by the government when or how or for what to pray. These Christians also believe Jesus instructed them to pray in private and not in public (Matthew 6:5-8). To these Christians, the question would be the same, but the order of emphasis would be inverted: Where is the separation of our religious ritual from government interference? I know about this because this is the type of Christian I was during the late 1970s and early 1980s: I believed that prayer was entirely private, and was aghast at President Reagan for praying in public as part of his duties.

And this was just the first half-day of his presidency!

Unfortunately, the man who actually received the most votes during that election, Al Gore, would probably have been just as blatant in placing his own interests above those to which he would have sworn had he taken the oath of office for the presidency.

But to answer your question, the separation of religion from government is still the supreme law of the land. The Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." It does not say "the establishment of a state church," although that wording was discussed during the Constitutional Convention. And it does not say, "the establishment of a religion" as if to protect one religion from having precedence over another. It says "the establishment of religion" meaning religion itself -- religion period. Congress shall make no law establishing religion over the lack of religion.

It likewise cannot "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Now, when I take an oath of office, I am agreeing to forfeit some of my personal freedoms in order to better execute my office. One of these freedoms that I forfeit is the ability to exploit my office for personal gain; that is, I cannot use my office in order to propagate, for example, a specific religious view. So, such religiosity cannot rightly be said to be "free exercise." This only makes sense because for an elected official (or any government representative, such as a school teacher) actively prohibits the free exercise of those she or he is representing when she or he exploits her or his office in order to propagate a specific religious view. Since you cannot have both, since either the freedom of the constituency or the "freedom" of the representative is compromised, it only makes sense that the representative, by agreeing to serve the public on behalf of the government, forfeits the right to call on-duty religiosity "free exercise."

That's my opinion based upon a life-long interest in the United States Constitution sparked by the fact that our family has two ancestors who signed this document.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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