In the last ten years, religion has become a huge influencing factor on elections, legislation, and even political appointments. In my mind I can trace it back to the 1994 Congressional elections, and the Republicans' very successful media campaign, their "Contract with America". Since then, we've seen conservative Christian groups and denominational organizations wield tremendous influence over the neo-con movement. Republicans fall over themselves trying to get endorsements from this or that religious organization, as if accepting those contributions gives them some sort of moral stamp of approval. Democrats, still wearing Monica Lewinsky's stained dress, have been painted as amoral and godless. Republican media outlets and spin-meisters claim that our government has lost its Christian roots, and that is why we as a nation are going to hell in a handbasket.

Of course, we could ask David Vitter and Larry Craig about those handbasket issues.

Hypocrisy, however, is not the topic of this post. Today I want to talk about what has gotten muddled around and lost in the midst of this cloud of morality-pandering. It's the issue of why the Founding Fathers never intended religion to be a part of the United States government, of why all this talk of bringing America back to its founding principles is at best, misguided and misinformed, and at worst, criminal and treacherous.

First, a little history lesson. The men who founded this nation were Christians, certainly. They were also well aware of how the argument of "divine right" ended any and all discussion and disagreement with the King of England. George and his government believed that God had appointed him king, and that was that. (Boy, does that sound familiar.) Madison, Jefferson, and the other American patriots wanted to create a country that guaranteed everyone the right to worship as they pleased - but that right is only valid if no single religion or sect is dictated from the federal government. Thomas Jefferson said,

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for is faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."

James Madison, the principal author of our Constitution, argued that government sponsorship of a single church or sect above others fundamentally encroached upon the rights of other Americans, and negated one's protected freedom to worship as one pleased.

"Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform" (Madison, Annals of Congress, 1789).

"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?" (Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance)


Many conservative friends of mine point to the words "In God We Trust" as our national motto and on our currency, and "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. For those of you who don't know, the national motto wasn't established until 1956, and the Pledge of Allegiance was changed to include God in 1954. Note that these changes took place the last time our country faced a "shadowy" enemy we feared but couldn't pinpoint - communists. Americans were taught to fear them because they were "godless" and evil, and it was only much later that we realized the "red scare" and it's bastard child McCarthyism did much more harm to our country than good.

Spirituality is by nature an individual decision. It is all about choices that apply to you, your family, your upbringing and heritage, your way of life. There are several major world religions today, each with millions and millions of followers. Each religion has thousands of sects or denominations. Each denomination has literally thousands of individual churches, each with its own dynamics, interpretations and beliefs, and even within those local churches, each member chooses every day which of those beliefs to hold and practice. Think about Christianity in America as just one example. Protestants and Catholics. Episcopalians and Baptists and Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists. Each denomination and each church within it have their own interpretation of the Bible, and of how literally we should take it. These are faith-based decisions which are left up to every human being who chooses to believe.

Government, and in particular a democratic form of government, is by contrast designed to unite. "WE THE PEOPLE" begins the preamble to the Constitution. The government of the United States was set up so that a central federal system safeguarded the rights of all its citizens. It is what makes this country beautiful, and has in the past made other nations envy and imitate us. It is totally against reason to think we can be united under a particular religion. Imagine your right to vote hinging on your religious affiliation. Or your right to a fair trial. Imagine if laws were passed designating a state religion for the United States, and the resulting laws restricting the rights of anyone not belonging to that religion.

Imagine being a Jew or Muslim and walking into a courtroom with a big picture of Jesus hanging on the wall along with a sign that said "To Know Peace Obey these laws". Would you feel that you were about to be tried fairly?

The separation of church and state is essential to the survival of a democracy. The Founding fathers knew that, and while they didn't establish a national motto at the time, they did choose words to adorn our national seal. The words are in Latin, "E Pluribus Unum". The translation? The true meaning of Democracy: "Out of Many, One".

3 Comments:

  1. coleSlaw said...
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    coleSlaw said...
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    coleSlaw said...
    interesting... an unintended, genius aspect of democracy is that the state of the government will represent the state of the people. We needn't impose any particular religion on our government. Whether or not our government is morally stable will reflect the moral stability of us, the people. So how are we doing? www.booksbypatrick.com

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