Saturday, November 17, 2007

No Law Respecting An Establishment of Religion

I've seen a few express concern over the religious affiliation or connection of one or more of the Republican Presidential candidates. These have mainly focused on Mitt Romney's Mormon faith, or the fact that Mike Huckabee was a Baptist minister, before he became Governor of Arkansas.

One example is the recent "push poll" that apparently seeks to make voters uneasy about Romney on the basis of particular beliefs, apparently held by the Mormon church. While I think it not only more appropriate, but a better strategy, to question the sincerity of Romney's recently reacquired pro-life stance, I find it absolutely despicable to attempt what the First Amendment was expressly crafted to avoid. That is in using differences between particular "establishment[s] of religion" to fight for political control along "sectarian" lines.

A more rational example is an apparently genuine question of concern by Robert Roach; which he entered as a comment on one of the "What Leadership Looks Like" Blog post at Part of Robert's comment was; "I strongly believe in the separation of church and state. To that effect, I am somewhat offended by the level of 'religious' comments on the Huckabee site. I would like to believe that as "Americans" the majority of you support the Governor, not as 'Christians.' "

In an attempt to assuage the concerns of those who might share Robert's concerns, I offer the following:
I understand your concern and I share your concern over the intermingling of government and religion. The phrase you quote; "separation of church and state"; while actually part of a Thomas Jefferson letter to the Danbury Baptists rather than part of the Constitution, is often used to describe this concern.

You may be surprised to learn that much of the "Christian" enthusiasm you see here is a result of sharing your concern rather than a desire for a "national church" of some kind. In my case, at least, it comes from a real desire to return to a Constitutional relationship between religion and government, which has the government looking favorably upon religious speech and practice in general, but never selecting or promoting a specific religious faction.

Too often in recent times, has the phrase "no law respecting an establishment of religion" been misconstrued to mean the government should be disrespectful toward religion and religious expression. In the words of Joseph Story (an early supreme court Justice) from his multi-volume commentary on the US Constitution, in his section on the Bill of Rights:

"§ 1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age."

A full reading of Justice Story's section on the First Amendment explains that the same wording that prevents a specific Christian sect from becoming an arm of the National Government, also ensures citizens are free to follow non-Christian religions, or no religion; without governmental interference and with equal protection under the law. (this would of course not apply to supposedly religious practice involving things like "honor-killing", polygamy, "child-marriage", etc)

The first amendment has all to do with preventing the government from running a church, and nothing to do with preventing religiously minded citizens from using the moral values grounded in Christianity (or any other religion) from becoming active participants in the political process.

I only ask to be allowed to work for laws that recognize values such as the sanctity of life and the importance of marriage (as per traditional definition), without being silenced by a militantly-secular court; on the false grounds that since those values are part of Christianity, such laws are an establishment of religion; And further that I that must be silent about my faith or be found guilty of a hate crime, simply for speaking peacefully.

Unless I'm very much mistaken, thats all most of the very vocal "Christians" want too. Sure, I'd like to peacefully persuade others to believe as I do; but only by sharing the Bible with those willing to listen and NEVER by the force of government. Not only would that not be American, it wouldn't be Christian! Furthermore, and no disrespect intended, I'm certainly NOT supporting Mike Huckabee for national preacher. But I do share the pro-life, and pro-family positions he says are rooted in his faith, and which are are rooted in mine.

Though there are many other planks of the Huckabee platform that would already make him my favorite choice as President, I'll readily admit that it's these common views on "faith based issues" that make him my only choice for President. Again, it's not because we are of the same Christian "sect" (to those who focus on religious divisions, we would definitely not be seen as such). It's because we share the same goals on issues.

Please also see my earlier post:
Where Mike Huckabee is Wrong (but it's "Alright")


ERS said...

Actually, "honor" killings are believed to have their origins in misinterpretations of pre-Islamic Arab tribal codes. They pre-date Islam by centuries and, in fact, are un-Islamic.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Vradic said...

ERS, Thanks for reading and for you comments.

Although I didn't specify followers of Muhammad in using "honor-killings" as an example of non-protected supposedly "religious" practice, since modern media references are usually in that context, I guess I could see that inference would be drawn.

I added a couple of other examples to help readers understand I meant no illegal practice of any group was automatically unrestricted, just by claiming a religious connection.