Monday, April 08, 2002

Church-State, blah, blah..

My home state's major newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, today published a column by St. Petersburg Times journalist Robyn Blumner titled Congress is crossing the line with religion.

Blumner opens with this: Our politics are slathered with religion.
She goes on to provide a brief summary of the Founding Fathers' views on the place of religion in the USA: That civil society will be secular.
She is clearly upset that for one week each September Florida school children will be "forced" to recite part of the Declaration of Independence, which (most regretably) states that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
She states that "the religious right has spent more than 20 years chipping away at the wall of separation between church and state."

And she lives in St. Petersburg. As in St. Peter. Go figure. I wonder if she's petitioned the City Council to change the city name to something less sectarian.

Seriously, this attitude is not only far too common but is woefully ignorant in things historical and legal. To begin with, how would she square her reading of the Founders' intentions vis. religion with the following passage from George Washington's farewell address of September 19, 1796:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect & to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private & public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure--reason & experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

She is also unaware of the history of the so-called "law of separation of church and state". As many people know, there is no such phrase in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights. This understanding of how the church and state are to relate was not established at the beginning of our country, but nearly two hundred years after the fact in a series of Supreme Court rulings beginning in the 1950's, rulings in which the interpretation of the First Amendment was radically altered from prior interpretations.

I could -- and will -- say more on this soon. It's a topic that continues to be of major import in public policy discussions in our country today, and it deserves a serious discussion.

Until then, I would recommend the following article by Fr. Neuhaus: A New Order of Religious Freedom.

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