I am a person of faith. So are many people, Jewish and Christian, Muslim and Buddhist who read my journal. And I feel that there is a war being raised against some of the fundamental tenets of my faith, from people like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. (I don't know who the speaker of the House is these days, so upstaged has he been by DeLay).
These people have been seeking to put into law very specific elements of the very specific splinter of Christianity in which they engaged. And every time Liberals talk about "the separation of Church and State," these wingnuts have a cow about how evil secularists and atheists are on a crusade to destroy Christianity in America. Their perception seems to be that they are being oppressed if their beliefs, and their beliefs alone are not being legislated, are not forming the basis for jurisprudence, and are not being enforced at home and on the world stage.
As many conservatives will point out, there is no "separation of Church and State" in the constitution. And they are right - this concept is the result of judicial interpretation. The Constitution gives us the "establishment clause" in its first Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ."
Let's take a good hard look at this, leaving behind for the moment the notion of "separation of Church and State" and asking ourselves why it is there at all. First and foremost it codifies an important religious sentiment that we find in the Concessions and Agreements establishing the colony of New Jersey, written by William Penn, namely that "that no man, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters" (Joseph Story
). This is an important notion to understand: the establishment clause is there not to prohibit prayer in schools, necessarily, nor to prohibit display of the Ten Commandments, necessarily, but to guarantee the the state does nothing to compromise the individual's relationship with God. Now this remains true regardless of whether that relationship is one of disavowal, a belief in an abstract "creator," or a belief in a personal God or gods.
Justice Thomas Black, writing in EVERSON v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF EWING TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
illuminates for us the historical milieu from which the establishment clause arose:
A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws which compelled them to support and attend government favored churches. The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife, and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to [330 U.S. 1, 9] maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. With the power of government supporting them, at various times and places, Catholics had persecuted Protestants, Protestants had persecuted Catholics, Protestant sects had persecuted other Protestant sects, Catholics of one shade of belief had persecuted Catholics of another shade of belief, and all of these had from time to time persecuted Jews. In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of non-belief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them.
What we are witnessing today is precisely this scenario: a particular flavor of Christianity is seeking to forge an alliance with the government, though which it can force loyalty to its notion of "family values" or "morals" or whatever the buzzword of the day happens to be. The first amendment is intended to safeguard the relationship between man and God, such that it cannot be hijacked by any single religious persuasion.
So this, then is the right wing War on Faith: If you are Presbyterian, Quaker, United Church of Christ, Reformed Jewish, any kind of Jewish really, Muslim, Buddhist, etc, then according to these people YOUR FAITH IS NOT VALID. And here comes the sticky part: because we are not so prideful as to say "You're wrong because God said so," we do not appear to speak with the moral authority that they do.
So what can we do? For starters, we need to invoke God. Seriously. Even in a war of prooftexting, we can win this thing if we so choose. We tend to be afraid to do this, because we can't know that God is on our side. However, I don't think that's true - I think God IS on our side, and that it can be demonstrated from any holy text we care to cite. I was once asked by a fellow learner in Torah Study "How can we know?"
It's a valid question. The answer is a matter of history and projection - if we examine the pattern that has given us Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and look at what it parallels in the past what do we see? I see a Holocaust survivor in my congregation describing how, upon being seen with a scrap of Army blanket she had found to keep herself warm, she was made to kneel with her arms over her head for five hours, during which she fainted three times. Her treatment was virtually identical to the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay as described in a report by the ICRC:
The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with loud music blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time. . . .
It's not difficult to see where the policy leads. And as for the notion that it is hyperbole or hysteria to draw on the Holocaust for comparison the only thing I can say is that the notion that the Holocaust was somehow a unique or aberrant evil is the greatest assurance that it WILL happen again. All of us have within us not only a spark of divine goodness, but an evil inclination as well, and when that inclination is appealed to on a national stage, it scales up better that a Linux Beowulf cluster. We insist on believing that the holocaust was perpetrated by inhuman monsters, when in fact is was perpetrated by people JUST LIKE US, to whose worst instincts a simple megalomaniac appealed. When we see a nation being encouraged to vote against granting a right to a particular population, when we see a nation that looks the other way when it's citizens are denied justice and due process, we see a nation that has not God, but the evil inclination perched on it's shoulder.
We need to understand that as people of faith we have the RESPONSIBILITY to invoke God. Because if we do not, then we sell Him into slavery to the false prophets who invoke the divine crown for the sole purpose of increasing their power and wealth.
Story, Joseph. COMMENTARIES ON THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES; WITH A PRELIMINARY REVIEW OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL HISTORY OF THE COLONIES AND STATES, BEFORE THE ADOPTION OF THE CONSTITUTION.
Harvard University, 1833.