talking about how to defend the separation of church and state, Rob
started by talking a bit about the concept of the secular state. He
introduced that portion of the talk by referencing recent remarks by
Kathryn Harris. Rob noted that Harris isn't doing very well in her Senate
campaign, so she's interested in energizing a base of religious conservatives.
To reach out to them, she told the following to the Florida
"If you're not
electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure,
if you're not electing Christians, then in essence, you are going
to legislate sin. If we are the ones not actively involved in electing
those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of
secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and
that's (sic) certainly isn't what God intended."
Now the interesting thing about those comments is that the assertion
by Kathryn Harris that we must elect Christians, attracted the most
attention... But to me, the equally shocking statement is the attack
on secular laws and secular government. She holds that up as if that's
a bad thing, that we have a secular government and a secular state.
And she isn't the only one doing that these days. As a matter of fact,
it's become something of a cottage industry among the religious right
these days--to attack the very idea of a secular state. And by my
way of thinking, those attacks are very dangerous to the concept of
separation of church and state. Because a secular state, and the principle
of separation of church and state, are the platform on which rest
our religious and philosophical liberty. And without those pillars
of support, we cannot have true freedom.
But she's not
the only one. Consider Newt Gingrich, for example. Newt Gingrich was
giving a speech in Washington last year, to the American Enterprise
Instititute, and here's what he said: "You can't find a single line
in the Constitution on secularism. There's no place in the Constitution
that says you should not allow religion to make people feel uncomfortable."
Now, notice the verbal slight of hand that Newt Gingrich has engaged
in here. The question of whether or not the Constitution says religion
should not be allowed to make people feel uncomfortable is debatable.
But the secular nature of our government really is not. Yet he equates
these two--obviously for a reason. To make people think that a secular
state is some kind of a bogeyman or a bad idea.
I've also had
the special privilege of being lectured by that paragon of virtue,
Tom DeLay, about how bad a secular state is. I was attending a religious
right meeting in Texas about two years ago, and Tom DeLay, before
he was indicted, of course, was the keynote speaker. And Tom DeLay
explained to all of us in attendance, how bad and how awful it is
that we have a secular state, and how only Christianity can guarantee
the type of public morals that of course Tom DeLay was unable to live
up to later on.
So what you have
is this wide-ranging attack on the very concept of secular government.
And it's a dangerous one, because it takes hold among people, and
leads them to question the central value of our Constitution. Under
this line of thinking, coming out of the religious right, secularism
is really kind of a corrosive force that stands in opposition to religion.
They argue that it leads to sort of a sterile world, devoid of religious
values, where morality is nonexistent, and standards of right and
wrong bend like taffy.
But you know,
I take a different view. As I mentioned a moment ago, I see secularism
as a sort of a platform upon which our religious liberty and our freedoms
rest. Secularism as a legal principle means simply this, that the
government is neutral toward religion. Neutral, not hostile. As applied
in our First Amendment, the principle of secularism means that the
state neither advances religion, nor inhibits religion. Now there
are alternatives to secularism as a legal principle. And I would challenge
those who are attacking the secular state to tell me which alternative
they would like to see us adopt in the United States.
would be the legal establishment of a single church. We've had that
in our history. If you go back, and you look at the colonial experience,
you'll find examples of that. The Masssachusetts Bay Colony, for example,
was a Puritan theocracy--a single established church. Some of the
southern colonies had Anglicanism as their established faith, an example
of this would be Virginia. And obviously, we know of examples today
where you have a single established church. The Church of England,
The question becomes,
how satisfying is this arrangement for both the church and the state,
and I would answer, not very. Think for a minute about the modern
examples of an established church, in the western world. What you
find there is really kind of a house-kept, neutered state church.
It doesn't really do much. You know, they drag out the bishops in
their nice robes and their fancy accoutrements whenever there's a
royal wedding or a state funeral, but by and large, their subservience
to the state is obvious, and their political voice is nonexistent.
Their imact on the larger society is nil. And certainly their churches
are not growing. In fact, they often sit empty on weekends--or maybe
they'll be 1/4 full.
Now, the state
may find this arrangement satisfying, after all, it manages to sort
of quiet a voice that has historically challeneged government officials--religious
leaders. But when they pay them off with subsidies or symbolic support,
they don't have to worry about that any more. Now this single established
model is something that grows out of the Middle Ages, before that,
the Byzantine Empire, before that, the late Roman Empire. But you
find that--my opinion is--it's outlived its usefulness. And smarter
church leaders know this.
On January 1,
2000, at the stroke of midnight, the state established church in the
country of Sweden, which was the Lutheran church, was disestablished,
after hundreds of years of being the official church of Sweden. And
it was the clergy of the Lutheran church who led the drive for disestablishment.
Why did they do it? Probably because church attendance rates had dropped
into the single digits. A free church, they argued, might be just
the shot in the arm that religious groups need to get them back into
Now that's one
model. There's another way to go. You can have a multiple establishment.
We could have a couple of different religions, or maybe ten or twenty
or fifteen, Christian denominations or what have you, get some kind
of preferential treatment from the government. There are countries
that do this in the west right now--Germany is a good example. In
that country, workers pay a tax that goes to a Protestant denomination
or the Catholic church as they allocate. Now, this makes the churches
quite well off--imagine that, if you're getting a cut of every worker's
paycheck, even if it's a small amount, it's a pretty good deal.
But again, we
must ask ourselves, how does this help the vitality and the life of
the church? Well, again, if we look at the statistics in Germany and
other nations that have this multiple establishment model, the church
attendance is very low, and the churches don't have much of a public
The other option
would be, the theocracy--the theocratic state. This is more common
today in the hard line Muslim nations. It's not so much a western
phenomenon. A complete merger of religion and government. Now under
this model, the established faith doesn't play a symbolic role. It
instead takes an active role in influencing, or actually running,
the government. Now, its faults are numerous, and they're very prominent.
Probably most prominent among its faults is the idea that holy books
are notoriously difficult to interpret, and they are open to many
different interpretations. Therefore, in a theocratic state, it becomes
the job of some supreme religious leader to decide which interpretation
of the holy book will hold sway over the entire population. In hard
line Muslim nations, narrow interpretations of sacred writings have
led to the subjugation of women, absolute control of the media and
the arts, public beheadings and state-sponsored mutilations in sports
stadiums, crackdown on all forms of political dissent, and the absence
of free elections. Pardon me for not being enthusiastic about this
Now, our founding
fathers were familiar with all these models. So that brings us back
to the secular state--why do we have a secular state? Because the
founding fathers were familiar with all these models. The Massachusetts
Bay Colony was a theocracy. Mutiple establishment was in some colonies,
single establishment was in other colonies. They didn't even have
to look beyond the shores of the new nation to see these models in
action. The only real kind of secular state model at that time would
have been Rhode Island, founded by the iconoclastic preacher Roger
Williams, who allowed all religious groups to worship in his colony,
even those that he disagreed with. But that was not the most common
experience. That was an unusual thing to do. It was taken as a given
throughout much of the founding period that of course religion and
government needed to be related, of course there needed to be some
kind of relationship. I'm not really aware of any country that dared
to separate religion and government before we did, and establish a
truly secular state.
But you had thinkers
and men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison joined by religious
leaders like John Cleland and Isaac Baccus who understood the need
for severing the tie between religion and government. Now the role
that Jefferson and Madison played in this has been discussed many
times, and I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about that. But
I do just want to say, it's fair to ask, we know they advocated for
religious liberty, we know they supported separation of church and
state. To what extent did they also advocate for secular government?
Well, we can look at some history there and see some pretty good signs.
for example, drafted with a lot of help from James Madison, is a secular
document, without any references to God or Jesus Christ. And there
is an article in our Constitution, Article VI, that bans religious
qualifications for federal office. And of course, we know about our
First Amendment. So, if the founders intended, as sometimes it is
argued by the religious right, for this country to be an official
Christian nation, they had an unusual way of expressing that. It does
not appear in the governing document of the country.
And I'm sure that
there were people back then that believed that we should be a Christian
nation. I'm sure of it because you can read their dissent today, read
their anger when the Constitution was written and it turned out to
be a secular document. As a matter of fact, there were many pastors
at that time who preached sermons, after the Constitution was ratified,
saying that the United States would never survive as a political unit
because its governing document did not acknowledge God. God, these
pastors argued, would be offended at that, and would have his vengeance
on the country, by causing it not to survive. Not to make it in the
disagreed with the idea of a Christian nation, the union of church
and state. He once called them a "loathesome combination". In one
of his most famous observations, Jefferson said, "The legitimate powers
of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods
or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." In 1824,
Jefferson wrote a letter to a correspondant named John Cartwright,
attacking the idea that the common law was grounded in religion and
Christianity, which was a common notion at that time. He criticized
the judges who bought into this argument writing "The proof to the
contrary is incontrovertable; to wit, that the common law existed
while the Anglo-Saxons were yet Pagans, at a time when they had never
yet heard the name of Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character
had ever existed."
Madison was a
bit more reticent to speak publicly about his religious views, but
we know that Madison opposed chaplains in Congress, he did not believe
in issuing presidential proclamations calling for days of prayer and
fasting, although he did issue two during his presidency. Jefferson,
of course, never issued any to begin with. Now, I'm not aware of any
writings of Jefferson or Madison where they actually use the terms
secular state or secular government. But clearly they believed that
religion and government should be separate, and the government should
be neutral on this question, and should not be in the business of
advancing religion. That is the essence of secularism. Webster's defines
the term like this: "relating to the worldly or the temporal, not
overtly or specifically religious."
This is what Jefferson,
Madison, and many other founders, and many religious leaders of the
time wanted for our government--a nonreligious government. Not a government
that was hostile to religion, but a government that was neutral on
these questions, believing that that would turn the decision about
what church to be involved with, or whether to be involved at all
with one, over to the individual, where it belongs. Now, the way the
religious right has confused people these days is by confusing the
idea of a nonreligious government with an anti-religious government.
Constantly, this is the argument we hear. Jefferson and Madison understood
the distinction between those two concepts, but many in the religious
right today do not, and as a result, secularism is becoming a dirty
word. This, in turn, leads to great resistance to the idea of cultural
secularism in the United States.
European nations, which don't have a tradition of legal secularism,
are much more secular in a cultural sense. If you travel in some of
these countries, you'll notice this. If you look at the role religion
plays in politics in these nations, it's not anywhere near as prominent
as it is in this country. Television preachers don't clog the airwaves
in European nations on Sunday morning. It's not because they aren't
allowed, it's because people don't want to watch them. European bishops
will occasionally make pronouncements on political issues, but not
a lot of people listen to them, and mainly they're seen as sort of
quaint, and amusing for even trying.
Now, compare that
to the United States, religious pressure groups last year demanded
that Congress and the Governor of Florida, and the President of the
United States, intervene in a personal family matter, and keeping
a woman alive by keeping her feeding tube attached. Even though she
was in a persistent vegetative state, and her husband wanted to remove
the feeding tube. Congress, the Governor of Florida, and the President,
didn't tell these religious pressure groups to go jump in a lake,
or to mind their own business. Congress, the Governor of Florida,
and the President of the United States, passed a law. And it was only
the intervention of the federal courts that managed to bring an end
to that travesty, and allow that family to move on.
That is one example
of the power of religious organizations in the United States. That's
a more negative one, but there are positive ones as well. The way
that religious organizations speak out on the social issues of the
day, and have a public voice. I don't want to mute that voice, but
I also want us to draw the line at the point where religious groups
are meddling in personal decisions that really belong in the home
and in the family.
And therein lies
the conundrum. We have this legal secularism in our country, brought
about by our First Amendment and our Constitution. But we have great
resistance to secularism as a cultural phenomenon, or a general idea
in society. Should we be concerned about that? Is that a bad thing?
Well, I think
so, and there are a couple of reasons why. Number one, the rejection
of secularism culturally leads to what I would call sort of a de facto
religious test for public office. I mentioned a moment ago, Article
VI in our Constitution states that there will be no religious qualifications
for federal office. And that came about because, during the colonial
period, some of the colonies required people to believe certain things
about religion before they could run for office. You might have to
be a trinitarian Protestant, or you might have to believe in a future
state of reward or punishment, that is, heaven and hell, or you couldn't
even run for office.
The federal Consitution
ended those types of tests, legally. But they still exist, in some
way. Let me tell you about that. There was a time in this country
when a lot of people would tell pollsters and the information gatherers
that they wouldn't vote for a Catholic for president. There was a
time when people wouldn't vote for a Jew for president, or a Muslim
for president. Well now, a lot of those old biases and prejudices
have fallen by the wayside, thankfully. People now, when they talk
to pollsters, we don't mind a Catholica president, we're okay with
a Jewish president, although obviously we haven't had one yet, and
then we go down the line. But there's one group that people still
are not quite ready to vote for when it comes to public office, and
that's the nonbelievers. The atheists, the humanists, the agnostics,
religious skeptics, whatever you want to call them. Now what do we
lose by the American people rejecting these candidates out of hand?
Probably a lot,
when you think about it. Consider again the case of Thomas Jefferson.
In 1819 Thomas Jefferson wrote a remarkable letter to William Short,
in which he discussed at length the dogma of conventional Christianity.
Now it's a remarkable document because Jefferson speaks very frankly
about what he believes and does not believe about religion. Remember,
this is in 1819, so Jefferson is not in public life anymore, and he
writes this letter. Here are Jefferson's own words of what he rejects
from Christian dogma: "the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification,
the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection,
his ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity,
original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of hierarchy,
etc. Now, it's the "etc." that really fascinates me. Here's Jefferson
rejecting pretty much the core tenets of the Christians faith, yet,
maybe there's more out there to turn down later. He wants to keep
his options open.
Yet we know that
Jefferson admired the teachings of Jesus as a moral philosopher. He
took the Bible, the New Testament at least, removed the passages he
did not believe in, and made the result a little book called The Life
and Morals of Jesus Christ, sometimes called The Jefferson Bible,
which you can still buy today. Jefferson also advised his nephew to
"question with boldness even the existence of a god, because if there
be one, he must approve more of the homage of reason than that of
Now imagine for
a moment that you're a political consultant. It's the year 2006 and
there's a big election coming up. You've got on your hands, a candidate
who claims to be a follower and admirer of Jesus Christ, but who has
written a letter dismissing a lot of the Christian dogma. Furthermore,
this candidate took the New Testament, cut out all the parts he didn't
believe in, pasted what was left, and turned it into a book. And all
the stuff he cut out dealt with the miracles of Christ and so forth
. Furthermore, this candidate advised his own nephew to not be afraid
to doubt the existence of God. I mean, let's face it, this guy's not
electable, right? There go the "red states" when this gets out. And
when this gets on Fox News Channel, he's history!
So, my point is
that some very good people from our own history would not be electable
today because of what they believed or didn't believe about God, yet
we know in hindsight that these were some really valuable leaders.
What about Madison?
Well, Madison, as I mentioned earlier, was a little reticent to talk
about his religious beliefs. He had a burst of youthful enthusiasm
for Christianity as a young man, even considered becoming a pastor,
but later seemed less interested. He opposed military chaplains, government
issued religious proclamations and federal subsidies for religion.
He was so concerned about the separation of church and state, that
he even killed plans to conduct a national census during his presidency,
because it was going to count people by occupations, and he felt that
counting up all the ministers would be a problem.
Madison did these
things because he respected the value of secular government. Madison
was not opposed to religion, just like Jefferson was not opposed to
religion. Neither one of them were what we would call an atheist today.
But they knew that the way for religious liberty to flourish was to
separate church and state. Yet today, how easy would it be for some
television preacher to tar either one of them as some kind of anti-religious
The second reason
why we ought to be concerned about the rejection of secularism in
this country is that it leads to the elevation of symbolism over substance
in religious matters. American society has become so diverse and some
of the rules we used to abide by really don't make sense any more.
For example, in the post-Civil War period, people often did refer
to the country as a Christian nation. Most people were Christians
of one denomination or another, and that really wasn't shocking to
most people to hear that term used.
That phrase continued
to be used into the 20th century, but at some point, the term "Judeo-"
got added, and now we are a "Judeo-Christian" nation. But
even that doesn't really solve the problem, because we have Muslims
and Buddhists, and Hindus and nonbelievers, and members of other faiths
coming into the country. So, the answer for some people is a kind
of endorsement by the state of a very generic and watered down form
of bland religiosity called "ceremonial deism".
And that manifests
itself by things like "in God we trust" on the currency,
"under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and state mottos
that reference God, and I understand some states have those (laughter)
and things like that.
that the reference is to God. It's not to Jesus Christ. If we put
"in Jesus Christ we trust" on our money, or put a reference
to Jesus in the Pledge of Allegiance, it probably would not have survived
under scrutiny. But the courts have said it's okay to use a generic
reference to God.
Now, this has
actually been challenged in court. God on our money, God in the Pledge,
and you all know those are of very recent vintage, I'm sure. But the
courts have said that this is okay. But they have employed a rather
curious logic to defend it--they've argued that a national expression
of the country's faith in God, or a national declaration or statement
that we are under his rule, isn't really religious at all. That these
statements about God are just a form of "ceremonial deism",
and the constant repetition of them has drained them of their religious
significance. Now, I would submit to you that that defies all logic.
It would require us to define words to not mean what they plainly
The phrases were
added to our currency for a reason--that started during the Civil
War, under the belief that some ministers had that the war was divine
punishment from God, and that recognizing God on our currency would
curry favor with him. "Under God" was slipped into the Pledge
of Allegiance obviously during the era of great fear over "godless
communism". So we've done, for political reasons, this embrace
No one, it seems,
is willing to ask the hard question--how does this help religion,
or if it helps it at all. How is the government's endorsement of the
most bland and watered-down expression of faith, which we are told
isn't really about faith at all, good for religion? How many people
have had a life-changing encounter with a church because they saw
"in God we trust" on a nickel? Do school children really
think about what it means to be "one nation under God",
or do they merely mutter their way through the words in the morning
so they can get on with the school day?
Too many people
in the religious community, especially in the religious right, have
blithely glossed over these questions. They don't seem bothered by
the idea of the rote repetition of religious phrases to the point
where they are deemed to no longer have religious significance. As
my boss, Barry Lynn says, "When a court rules that God no longer
has religious significance, that mean's God's in a serious downward
trajectory!" (laughter). As a minister, he'd concerned about
A third reason
we need to be concerned about the rejection of secularism is that
this acceptance of mere slogans linking church and state, which I
talked about a moment ago, lures us as a society to a very dangerous
place. Where mere words or phrases are often substituted for the actual
heavy lifting of creating a better society, as religious people are
commanded to do by their holy books, and as many of them do. How simple
is it, for example, to assert, over and over again, we are a religious
people, simply because we've etched it on our coins and slipped it
into our Pledge? Yet the measure of a just society isn't found in
what slogans are put on the money, or what statements children are
compelled to recite every morning.
America, as I mentioned a moment ago, claimed to be a Christian nation,
yet they disenfranchised an entire class of people, subjected them
to the most grotesque abuses of law, denied them the right to vote,
and allowed Jim Crow to hold sway over the south for many many years
after the war came to a conclusion. How do we square that with a "Christian
There are those
who claim today that we are still a Christian nation, or at the very
least, God has a special place for us in his heart. We hear this often
from the television preachers. But, if you look at the teachings of
these religions, you'll find that there's a constant concern for "the
least among us". Now I'm not a minister, but I know a few passages
in the Bible, and in Matthew 25, Jesus speaks for the hungry and the
homeless, and the stranger, the prisoner. He ends with this phrase,
"as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me".
Christ asserts that riches are like thorns which choke out the good
seed". ... And one of the New Testamant's most famous passages,
Matthew 19:16, a young man of wealth announces he wishes to follow
Christ and is told he must "sell what thou hast and give it to
the poor; then you will have treasures in heaven."
I'm not aware
of any religious tradition that says that it's okay to turn your back
on the poor and the needy. One of the Five Pillars of Islam calls
for contributions to the poor during Ramadan. The Torah commands Jews
to provide for those in need--it even recommends a specific percentage,
ten percent. Buddhism places responsibility to alleviate poverty on
all of society, from the rulers on down to the citizens.
My point is this:
according to the religious right--not mainstream Christianity, because
mainstream Christians I think are still for trying to help people
in need. But according to the religious right, these slogans like
"in God we trust" and "under God" in the Pledge,
and other symbolic measures of church and state, are enough for us
to be a "Christian nation".
Yet how do we
square that with the fact that 12% of our population lives below the
poverty line, and that poverty among children is the highest it's
been in ten years? How easy is it to listen to a president call for
a national day of prayer after a great hurricane, instead of asking
why so many people were left within the storm's path to begin with?
nations that have the best crafted mechanisms for dealing with these
problems, tend to be the ones that culturally are more secular. And
instead of dealing with these problems here, we often allow our politicians
to get into Bible proof-texting battles. Was Jesus a socialist or
a capitalist? Did he advocate a welfare state, or bootstrap capitalism?
The argument goes on and on, and nothing gets done, while our politicians
hash out these things like theological gladiators.
of secularism encourages religion to play a political role in ways
that are unhealthy and divisive for the body politic. Now, religion
has always sought a public voice, that's not a surprise. And despite
the claims of the religious right, no one wants to take away that
voice--it is welcomed in the public square. But this is not to say
that the views of religious groups, be they left or be they right,
are immune to criticism. We all know that the religious right has
an agenda for our lives. They want to control them. And when they
announce that agenda, be it trying to ban all abortions or take away
gay rights, or force their prayer into schools, or bring creationism
into schools, people speak out. People react to that.
right claims that this reaction to their very controversial agenda
is an attempt to take them out of the public arena. Take the religious
right's voice out. No, it is not--it's not. It's merely an attempt
to present another view, or to stand up and say, "I've heard
what you said, Pastor Smith, but I think you're wrong."
That happens with
every public policy issue out there. The National Rifle Association
expects a blowback, or opposition, when it unveils its perspective.
NARAL/Pro Choice expects there to be opposition when it puts its platform
out there. Every group that's active in public life expects that--why
should the conservative religious groups in the religious right think
that they're going to get a free ride in this arena? They're not.
Yet they often claim that attempts to present an alternative view,
or to simply stand up to their bullying, is an attempt to take away
their right to participate in civic dialog, and it's not. And believe
me, these folks are having no problem participating in public dialog.
You can go down to Capitol Hill and see their representatives lobbying
every day. They are in no way being excluded.
Now, I want to
talk a little bit for a few minutes about things you can do specifically,
and then I'm going to wrap up, and take your questions. People often
ask me, "What can we do?" They're really concerned. There's
a lot going on here in the state of Ohio, well all know that for a
fact. What can we do? Well, here are some things that you can do.These
are not unobvious things.
Number one is
to be engaged politically, of course. To be registered, to take part
in primary elections and general elections, and urge your friends
to do likewise. Let me just give you a pop quiz. In the general election
in November, what do you think the average turnout is, in any state
in this country? ... The average turnout is 50-60%, some states a
little higher than others. In a primary election, what is the turnout
there? Twenty-five to thirty-five. We just had a primary election
in Maryland where I live, September 12. We had a fourth of the voters
come out for a primary election. And what's really shocking about
that is, the area I live in tends to be heavily Democratic, so the
primary election is in effect, the entire election. Yet only a fourth
of the voters could be bothered to come out to the polling place?
I used to go to
religious right meetings, and they would talk very bluntly about this.
They would say, "No, we don't have to get the majority of the
people to agree with us. They've dropped out of the game. All we have
to do is mobilize 15%." And they're right, if you do the math.
I mean, you look at that 50% turnout--first of all, a large percentage
of people are not even registered to vote. They can't even go and
vote on election day, because they're not registered. And of the ones
that are registered, only about 40 to 60% of them are going to turn
out. So obviously, a small percentage of people can have a disproportionate
influence on the results.
Now, your work
must be nonpartison, AU is a 501c3 organization. There's nothing wrong
with get-out-the-vote campaigns, there's nothing wrong with helping
people get to the polls. You can't tell them who to vote for, you
can't distribute biased voter's guides, you can't do the things the
religious right does. They are illegal, and I would submit they are
immoral as well. We're not going to duplicate that part of your program.
But we will do the part that just gets people involved in politics
and being aware of where the candidates stand on these issues.
You must recognize
the imporatance of judges when you vote. ... And we all know that
Federal judges are appointed by the president, and either confirmed
or denied by the Senate. Usually, they are confirmed, especially when
we have one-party control over both chambers. The House doesn't have
a role in the selection of judges, only the Senate. You know, Supreme
Court Justices don't just drop out of the sky and land on the bench.
They are appointed by the president. So be aware that when you are
electing these individuals, you may also be electing judges as well.
Support your local
public schools. This is an important one. Even if you don't have children,
even if your children are grown, even if you don't like children,
I want you to support public schools, because they are the religious
right's public enemy number one. And we know what their plan is--privatize,
vouchers, and if they can't do that, Christianize schools by bringing
in things like intelligent design. I understand you know a few things
about that in Ohio--creationism. So be aware of that. I know that
taxes are high, I understand that, I have two children, I own a home,
and I know that taxes are high. But if we are reflexively voting against
school funding and voting for candidates that are not adequately funding
our system, we're setting ourselves up for trouble down the line.
We need a strong public school system.
Next thing you
need to do, and this one hasn't really been a problem for people who
are involved with Americans United, is to shoot your mouth off. You
know, if you see something out there in the papers, you see a letter
to the editor, you see a column, you can respond to that. You don't
have to be a professional writer to send a letter to the paper. ..Most
people in this country are kind of in the middle on these issues,
and they could easily go one way or the other. If we're not presenting
an alternative view, the religious right will monopolize, and we don't
want that. So you need to be speaking out.
Next thing you
need to do is be involved in your local Americans United chapter,
if you're not a member, please join. Contribute. Get involved. Volunteer.
Meetings like this don't just spring up naturally, people have to
come here early and set this stuff up--arrange all of this. If you
have some time to help out--again, I understand it's tough with all
we have to do these days, but be involved.
We all know there
are lots of other groups out there too, you can support who you like,
but of course I'm biased towards Americans United. You want to be
looking for allies in lots of places. There are a lot of people who
are concerned about the religious right and its attempt to control
our lives. You may find them in the pro-choice community, you may
find them in the gay rights community, you may find them among minority
religious groups. You want a diverse coalition. You may find them
among Republicans who are very unhappy with what's happening to their
party. Everywhere I go, traveling around the country, I run into people
who say, "You know, I've been a Republican all my life, and I'm
just not happy with what I'm seeing right now." I want those
people involved in my coalition. They're great! I don't want either
political party to be the captive of religious special interests.
pagan groups, places you might not think to look. Generally speaking,
if an organization's being targeted by the religious right, you want
to get them involved in your coalition.
And the last thing
to do is to keep a sense of optimism. That, probably, is the most
difficult thing to do because these are very difficult times. Extremely
difficult times. But we have to remember what's at stake here, and
that is religious freedom itself. And if we are not involved in this
battle, if we're not fighting it every day, the other side will prevail.
There are some
things going on here in Ohio specifically that I know you're concerned
about. And there are some interesting organizations that have kind
of sprung up here in this state, that have particular agendas, and
I'm sure you've heard about them. One of them is called the Center
for Moral Clarity. And there are groups claiming that they want to
"restore" a kind of vision in our society that existed at
Well, you know,
you look at the agenda of these groups, and they use this word restoration--Ohio
Restoration Project. What are they trying to restore? They would tell
you they are trying to restore something the founding fathers came
up with that was abandoned. But, they're not. Because we know the
founding fathers advocated for the secular state. What they are trying
to restore is a period, post-Civil War, what I call the "Christian
nation" where a lot of the laws reflect conventional Christian
doctrine. Sunday closing laws for businesses, censorship of books
and the mail. If anything was deemed blasphemous, you couldn't put
it in the mail. The post office would crack down on that material--a
lot of freethought material was banned. And other types of religiously
inspired laws inspired, not by what the founders gave us, but kind
of an abberant period in our history, where we did, for a good number
of years, drift away from the separation of church and state.
There was a group
back then called the National Reform Association that was so powerful
that it actually got introduced into Congress on several occasions,
a bill that would change the Preamble to the Constitution to add references
to Jesus Christ. Now obviously, it didn't pass. But, it was voted
on several times. That's how powerful this organization was.
So we see these
groups, and their ideas of "restoration". They're not trying
to restore the founders' vision. They're trying to restore some sort
of late 19th century theocratic vision.
And we see this
organization called the Center for Moral Clarity. What I find amusing
about organizations like that is, it's always their own morality that
they're trying to make clearer. It's their own religious vision that
they wish to have imposed on all of us.
I'm going to wrap
up by doing something that's probably a little bit politically incorrect
to do these days, and that is to quote Robert Ingersoll. If you don't
know Robert Ingersoll, he was a famous late 19th century statesman,
and a freethinker, which of course makes him untouchable today. If
you're a politician, obviously you can quote the Bible. You maybe
even can quote Shakespeare depending on the audience, but you don't
want to quote Robert Ingersoll. It's ironic, because Robert Ingersoll
on one occasion delivered the keynote address before the Republican
National Convention, in the late 19th century.
Ingersoll's time, there was this effort to rewrite the Constitution
to include references to Jesus Christ, as I mentioned a moment ago.
Ingersoll didn't really think much of this, and he wrote an essay
about it in Christian Government, and here is what he said...
It is proposed
to acknowledge a God who is the lawful and rightful governor of
nations, the one who ordained the powers that be. If this God is
really the governor of nations, it is not necessary to acknowledge
him in our Constitution. This would not add to his power. If he
governs all nations now, he has always controlled the affairs of
men. Having this control, why did he not see to it that he was recognized
in the Constitution of the United States. If he had the supreme
authority but neglected to put himself in the Constitution, is this
not at least prima facie evidence that he does not desire
to be there?
Is it possible
to flatter the Infinite with a constitutional amendment? The Confederate
states acknowledged God in their constitution, yet they were overwhelmed
by a people whose organic law makes no references to God. All the
kings of the earth acknowledge the existence of God, and God is
their ally; and this belief in God is used as a means to enslave
and rob, to govern and degrade the people whom they call their subjects.
obviously isn't going to carry the red states either, but the point
he was making is worth remembering. That religion, united with government,
can be a dangerous thing. Religion on its own can be a wonderful thing--religion
united with government is a very dangerous thing. The secular state,
scorned by the fundamentalists, made out as a bogeyman by the religiously
correct, is not a cure-all for every problem in society. It's merely
the thing that guarantees the rights of every citizen, whether you
be religious or nonreligious. The secular state doesn't guarantee
any religious group's success, because a groups's doctrines may fail
to attract, they may be riven by internal factions, they may splinter,
they may fragment, they may even collapse. The secular state does
not defend against this.
What the secular
state does do is offer each and every one of us the promise of opportunity.
For anyone who seeks to answer big questions in life..."How did
we get here? Are we here for a reason? How should we live our lives?"
It's a framework for various philosophies and religions to hash out
these questions and make their best case. It offers none of them subsidy,
none of them support, yet it secures equal rights for all. We as a
nation are free to turn our backs on the promise of the secular state,
but we do so at our own peril. Thank you.