Rob Boston speaking on "Defending the Separation of Church and State in Difficult Times" in Columbus, Ohio. September 17, 2006

Central Ohio Americans United for Separation of Church and State

Before 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 Baptist Witness

"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."

Rob Boston: 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.

One alternative 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, for example.

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 the game.

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 voice.

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 model.

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.

Our constitution, 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 long run.

Jefferson strongly 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.

Now, ironically, 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 blind-folded fear".

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 fanatic?

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.

You'll notice 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 do mean.

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 of religion.

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 that.

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.

Post-Civil War 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 nation"?

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".

Matthew 13:22, 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?

Ironically, the 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.

Finally, rejection 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.

The religious 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.

Wiccan groups, 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 different times.

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.

During Robert 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.

Now, Ingersoll 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.