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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wall of Separation and The Politicians Who Don’t Understand It

This one is a little long but I had a lot to say, so, buckle up.  Feel free to use the links and see the sources, I’m not making this stuff up.

Lately I have been involved in several discussions about the separation of church and state and our current political situation.  I am neither Republican nor Democrat as I don’t vote 'across the board', I vote for whoever I think will do the best job.  I am also not a religious person but I don’t have any objections to a religious person being in public office.  I do have a problem with candidates who use religion as their political platform or legislate laws that will affect me based on their religion.  I am not talking about morals, a lack of religion does not equate to a lack in morals.  In my opinion, these politicians are playing on people’s faith and their fears, in some cases quite successfully.

Recently, Republican presidential hopeful and devout Roman Catholic, Rick Santorum, has made several remarks that leave me wondering why he is still a viable candidate.  He has said, “Obama's agenda is not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology."  As if that weren’t questionable enough, he has also said that he "almost threw up" after reading John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech to Baptist ministers in Houston made during Kennedy’s presidential campaign.  In the speech, Kennedy, who was America’s first Catholic president, was reassuring these ministers that, as president, the Vatican would not be pulling his strings and that his Catholicism wouldn’t play a role in his policy making.  This, I believe, is the vomit-inducing section of Kennedy’s speech:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested in the outcome of the upcoming presidential campaign to read this speech as it is still relevant.  Santorum, has since said that he wished he could take that line back, I’ll bet he does but I’m afraid that its one of those things that can’t be unsaid.  He should have chosen his words more wisely.  Apparently, Santorum is never at a loss for a way to make himself sound ridiculous.  He also called President Obama a “snob” for suggesting that everyone pursue at least one year of higher learning, be it a university, a vocational school or an apprenticeship.  Santorum’s remark is rather curious considering that he holds a B.A., M.B.A. and J.D.  Regardless of where you stand on religion, is this the person you would want to be the President of the United States?  He makes knee-jerk responses on hot-button issues and comes across sounding like a petulant brat.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America deals with religion and expression.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Is that not enough?   Read on.

The Treaty of Tripoli was written at the end of George Washington’s second term.  It was approved by the Senate on June 7, 1797 and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adam’s signature June 10, 1797.  Article 11 in the treaty states that, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.  At the time, this was the third instance of the Senate voting unanimously and it did not create a public furor.  Can you imagine the backlash of a document with that kind of language in it today? It would be political suicide for whoever penned it.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

Doesn’t there seem to be a pattern here?  It appears that the founding fathers spent a lot of time and energy maintaining a separation of church and state.  Many of them were Freemasons as well, the Freemasons are big proponents of this separation.  A good bit of our Constitution was lifted from the Freemason’s handbook.  The one thing that religious people seem to have a problem seeing is that the separation of church and state is the very thing that protects their religious freedoms.

The upswing in religious fervor took place during the American Civil War but it really took off during the 1960’s when Christian Fundamentalism began infiltrating the Republican Party.  In 1962 Pat Robertson began whipping Christians into a frenzy on his year-old Christian Broadcasting Network by arguing that Engle v. Vitale was a move to ban prayer in schools. That is not what it was.  It allowed individual prayer and it conformed prayer in schools to fit within the First Amendment because public schools do not have the right to teach our children to be Christians.  The Fundamentalists weren’t hearing it, all they heard was ‘prayer ban’.  Christians tend to see any resistance or demand for religious equality as an attack on Christianity, so some of the Constitutional cases that were brought up in the 60’s really amped up the propaganda.

In the 1950’s the GOP was a much broader-minded force but by the 60’s they had narrowed their scope due to the aggressive push from the fundamentalists.  Barry Goldwater (R), who was known as “Mr. Conservative”, ran unsuccessfully against Lyndon Johnson (D) for president in 1964. Because Goldwater wouldn’t cow-tow to the lobbyists and left an untapped resource in the Religious Right, his loss provided the opportunity for the formation of the “New Right”.  The Christian lobbyists now had a political forum and a way to gain access to the White House through political pressure and an army of sycophantic voters.  Goldwater finally voiced his disgust in a speech to the U.S. Senate on September 16, 1981:

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise.  There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs.  There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being.   But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.  The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.  They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.  If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.   I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.”  Just who do they think they are?  And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?  And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.  I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

The Republican Party has sunk into a swamp of religious-themed morality issues like contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage. They are depending on fundamentalist supporters and those are easy to win over. All the candidates have to do is agree with their demands. How this is not viewed as political extortion is a mystery to me. The issues that any sane person should be concerned about right now are wars, jobs and the economy.  Mitt Romney is not nearly as terrifying as Santorum but seems to have an incredible knack for making himself look like an elitist doofus who is out of touch with the real world. His recent comments about his wife’s two Cadillacs and not being much of a NASCAR fan but being good friends with some of the team owners have earned his place at the purebred dog dish. Meanwhile, the most moderately voiced hopeful is Ron Paul who is talking about our debt and the economy and is being completely ignored.

In the 1700’s the world went through something called the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ which promoted science and reason as opposed to the old superstitious, mystical beliefs.  Many people who were readers of ‘Enlightened’ literature wound up being Deists, at best.  There are some misconceptions about what the term ‘Deist’ means. Deism is "a movement or system of thought advocating natural religions based on human reason rather than revelation, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe." Many of our founding fathers were Deists and Free-Thinkers. As for the Age of Enlightenment? It seems like someone has unplugged the light.

Fun Facts
Anyone is allowed to pray in schools in the United States, as long as it is not officially sponsored by the school and it does not disrupt others from doing their work.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy's daughter objected to this alteration.

In 1956 “In God We Trust” was adopted as the official motto of The United States of America. It has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957. Teddy Roosevelt, who was a Christian, a Sunday School teacher and a Republican said, “My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege…”

When George H. Bush was campaigning for the presidency in 1987 he told a reporter, “I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

In a sermon on July 4, 1976, Rev. Jerry Falwell said, “The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country.”

There are actually a lot of scary quotes to be found at the link above.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too
. ~ Voltaire

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