Sunday, October 02, 2011

Separation of Church and State? Not on the GOP Campaign Trail.

In a op-ed in the Washington Post Jonathan Turley looks at the disturbing move - particularly by Republican candidates - to erase the concept of the separation of church and state in the nation's politics. Obviously, as a gay man, I find the trend because it seems to be Christianist views that are being promoted even as more of the population moves - now 20% - has walked away from institutional religion completely. Turley presents the true view of the Founding Fathers on the need to keep religion out of politics and then contrasts it with the growing theocratic movement in the GOP as well as some of Barack Obama's pandering to those whose hallmark trait is intolerance towards other (e.g., BFF Rick Warren who I frankly regard as a lying crook). I don't know what the answer is in ending this trend, but I believe the theocratic Bible beaters need to be relegated back into the political wilderness and treated like a crazy relative locked away form public view. Here are some column highlights:

On Oct. 7, 1801, three men wrote to the new president of the United States on behalf of their Baptist congregation in Connecticut. The letter from the Danbury Baptist Association is most famous not for its content but for the response it generated from Thomas Jefferson, who described“a wall of separation between Church & State.” The Baptists’ letter, however, deserves far greater consideration, particularly in our current political climate.

Some 210 years ago, this deeply religious group stepped forward to denounce faith-based politics and “those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion.” As reflected in the letter, it is a struggle that has existed from the nation’s founding, with politicians periodically calling upon the faithful to testify through their votes.

Now, religious and even sectarian pitches have become commonplace and expected on the campaign trail, even as more Americans identify themselves as secular or non-denominational. The fears of the Danbury Baptists appear to have been realized, with political campaigns, federal programs and judicial decisions moving away from a clear separation of church and state.

On any given night, listening to the [GOP] presidential candidates could easily lead voters to believe that they are listening to a campaign for an ecclesiastical rather than presidential office.

[F]ormer senator Rick Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann have spoken out against the very notion of separation of church and state. Bachmann told a large youth ministry group a few years ago that religion is supposed to be part of government

Like his Republican counterparts, Obama has denounced secularists — and, implicitly, their view of complete separation of church and state. He has chastised people who object to the religiosity that has become the norm in American politics.

This is all a far cry from Jefferson, who refused to issue Thanksgiving Day proclamations because he thought it would violate the establishment clause. Later, Andrew Jackson also declined to declare days of Thanksgiving or fasting out of the same concern. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams and approved by George Washington and the Senate, included a statement that “the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

One problem with mixing religion and politics is that it quickly becomes a competition for demonstrating fealty to the faith, including promises of favoritism for mainstream religions or, conversely, discrimination against minorities.

Despite polls showing that 66 percent of Americans support “a clear separation of church and state,” those Americans do not seem to be motivating politicians or shaping politics. Indeed, Democratic strategists believe that secularists have nowhere to turn — which means Obama can court religious voters without fear of losing others’ support. The result is that the 34 percent who do not support separation seem to drive the political agenda.

[F]aith-based politics can become faith-based laws that enforce morality codes, expand public subsidies for religious institutions or sideline religious (or non-religious) minorities. Most important, our political-religious climate threatens to replace a campaign for the best policies with a contest of the most pious.

Even as the world recoils from the extremism of religious-based groups and political systems in places such as Iran and Pakistan, the United States is gradually erasing the bright line that has existed for decades between religion and government. While religious instability and strife in countries around the globe should reinforce the values of separation and the message of the Danbury Baptists, instead politicians are selling themselves as the Judeo-Christian answer to a troubled world; confident, as Perry put it recently, that “He has me here at a time such as this.”

Politicized piety is at the heart of the 2012 campaign. We need to rebuild the wall between church and state that has long protected us from ourselves. The question is: Do we have enough faith in secular government to get it done?

Again, I find the trend of pandering to Christianist both frightening and dangerous. Truth be told, these are not nice people but rather zealots who seek to generate hatred and division while building a quasi-theocracy. They need to be opposed on every front.

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