Introduction: The Problems with Religion
If religion did not imprison minds and corrupt hearts, if it were not the enemy of intellectual freedom, if it did not breed intolerance and promote divisions if, in short, it went about its business and left the rest of us alone, who would worry about it? Not many, and certainly not most of the secular community currently engaged repairing and defending what’s left of the proverbial wall separating church and state.
Given a so-far peaceful Civil War of sorts between citizens who want to be free of religion and those who don’t, the latter - already a distinct minority, need to show their strength. A large segment of the American population today, heavily represented by the best educated and youngest among us, do not want government that urges or compels us to participate in religious rituals (e.g. the Pledge of Allegiance), to be exposed to prayers at government functions (e.g., local town council meetings) or to financially support religions via the taxes they pay (e.g., disaster relief that goes to rebuilding churches after hurricanes and voucher programs that support religious schools). These people have a vested interested if not a moral duty to engage in outspoken opposition and resistance to church/state violations. Public officials who ignore our Constitution and who pander to the Christian majority should be made aware that a sizable segment of the population opposes the blending of religion and government.
Separation Should Be Absolute
It would be hard to find a better expression of such sentiments than the statement delivered by a Catholic candidate for president to church leaders at a ministerial convention in Houston half a century ago (September 12, 1960):
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 believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end--where all men and all churches are treated as equal—where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice—where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind—and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.
We are a long way from the America in which President John F. Kennedy believed. However, all who still believe in this ideal should declare that commitment. This is particularly important for those who do not believe in an invisible man in the sky who listens to prayers or blesses this or any other country, including when asked to do so in ritual sign-offs of political speeches. Non-theists, non-religionists and non-believers of all stripes who want the government to stay out of religion should make sure everyone is aware of their passion for separation. It’s not a radical idea - it should not be controversial - this democratic safeguard is enshrined in our godless Constitution.
It’s almost a crime that a president would swear an oath of office to uphold that Constitution, faithfully, while resting his hand on two bibles rather than our one Constitution.