Posts Tagged ‘Church and state’

Two Founders on religious freedom

July 4, 2014

George Washington to the Newport, R.I., Hebrew congregation on August 18, 1790

1presIt is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

via Teaching American History.

Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Conn., Baptist association on Jan. 1, 1802

jeffersonthomasbigBelieving with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative 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.

via Teaching American History.

Iraq, spies, defense: Links & comment 6/21/14

June 21, 2014

Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second.   They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law.  A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.

In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA.  The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference.  A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.

Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want?  If anyone, it is not Barack Obama.  It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani.   Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.

I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government.  But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.

My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments.  But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens.  The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.

The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.

Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.

The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t.  The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.

Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.

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American exceptionalism: Church and state

January 15, 2014

One of the ways in which we Americans are exceptional in a good way is our separation of church and state.  The United States is a country that is friendly toward religion, yet the government neither subsidizes religion nor takes orders from a religious authority.

In virtually every other country of which I know, the government either taxes the public for the support of religion, or is actively hostile toward religion.  The U.S. government is neither.  Perhaps for this reason, church attendance and religious belief are stronger in the USA than in the countries of western Europe.

We have storefront churches in poor neighborhoods here in Rochester, NY, with more worshipers on a Sunday than some of the empty cathedrals of Europe, or so I am told by friends who have toured Europe.

I think the reason for this is in our history.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, Britain’s North American colonies provided refuge to religious dissenters not only from Britain itself, but from all over Europe.  Being persecuted doesn’t necessarily make people tolerant, but the colonies became home to so many different kinds of dissenting religious groups that tolerance become a necessity.

Voltaire is supposed to have said that the best thing for a country is to have many religious sects, and the worst thing is to have just two.  The religious diversity of the United States is a safeguard of religious freedom, because no one denomination is in a position to take over..

I admit the United States has not been free of religious hatred.  The worst was the anti-Catholic riots and persecutions in the 1830s and 1840s.  As late as 1960, there were still Protestants who questioned whether a Catholic could be trusted to occupy the White House.  I do not think these attitudes were justified, but there is an explanation for them.

The Papacy in the 19th century aligned itself with European monarchs and was hostile to democratic movements and to religious tolerance.  It was mistaken, but not crazy, to think of Roman Catholicism as incompatible with American freedom and democracy.  Indeed, I might well have thought that way myself, if I had not had Catholic friends and realized that all these 19th century encyclicals were irrelevant to the way my Catholic friends and neighbors actually thought.

The same is true today of Islam.  The fear of Islam is not so much intolerance of difference as the fear of being subject to the religious law of someone else’s religion.  I think this fear is far-fetched, but if I had never met any American Muslims and nor had any Muslim friends, I would feel the same way about them as my 19th century forebears thought about Catholics.

We have a lot of controversies in the United States about separation of church and state.  Most are about trivialities—whether a local government meeting can begin with a prayer, and, if so, what kind of prayer.   I don’t care either way.  Whatever is decided, nobody is denied the right to practice their religion nor compelled to practice someone else’s religion.  This is as it should be.  Religion that is practiced out of compulsion is meaningless.

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The walls of separation that we need

September 10, 2013

separation

Hat tip to jobsanger.

Wise words from President Grant

April 10, 2013

state anc church

Hat tip to jobsanger.

Theodore Roosevelt on church and state

June 5, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt. a regular churchgoer and Sunday school teacher, made the statement above in a speech at Carnegie Hall in 1915 on “Americanism” to the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.  Click on Theodore Roosevelt on Americanism for the text of the entire speech.

When the government issued a new $20 gold coin in 1907, Theodore Roosevelt as President ordered the “In God We Trust” motto omitted on the grounds that putting such a motto on money trivialized religion.  Congress overrode his decision.  Click on When Roosevelt Dropped “In God We Trust” in 1907 for the full story.

I wonder what kind of acceptance TR would get in today’s Republican Party.

Hat tip for the graphic to Bill Elwell.

Is the United States a Christian nation?

July 7, 2011

What is the definition of “Christian nation?”

The United States is a Christian nation in the sense that a majority of Americans are Christians, in the sense that United States is a country in which the Christian religion flourishes, in the sense that the United States is part of Western civilization, which is rooted in Christianity, the Bible and the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome.

But the United States is not a Christian nation in the sense that Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are Muslim nations, Israel is a Jewish nation and the Dalai Lama’s Tibet was a Buddhist nation.  There is no religious test for American citizenship.

Declaration and Constitution don't mention Jesus

On this question, as in other things, we can look to our differing but complementary founding documents for guidance – the Declaration of Independence, a religious document, and the Constitution, a secular document.

The Declaration speaks of “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” entitle them, the inalienable rights with which people are endowed “by their Creator,” with inalienable rights, and “a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence.”

This is a religious statement— an ecumenical religious statement.  There is nothing in the Declaration to which any Christian would object, but the Declaration also is compatible with Judaism, Islam and many other religions, including “deism” – belief in God unconnected from any organized religious body.

The Constitution, on the other hand, does not mention God at all.  It only speaks of religion – that there shall be no religious test for public office, and that Congress shall pass no law regarding the establishment of religion nor limiting the free exercise of religion.

What I take these two documents together to mean is this.  It is assumed that everybody believes in God in some way, shape or form.  But this is not considered any of the government’s business.  Neither the Declaration nor the Constitution provide any justification for forcing religion on anyone, nor relegating anybody to second-class citizenship based on their religious belief or lack of belief.

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