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Of Santorum and Secularism: Religion is the New “Birther” Code for GOP Veiled Racism

 

I must have missed Mr. Obama’s war on Christmas in 2011. In my part of the country, Christmas decorations had been hung, since before Halloween, I might add, in the department stores with care, in hopes that shoppers and their money would soon be there, to purchase goods to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The Right claimed that President Obama had waged a war on Christmas. They blamed him for the loss of the traditional “Merry Christmas” and the adoption of “Happy Holidays,” the act of an obviously secular President. [1]

As the President should be in a non-sectarian democracy.

The White House sent out an annual Christmas card, sans Christmas tree like many other administrations before it, with a cute picture of Bo Obama sleeping in front of the fireplace, beneath garlands, wreaths and bows while presents sat on a table nearby.

Looked like Christmas to me, but apparently the Far Right tells me that I am misinformed about what passes for Christmas greetings.

It never fails.  Religion is going to come up in elections. It is apparent that the people from the Far Right would prefer that our leader be of their own personal religion of choice, a Christian leader of their version of a Christian theocracy.

Except that, here in the United States, he wouldn’t be able to govern that way.  It is not how our Constitution is written, with good reason.

Recently, Rick Santorum revived the old meme that President Obama is not a Christian, but is an “other”. What other, one might ask.

Not the usual “the-President-is-a-Muslim” theme of the last four years of birtherisms.  Today’s cover for stirring up racial hatred is that Mr. Obama is now pushing a secular ideology that is similar in many ways, to Santorum and others who intolerantly believe this way about Atheism and non-Christian faiths.

Republicans are good at manipulating a few words to shift meaning. It’s not “global warming.” It’s “climate change” which sounds less man-made.  Many people think they know the meaning of the word secularism, but look at how Santorum and other Republicans spin it.

Secularism is defined by Merriam Webster as: “[I]ndifference to or rejection or exclusion of religion and religious considerations.”

Atheism is defined as: “A disbelief in the existence of God.”

The two words don’t mean the same thing, nor are they mutually exclusive of each other. One means the absence of religion and the other means the disbelief in the basis of religion. As used by our government, and a president, it reflects the exclusion,  not the rejection of religion and religious considerations.

The Founding Fathers pondered the problem of the various religious sects that had established the colonies.  Whose God, whose theology, of each of the very different colonies, should prevail?

They removed God from governance because they sought a society with the religious freedom when they fled England’s religiously repressive monarchy.  They knew that the government needs be free of religious influence to provide fair and equal treatment of the governed, no matter of what faith, as well as those who choose not to believe,  in a nation which embraces all religions.

This same understanding is how I’ve defined the First Amendment, which is cited often and often cited incorrectly.

The First Amendment, in relevant part to this discussion, reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…

When Rick Santorum uses GOPSpeak like “phony ideology”, “secularism” and “atheism” in the same sentence with an obvious application to President Obama, he is misleading those who follow him.  They draw conclusions based on the wrong information, the wrong “facts”. Such disingenuousness is not uncommon in Republican politics, which looks down at its base as something to be controlled, not inspired.

As the British Liberal statesman William E. Gladstone remarked:

“Liberalism is the trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is the mistrust of the people tempered by fear.”

Often times,  politicians and political commentators engage in the tricky proposition of interpreting the intent of the Framers, as trying to bend the will of the document and its authors’ intent line by line to fit their political point-of-view.

In 1789 when James Madison first proposed the First Amendment, his original statement read:

‘The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed.” [2]

The line was later revised in the House of Representatives and then again in the Senate, the end result being what we know today as the religion clause of the First Amendment.

The first line seems to be the most important, remembering history, because of what the Founders had recently escaped. So why is it ok now to use Religion to do exactly what was not intended in the first place?

Over time, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has interpreted religious cases with a strict adherence to that fundamental secularism. The question posed in most cases remains the same one that the Founding Fathers struggled with:  If we accept the viewpoint of one religion, then whose religion do we use?

The Court developed a test early on to determine what should be done about the religious cases that were pouring in from the States. Challenges to everything from prayer in public schools to Christmas decorations in front of government buildings have had this test applied by the SCOTUS:

‘The test may be stated as follows: What are the purpose and the primary effect of the enactment? If either is the advancement or inhibition of religion then the enactment exceeds the scope of legislative power as circumscribed by the Constitution. That is to say that to withstand the strictures of the Establishment Clause there must be a secular legislative purpose and a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion…”

The third test, which was later, added to the first two prongs by the 1971 opinion of Chief Justice Burger in Lemon v. Kurtzman 403 U.S. 602, 612 -13 (1971):

“The third test is whether the governmental program results in ”an excessive government entanglement with religion. The test is inescapably one of degree . . . [T]he questions are whether the involvement is excessive, and whether it is a continuing one calling for official and continuing surveillance leading to an impermissible degree of entanglement.” [3]

As a general rule, the SCOTUS doesn’t involve itself in purely religious disputes, opting not to make a ruling under the law.  Religious organizations operate under their own rules, as was defined in Kreshik v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 363 U.S. 190 (1960). The SCOTUS,  stating in it’s majority opinion:

[This ruling] ”radiates . . . a spirit of freedom for religious organizations, and independence from secular control or manipulation–in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”

The Government is not to seek and establish an American religion, nor is it their job to inhibit ones practice of religion. The Government’s role is to see to it that everything is applied as fairly as possible, period.

Well, almost period. There are times when American politicians have bent the Constitution a bit, and, depending upon the make-up of the SCOTUS, the Court has let it.  

The addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance is a great example. It came about in 1954, after nearly a decade of lobbying by conservative groups like the Sons of the American Revolution. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, increasingly trying to delineate America from the “godless Communists” during the Cold War, liked the idea and marched it through the Congress. [4]  There have been several attempts by Atheists, who believe that the phrase tramples their rights, to have it reversed in court. While they succeeded in 2002 in a case brought in the Bush Era by Sacramento artist Michael Newdow, the case was subsequently overturned by the same court in 2010. [5]

If someone in Kansas is upset that their child can’t pray in school, they shouldn’t be. Although the SCOTUS ruling in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) is such that there can be no school initiated prayer in public schools, subsequent rulings have upheld that a child can pray in school to themselves, or even be part of a club that engages in prayer if they so choose.  They, and the school district, can’t force children who may not be of the same faith, or be Agnostic or Atheist, to listen and/or participate. Personal worship is safe.

If the Affordable Healthcare Act mandates that birth control be available to employees of religious institutions and that the employer who objects on religious grounds may opt out of payment, instead forcing the insurance company to provide access, it is not a war on religion;  It is the same consistency of law that has been applied to every employer in the country for a secular purpose.

If a woman wants to use contraception and/or have an abortion, that is a matter of her personal faith and her personal choices. These are matters between herself and her God, not between her, Government and her God.

If a  man wants to marry another man, or a woman wants to marry a woman, they too should have the same right of privacy afforded to anyone else who wishes to marry.  Their unions can be licensed by the state, and sanctioned by whatever religious organization chooses as part of their theology, to embrace them.  LGBT citizens should not be relegated to second class citizenship simply because someone from the Far Right’s interpretation of God’s will causes them to object. If their union is a sin, let that be between their God and themselves.

President Obama may very well be promoting a secular society, but the United States of America has been that secular society since its founding.  The Judicial system interprets religious cases largely without religious coloring. A Government should be representative of  all of the people it serves, not one to exclusion of all others.

Faith is personal.  My religious leanings do not command my legal choices, nor should they. They command how I live my personal life.  They dictate how I treat others with tolerance and patience. I don’t have to participate in what’s disagreeable to me, period.

I don’t use my religion to proscribe to others how to live their lives.  That isn’t the way we should be governed, either.

About LPB

This is a "what's going on in the world" type of blog. Any and everything that interests me could make the cut! Politics, current events, fashion, television...we'll just have to see how I'm feeling that day.

One comment on “Of Santorum and Secularism: Religion is the New “Birther” Code for GOP Veiled Racism

  1. Pingback: The GOP Contraception Confrontation « truth-2-Power

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