Unwritten tests of religious "correctness" on everything from candidate selection to judicial appointments, from domestic policy to foreign policy, threaten not only our political freedom, but our religious freedom as well. Such "qualifying" tests are unconstitutional.
How the wall of separation came to be built---and why it is falling---has taken books to explain. Put simply, it was instituted to protect both religion and democracy.
Colonial America had suffered the insularity and intolerance of theocracy---not only in the witch-hunts of Salem, but in the numerous pre-Revolutionary communities that coerced their citizens into religious conformity---against free and individual expression, much as the neo-conservative coalition is doing today.
Our government was founded on enlightened ideals and constitutional law, not evangelical faith.
While it was generally accepted that a just and moral society depends on spiritually-grounded principles, the problem then, as now, was that many individuals saw their own narrow religious tenets as the only guide---and viewed it the responsibility of government to impose their sectarian dogma on everyone else.
Confronted with a plurality of sects---though vastly fewer than today, the authors of the Constitution created a doctrinally neutral, secular government that guaranteed the religious freedom of every citizen by shunning any state-sponsored dogma. They understood that when religion becomes attached to politics---as it had in Europe---religious freedom, as well as political freedom, is destroyed in the process.
While deist Thomas Jefferson included the phrase "nature's God" in the extra-legal Declaration of Independence, the legally-binding Constitution avoids any such reference. Contrary to rhetoric from the Right, it is conspicuously, and intentionally, a "Godless" document. And when religion is mentioned---as in Article 6 and the 1st Amendment---it is to curb intolerance, not to promote it.
The authors of the Constitution were anti-sectarian, not anti-religious. In their desire for inclusiveness and spiritual integrity, they rejected the premise of a Christian commonwealth. Being students of the Enlightenment, they founded the nation on reason, not Revelation.
Ironically, the Baptists---precursors of contemporary fundamentalists---were among the first in favor of the separation. Their argument was that "the Legislature is not a proper tribunal to determine what are the laws of God" and that the duty of civil government is to protect a citizen's property, not his soul.
For the last thirty years, the United States has veered toward theocracy. The turmoil of the 1960s left the country in a moral and spiritual vacuum, and Americans compulsively grabbed for the most reassuring ideological life-line.
After the Nixon presidency, political strategists concluded that Americans who regularly attended church were the heart of the Republican base. This profoundly changed the focus of the Party---albeit with political, not religious, ends in mind.
Political opportunists actively campaigned to draw evangelicals and fundamentalists to the Republican Party---for political power, not spiritual integrity. A courtship began between political conservatives and the Christian Right that was consummated with the Bush/Cheney presidency.
This unholy alliance has been divisively intolerant, and has embarked on a global crusade of epic proportions. It has used Christian rhetoric to promote political ideology and corporate capitalism. By doing so, it has brought out the worst in politics---and the worst in religion.
Politicians who embrace the Religious Right---whether out of opportunism or sincere belief---have let the genie out of the bottle. The foundation of democracy has been undermined: honest debate has been replaced by authoritarian pronouncement, by appealing to emotion rather than reason.
Of course "Islamic" terrorism is the result of theocratic thinking, but so too are "Christian" assaults on reproductive and gay rights, references to "axes of evil," and "crusades" in the Middle East---all are of the same mind-set.
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