Is it possible to reconcile the selection of Rick Warren, a divisive clergyman from a splinter sect of the Protestant Jesus-based religions, and the corollary exclusion of all other religions, with the Obama message of hope and inclusion? Logic says such reconciliation would be impossible.
President-elect Obama has now chosen one Protestant clergyman for his inauguration’s invocation and another for its benediction, a clear indication that Obama intends no real change from lame duck Bush’s recent efforts to blend religion into public and official life. Obama’s choice also signals a total failure of religious inclusiveness, by excluding all other, e.g., Judaic religions, Muhammad-based religions, Buddha-based religions, Joseph Smith-based religions, and Papal-based religions, as well as the upstart pirate-based Flying Spaghetti Monster religion.
The Constitution of the United States contains an important section, the First Amendment, which begins:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
In selecting Rick Warren, Barack Obama has de facto anointed and elevated a specific, narrow form of Jesus-based religion for a very official U.S. government function—the Inauguration of our 44th President—despite a clear Constitutional prohibition of any establishment of religion.
Too bad the Framers of our Constitution didn’t think to write “Neither Congress nor the President nor the President-elect shall take official actions that establish any religion.” Their naïve oversight thus allows the religious zealots who may read this OpEd piece to claim, predictably, that Obama’s selection of a Christian cleric does not contradict the First Amendment’s absolute, unequivocal intent to separate any government activity from all religiously-based behaviors. Those readers who doubt this intent are hereby referred to Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Church, a missive which employs an explanatory analogy for the language of the Constitution as a “wall of separation” between religion and all official activities of state, like legislation, elections, and inaugurations.
Unfortunately, we have seen far too many clear associations between religious figures and official acts of state (not to mention the ignominy of having clerical persons appointed “chaplain” of the Senate and House of Representatives, having an explicitly religious phrase on our coinage, using a King James Bible in courtrooms, having an Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and suffering the enduring shame of “under God” brutally inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.)
Is there any legitimate place in public life for religion? Many would argue against that proposition, seeing instead that all religions, and many religious leaders, exert a mostly pernicious influence that corrodes our social and cultural lives.