Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Religion of Secularism

From Mitt Romney's "Faith in America" speech (December 6):
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
Public acknowledgment of God "in the public domain" is all well and good, but the problem is that state-sanctioned acknowledgment of religion may, by accident or design, either compel innocent bystanders to practice someone else's religion or deny them the ability to practice their own religion. The December 14 issue of the Forward provided a good example of how this has worked in the past. This paper has a feature on its back page called ForwardLooking Back. It features brief excerpts from its archives from 100, 75, and 50 years ago. One hundred years ago, the news was as follows:
This week began with a giant whimper and not a bang, because of a new ruling that legally designates Sunday as a day of rest. And they mean it: Between the ultra-religious Catholicism of Judge O'Gorman and the club of Police Chief Bingham, nary a peep was heard out of weddings, parties, theaters, movies, dance halls, concert halls or saloons this past Sunday in New York City. The town was dead: it was like a terrible Yom Kippur. The city's streets were packed with people who had nothing to do but wander about. And at weddings in Manhattan and Brooklyn, they danced without klezmorim.
Imagine living in a time or place that the law prohibited having a band play at your wedding celebration! The people who "legally" designated Sunday as a day of rest got married on Saturday. The people who were obligated religiously to observe their day of rest on Saturday, were legally forbidden to hire a band on Sunday.

A hundred years ago, the Jewish dilemma would be of no concern to the powers that passed such laws. The mainstream belief was that Jews were a separate race: Jews were not white people, and only white men were privileged to share the "self-evident" truth in the constitution that all men are created equal. It is more puzzling that today, when gay people suffer less discrimination and marginalization than the Jews and blacks of a hundred years ago, they are not only denied the basic legal protections and benefits afforded to heterosexual households that are founded by a religious vow of lifetime commitment, but they are the target of specific schemes to deny them the right to take on this basic religious vow that many ministers and rabbis would willingly sanctify.

Marriage vows are, after all, religious vows first. Secondarily, they convey legal privileges and obligations. Those who would limit the legal definition of marriage are bringing a theological argument into the legislatures and courts, thus violating the separation we have made to protect religion from state interference; the very separation that Mitt praised in his "Faith in America" speech.

Even so, it seems that Mitt would protect us from our liberal churches and synagogues:
"We need an amendment that restores and protects our societal definition of marriage, blocks judges from changing that definition and then, consistent with the principles of federalism, leaves other policy issues regarding marriage to state legislatures." (Gov. Mitt Romney, Testimony, United States Senate Committee On The Judiciary, 6/22/04)
How do we rationalize federal protection of "societal definitions" when these definitions are contradicted by our religious communities? How do we reconcile "We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason" with protecting "societal definitions"? As long as there are ministers and rabbis who are willing to sanctify and recognize gay marriages, it should take no less than the repeal of the First Amendment to prohibit gay marriage.

The threat to our constitution does not come from the "religion of secularism." Mitt turned the constitution on its head when he proclaimed that freedom requires religion; of course, it is the other way around: religion requires freedom. Constitutional amendments that "protect" societal definitions threaten the freedom of religion. Paradoxically, a government free from religion is absolutely essential for the guarantee of religious freedom. It should be self-evident to all that the federalization of religion that Governor Romney proposes would be a far greater threat to our liberty than any religion of secularism.


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