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June 29, 2005 7:22 PM   Subscribe

"Despite the gravity of the problem, I believe there is an answer. Put simply, it is this: offer greater latitude for religious speech and symbols in public debate, but also impose a stricter ban on state financing of religious institutions and activities."

A proposal byNoah Feldman for redrawing the line between church and state.
posted by The Jesse Helms (24 comments total)

 
It seems like a reasonable idea. But, why should anyone pay attention ?
posted by troutfishing at 7:57 PM on June 29, 2005


Yes. Well thought out discussions are all too often ignored by both sides in any given argument. This is especially true if the argument is religiously based or politically based. Or, like this case, obviously both.
posted by mystyk at 8:17 PM on June 29, 2005


Values evangelicals include Jews, Catholics, Muslims and even people who do not focus on a particular religious tradition but care primarily about identifying traditional moral values that can in theory be shared by everyone.
What all values evangelicals have in common is the goal of evangelizing for values: promoting a strong set of ideas about the best way to live your life and urging the government to adopt those values and encourage them wherever possible.

This is not true--Those people are not fighting in our "culture wars" nor are they the ones causing strife. What you have is groups of people who want their religious values and morals all over our shared Government and country--and doing everything in their power to make it so.

If people would just accept our laws and Constitution, there'd be no problem--It's those who refuse to abide by our laws and Constitution that are the problem. It's just too damn bad for those that are outraged that their specific religion isn't being endorsed--which is exactly what it is, not this general "values" thing the author speaks of. He himself knows that there aren't shared "values" everyone can agree on, and says so.

He's way too accomodating to those who want their religion all over our schools and government--and he would allow that--amazingly--while he makes vague statements about our growing pluralism, as if that would stop the majority from plastering every school with their religion, and every public building, etc. He doesn't even mention how it would be decided (except for that majority rule stuff) and what kinds of religious expression would be ok or not, etc. And all "values evangelicals" have to give up is faith-based funding and vouchers? Not.
posted by amberglow at 8:45 PM on June 29, 2005


Values evangelicals include Jews, Catholics, Muslims and even people who do not focus on a particular religious tradition but care primarily about identifying traditional moral values that can in theory be shared by everyone.
What all values evangelicals have in common is the goal of evangelizing for values: promoting a strong set of ideas about the best way to live your life and urging the government to adopt those values and encourage them wherever possible.

This is not true--Those people are not fighting in our "culture wars" nor are they the ones causing strife. What you have is groups of people who want their religious values and morals all over our shared Government and country--and doing everything in their power to make it so.

If people would just accept our laws and Constitution, there'd be no problem--It's those who refuse to abide by our laws and Constitution that are the problem. It's just too damn bad for those that are outraged that their specific religion isn't being endorsed--which is exactly what it is, not this general "values" thing the author speaks of. He himself knows that there aren't shared "values" everyone can agree on, and says so.

He's way too accomodating to those who want their religion all over our schools and government--and he would allow that--amazingly--while he makes vague statements about our growing pluralism, as if that would stop the majority from plastering every school with their religion, and every public building, etc. He doesn't even mention how it would be decided (except for that majority rule stuff) and what kinds of religious expression would be ok or not, etc. And all "values evangelicals" have to give up is faith-based funding and vouchers? Not.
posted by amberglow at 8:47 PM on June 29, 2005


oops...sorry about that.
posted by amberglow at 8:50 PM on June 29, 2005


If there are moral truths, they ought to be discoverable, or at least defensible by reason. Religious traditions may be rich repositories of accumulated moral insight, but at the end of the day, it's the arguments themselves and not the putative mystical authority that matters. Even if some religion turns out to teach the a valid moral code, that set of principles ought to be explicable and defensible to someone who isn't religious. If so-called moral principles must be accepted on faith, they cease to be moral principles at all.--from Majikthise

that says it well, and is a good response to that guy's section IV.
posted by amberglow at 9:26 PM on June 29, 2005


Dr. Egon Spengler: According to this morning's sample, it would be a TwinkieCrucifix thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.

(from ny1.com)
posted by nervousfritz at 9:40 PM on June 29, 2005


Under our form of government, if the majority of a population adheres to a particular religion, they're perfectly entitled to elect a member of their sect in order that they'll be represented. They'll expect their representative to make decisions based on the faith that they share.
The only problem is that minority religions might never be represented by the moral decisions of the elected official and might wind up not being represented at all.

Elected officials loudly proclaim their faith-based decision making (see: Shiavo scandal, etc). That proclamation, by itself, crosses the boundary of separating church from state. If our electoral process is one of "majority rule" and the majority faith is elected to make moral (not legal) decisions, the minority faiths will never be equally represented. And it's not even as though religions should be represented equally. They shouldn't be represented at all.

Our current state of affairs has confounded morality with legality. While it's arguable that much of our legality is based on Judeo-Christian moral norms, it's much more apparent that our legality is based on the preservation of individual rights. Murder isn't illegal because the Bible says so. It's illegal because it infringes on the rights of the victim.
A quick glance at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights will reveal that our system of legality is based on inalienable rights, and not religious tradition.

So what happens when the citizens behave unconstitutionally? By voting for faith, people are denying other citizens equal protection under the law. If the issue of Gay Marriage had been preserved as an entirely legal and Constitutional endeavor, it surely would have passed by now and the homosexual community would be enjoying all the rights of full citizens. As it stands, morality has crept into the struggle and the representatives of the majority are denying rights to citizens. Morality is not always legal. In this case, morality isn't even moral considering that American ideals of equality equate discrimination with immorality.

The exit polls of the last presidential election claimed that some huge percentage of voters made their decisions of faith-based issues (however vague that is). That means that the majority faith is setting national policy. But the Constitution says that the government may make no laws respecting the establishment of religion. But the president has been elected because of his religion. Do you see the paradox that is caused by this? This legal dilemma is the result of a blur of strict divisions between church and state.

As harsh and typical a thing it is to say, my point is that your religion is your religion. Not only is it your business but it's your right which will never be restricted. No matter what you believe, you will always be an equal citizen. But if you vote with your faith, you're reducing equality. Your faith-based voting begins to infringe on the rights of those who don't share your faith.
That is to say, I have the right to live my life in a legal way. If your elected majority chooses to assert your morality instead of the national legality, you're stepping on my toes. I wouldn't do that to you, so don't do it to me. It's the only genuinely American thing to do.
posted by Jon-o at 10:26 PM on June 29, 2005


On the other side of the debate are those who see religion as a matter of personal belief and choice largely irrelevant to government and who are concerned that values derived from religion will divide us, not unite us.

Otherwise known as "the good guys". Maybe we should just listen to those guys for a while, they seem to know what's up with that pesky constitution and those know-it-all Founding Fathers and whatnot.
posted by gurple at 10:38 PM on June 29, 2005


Oh, yeah, and I've gotta give my obligatory plug for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Those would be the good guys.

Compromise, as espoused by this jackass, helps no one. Compromise would give us Intelligent Design (wink, wink) in our schools and the decalogue in our courtrooms. That's what theocracies are made of.
posted by gurple at 10:42 PM on June 29, 2005


The elected majority from a previous era:

From the state of Vermont, (admitted to the Union in 1791) And within said era being one or the more liberal states - had as their oath of office, the following:

'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration and own and profess the Protestant religion.'"

I'm thinking that particular oath of office is never going to be returned to use.- But it does reflect the thoughts of the day.
To be a moral person was a requirement of holding public office.
While I don't choose to debate religion per se. I will suggest that being a "moral person" as a requirement to hold public office, and to be removed from that public office if it can be shown that those morals have fallen short of whatever standards are applied, would perhaps resolve some of the issues related to corruption, and abuse of power. And it is the abuse of power by one group over any other group which creates the friction in our culture.

The only fly in the ointment would be in the inability to ever reach a consensus on what "moral values" to use.
The removal of theological discussion from public schools appears to have had a deliterious effect on the understanding of each of the religions, I cannot espouse one religion over another within the framework of discussion at a public school or governmental function.

But an open discussion of the relative merits of religious values seems always to bring into greater focus ones own belief system.
And commonly, a riot.
posted by garficher at 11:22 PM on June 29, 2005


The removal of theological discussion from public schools appears to have had a deleterious effect on the understanding of each of the religions

Discussion doesn't have to be removed at all. In fact, that's over doing it. Including a survey course on religion is, probably, a good thing for education. For one thing, in my experience, it's improved my understanding of some literature.

However, the removal of any sort of exclusive endorsement is certainly the safest course of action.
posted by Jon-o at 11:31 PM on June 29, 2005


By voting for faith, people are denying other citizens equal protection under the law.

Does this mean that political movements that are primarily made up of people of religious faith, even if their is no particular candidate who represents this movement, but which is aimed at changing laws, are they also denying other citizens equal protection under the law?
posted by Snyder at 2:47 AM on June 30, 2005


The solution to all this is obviously to have a state stanctioned religion. Here in the UK (and many other European countries) we've had established religion for centuries. The result: hardly anyone believes in God anymore, church attendance in low and falling, most people think creation is a joke and very few people get excited about what gays get up to in their spare time.
posted by rhymer at 5:42 AM on June 30, 2005


Does this mean that political movements that are primarily made up of people of religious faith, even if their is no particular candidate who represents this movement, but which is aimed at changing laws, are they also denying other citizens equal protection under the law?

Yes. And they know it, and don't care.
posted by amberglow at 6:52 AM on June 30, 2005


I will suggest that being a "moral person" as a requirement to hold public office, and to be removed from that public office if it can be shown that those morals have fallen short of whatever standards are applied, would perhaps resolve some of the issues related to corruption, and abuse of power. And it is the abuse of power by one group over any other group which creates the friction in our culture.

Garficher, to suggest using an abstract commitment to an undefined set of moral values, like that of the Vermont oath, begs the question. Whose morality? Whose values? The pledges of faith required by states such as Vermont in the early national period (and up to the early 19th century) were routinely used to exclude Catholics (and, to some extend, other "heretical" sects such as Anabaptists) from public office. The point of church-state separation is that in practice terms like "moral" and "values" are never faith-neutral, nor are they likely to accommodate those public servants who do not believe in a God.

Our government isn't founded on "Judeo-Christian" values, nor does it derive its authority from those values. It's founded in the Constitution and derives its authority from the consent of the governed. Those who claim that Constitutional interpretation should be guided by scripture can try to trace the historical and philosophical lineage of the Constitution till the cows come home. But the founders had the option of creating a biblical republic, and they chose otherwise.

My take on Feldman is that he's not so much a jackass as much as a Pollyanna. His proposal strikes me as somewhat naive. If it were introduced as a policy platform I suspect that "greater latitude for religious speech and symbols in public debate" would be enthusiastically embraced and enshrined in all kinds of public discourse by politicians and political pressure groups alike- and discourse, as we saw in the Schaivo case or the "Intelligent design" debate, is often inseparable from policymaking.

The other element of the "compromise"- a "stricter ban on state financing of religious institutions and activities"- would easily fall by the wayside in today's political climate. And this element of his proposal addresses a very different aspect of the establishment clause, with very different implications. This is a one-sided compromise, one that is both blind to political reality and equates church-state apples with church-state oranges.

Feldman's high profile stems from his involvement in developing the interim Iraqi constitution, and I think his admirable desire to craft a sustainable document that would pave the way for self-governance and democracy in a multi-ethnic state may have been compromised by a similar sort of naiveté and belief that all parties involved will act in good faith and are genuinely committed to the principle of compromise, negotiation, and relinquishment of naked self-interest in the interest of the polity.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:28 AM on June 30, 2005


Does this mean that political movements that are primarily made up of people of religious faith, even if their is no particular candidate who represents this movement, but which is aimed at changing laws, are they also denying other citizens equal protection under the law?

If they're trying to change laws so they correspond with faith, then yes. Your faith is your faith. It's not for everyone. As soon as it starts tp influence laws (which are for everyone) equality suffers.
We're all bound by the same laws but not by the same faith. If your faith becomes law, then we're all subjugated to your religious beliefs.
posted by Jon-o at 7:34 AM on June 30, 2005


What I mean is:

To legislate an endorsement of a religious viewpoint (no matter how universal or good it may seem to be) is establishing a religion.

The problem is that, in the face of seemingly good moral intentions, politicians (who may otherwise be hesitant to endorse faith inspired legislation) are forced to give in so that they don't appear cold or immoral.
What needs to be realized is that by supporting faith inspired legislation, you're putting the religious beliefs of a specific group before the legal, constitutionally protected rights of everyone else.

Religious freedom is already protected under the law. What else do you want? From where I'm standing, any effort to include any more religion in legislation amounts to little more than propagating the beliefs of a selected group.

As it appears, minority religions have the right to worship freely. But the majority has the right to make laws that essentially promote their particular faith.

"Wait, are you saying that the religious majority shouldn't vote? Are you saying that someone's religion shouldn't inform their viewpoints or decision making?"

No, of course not. What I mean is that the government needs to be much clearer on what it can and cannot do. Even if voters charge their representative with a mandate to uphold the beliefs they share, the representative has to be aware of the fact that his beliefs and the beliefs of his constituents CANNOT be federal policy.
posted by Jon-o at 8:09 AM on June 30, 2005


I understand where Feldman is coming from, and I think that his intentions are noble. Unfortunately, I fall (generally) on the side of legal secularists, and feel that his compromise fails
And here's why: The usage of symbols does cost money. While he asserts that it is free to let everyone have Christmas off, it isn't free to give everyone Christmas as a paid holiday. And while it may be petty to assert, that moment in which Congress prays is a moment that they are not working on the issues that they are paid to deal with.
Now, I will say that I believe people from my camp often overlook the allies that they may have within the ranks of the religious. You can't overlook Martin Luther King jr.'s religion, nor the effect it had. There are many Christians (and Jews and Muslims, etc.) who preach and practice tolerance and inclucivity, and those values are fundamental to our national character.
Amberglow's quotation above is instructive, with regard to reason and religion. At religion's core, there is the issue of faith. If you can prove something, it no longer requires faith. The converse of that is true as well: you cannot prove anything with faith. Any argument that has as its authority the existence of God is built on a rotted rung, and cannot lead higher on that strength alone, unless you share that faith.
Any argument that is to be legislated must therefore encompass both the faithful and the unfaithful, and because of that must rely on what unites us: reason.
Again, religion has its place. When talking to a congregation, one is free to use religions imagry, tone and wisdom to argue for something that affects us all. But when dealing with everyone, we must remember that God is not universally held, but reason is.
posted by klangklangston at 8:10 AM on June 30, 2005


I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration and own and profess the Protestant religion.

Garficher you're wrong: claiming to believe that God rewards Good and punishes Evil, which I gather is the part you're referring to, is not the same thing as being a moral person. Only the incredibly naive would need this point spelled out further, as only a fundy fanatic would need to be shown that being Catholic, Jewish or atheist does not automatically disqualify one from practicing morality.

That Vermont oath exemplifies also the incredibly stupidity of requiring such oaths: an immoral atheist who wanted the job would simply lie.
posted by davy at 9:24 AM on June 30, 2005


Davy: BUT THEN GOD WOULD STRIKE THEM DOWN!
posted by klangklangston at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2005


Yes. And they know it, and don't care.

No, of course not. What I mean is that the government needs to be much clearer on what it can and cannot do. Even if voters charge their representative with a mandate to uphold the beliefs they share, the representative has to be aware of the fact that his beliefs and the beliefs of his constituents CANNOT be federal policy.

Well, its interesting to see you think that the Aboltionists and the SCLC were, and the National Council of Churches are currently, denying people equal protection.

There is absolutley nothing in the Constitution that restricts people from voting for whomever they want and for whateve reasons they desire, nor should there be. Part of the democratic system is that it's citizens are allowed to vote as they choose, regardless of ideology or faith, with the exception of 2 rules regarding age and citizenship, and that even if there are certain laws, or even parts of the Constitution, that prevent certain aspects of their belief from being enacted legally, they have the right, with a proper majority, to change the law or Constitution.

What's so special about religion anyway? If an atheist thinks that black people should be expelled from the country, does he have the right to do try to create this policy while Catholics trying to end the death penalty do not?

Think about this.
posted by Snyder at 2:46 PM on June 30, 2005


Back to the topic of equating a sworn Protestant with a moral person: to a Christian the worst possible sin is not murder, not child-molesting, not rape or robbery; no, to a Christian the worst possible sin is unbelief. To have heard the Gospel preached to you and refused to be persuaded damn you to "eternal torment in the Lake of Fire". So it does not matter what you DO: you can feed all of starving Ethiopea but it won't keep you out of Hell if you're not Christian, but if you are Christian -- or "repent" and get "saved" sometime before you die -- God will forgive you even for raping and eating babies. It's better to be a baby-raping cannibal Christian than a very moral person of any other persuasion. Like the bumper sticker say, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."
posted by davy at 7:01 PM on June 30, 2005




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