Theophobia

Posted: January 26, 2005

JUST AS the civil rights of racial and religious minorities, women and the poor were the defining legal issues for America in the 20th century, among the defining issues for the 21st will be the rights of the unborn child, the rights of gun ownership, the rights of fathers - and the ability to freely express religious beliefs.

There is a continuing campaign by theophobes - those who either hate religion or who are opposed to public displays of it - to bowdlerize religion from American life. The most recent examples of this crusade are attempts to remove the word God from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments from courthouses and Christmas from the lexicon of public-school holidays.

The advocates of this bowdlerization display a clever sophistry. They claim that by segregating religious expression from even the most remote link with government they are merely being faithful to the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. The theophobes routinely refer to the "separation of church and state" as if it were mentioned in the Constitution.

But there is no such mention. The phrase "wall of separation between church and state" was used by Thomas Jefferson - who was not involved with writing the Constitution. Jefferson wrote this in a letter to Connecticut Baptists as president in 1802.

How his personal correspondence became constitutional law is not known. If being endorsed by Jefferson's correspondence is a precept of constitution law, then segregation should be constitutional as well.

The theophobic premise that Jefferson's phrase is the same as constitutional law is a fallacy. Although it must be said that Jefferson's phrase was used by Justice Black in the 1947 Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education. Justice Black, who wrote the majority opinion, said, "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state."

Ironically, the majority opinion in this case stated that it was legal to use taxes to provide transportation for students of religious schools. It does the exact opposite of what the theophobes want.

What they do want is to dictate to the majority of Americans who want references to God included in public life that they cannot do so. The fact that a majority wants this is irrelevant to them. They will raise the old canard that the majority of Americans once favored slavery. Of course, they never provide a shred of proof that this is true.

While theophobes say majority opinion is obviously flawed, they say Supreme Court rulings are good because they protect the rights of the minority. They forget that the Supreme Court protected slavery for so long.

How do theophobes reconcile their adherence to the fallible Supreme Court while eschewing majority rule? They can't. The fact is, theophobes are part of the liberal philosophy of "vanguardism," the Leninist theory that the wisdom of the elites should tell the masses what's best for them.

This is even more apparent in the second great fallacy of the theophobes. This specious argument states that an endorsement of religion is the same as an establishment of it. While the Constitution only prohibits an establishment of religion, the Supreme Court has created a constitutional prohibition against even the endorsement of it.

An example of endorsing religion would be a Christmas tree in the quadrangle of the campus of a publicly funded university. The rationale for opposing this is that the government is implicitly promoting religion through the use of a Christmas tree. Since public funds are used, the public is funding a religion.

But this is an absurd evolution of the interpretation of the First Amendment. First, the actual prohibition of the federal government's establishing a state religion is one most people concur with. This prohibition also applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Forbidding an establishment of religion is one thing - but banning any reference to religion by a display or expression on public property goes way beyond the Constitution. What's next - mentioning religion in a public building? Thinking about it?

It is absurd to say that students cannot voluntarily engage in prayer. It is absolutely unconscionable that teachers are told that they cannot wear crucifixes while teaching in public schools. Yet, this is the current state of government and religion.

And it's time for a change. *

Michael Tremoglie is a Philadelphia-area freelance writer.

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