Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Secularism and the establishment clause


Most discussions about religion in the public square treat the words secular and secularism as if the antonyms were religious and religion. Strictly speaking, however, the antonyms of secular and secularism are sectarian and sectarianism. You don’t need to be an atheist, an agnostic or even irreligious to be secular … you just need to not belong to a specific religious community.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that the provision prohibiting the establishment of religion is paired with the guarantee of free exercise of religion. The ideas were yoked together on paper because they were yoked together in the minds of the Bill of Rights’ authors.

Moreover, both of these protections are included with other provisions that, boiled to their simplest forms, guarantee the citizen the right to have and make known opinions on how we ought to be governed. They’re included in this Amendment because, in Europe and in the colonies prior to the Constitutional Convention, affiliation with a church not supported or established by the State was treated as grounds for exclusion from participation in government.


This puts the establishment clause in a different light. Rather than attempting to exclude religion from public business, the clause was meant to prevent the erection of a “Church of the United States”. Even more to the point, it was meant to prevent the government from using church affiliation as grounds for depriving citizens of their rights, especially their right to participate in the public forum.

This understanding is almost 180 degrees from that which is being foisted on us today by social “progressives”. Now, we’re being told that the purpose of the establishment clause is to protect the non-religious from religion, to keep laws from being tainted with “religious morality” (e.g. “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!”).

I’ve pointed out before the impact cross-cutting cleavages have on political issues, and how they make it practically impossible for us to say, “This law imposes that religion on us.” More to the point, though, even if all the people of the Church of R said they were for Social Policy S, and everyone not a member of the R Church said they were against, the fact that most of the naysayers were members of religions themselves would mean that either victory or defeat for S would be, according to the “progressives’” highly-distorted definition, an establishment of religion.

But let’s take this further: We all know that the sole purpose of invoking the establishment clause is to favor the “progressive” agenda by defining the culture of life’s stances on various issues as “establishing religion”; by their lights, the “progressives’ stances aren’t religion-establishing. If they’re successful in making their ideas the norm within the judicial system, we know they won’t even have to define which sect is being made the state church. Results first, premises to follow.

Such a circumstance would accomplish precisely what the First Amendment sought to prevent: Whole classes of people would be denied their voice in government because of their religious beliefs. It would make no difference if they voted their consciences, because their representatives would not be able to enact any laws the “progressives” deem an “establishment of religion”.

How can they get away with this? They can get away with it, dear reader, by verbal sleight-of-hand. Over the last fifty years, through a combination of misdirection and poor teaching, “progressives” have gotten us to unconsciously associate the word morality almost exclusively with prudery, misogyny and gay-bashing, to the point where immoral is a label worn with pride and amoral is known only to “walking dictionaries” like me. The muddling indeed is so complete that it’s possible for a person to speak vaguely of “your morality versus my morality” when the topic is abortion, then treat pedophilia as an absolute unequivocal evil, with no consciousness of inconsistency.

Moreover, they’ve been successful in getting us to unconsciously associate religion with emotionalism, irrationality, and absence of scientific fact. As Randy at Speak the Truth in Love describes the association, “It is OK for religion to impact people’s lives in other, less important areas but during the times when real thinking needs to be done religion should be put on hold.” That this attitude is not only wrong but wrong-headed and ill-informed is irrelevant: the association is now so strong that no one feels it necessary to prove anymore. Because of this association, American secularism is barely distinguishable from moralistic therapeutic deism.

Howard Kainz, in “Secularism’s Victory Through Osmosis”, predicts that the secularists are on the verge of overreaching themselves to secure the final victory over “superstition”. I’m a little leery, however, because of his use of the French Enlightenment as a comparative. We’ve had sectarian conflicts, but no single church has had such a privileged position in American politics and economics as to cause resentment among the people, as happened with the Catholic Church in France.

The challenge we face, the Anchoress reminds us, is that the culture of death still holds the keys to the propaganda factory. And, as Barbara Nicolosi warns us, it’s already churning out the disinformation necessary to win popular acceptance for euthanasia, since gay marriage seems to be “in the bag”. As long as they have the megaphone, they can continue to reinforce their association of religion and morality with ignorance and superstition.

All the freedoms of the First Amendment are necessarily tied together, and can’t be fully understood without one another. If SCOTUS allows the establishment clause to become the secularist wrecking ball, a Christian dhimmitude will descend upon us, and the First Amendment will be a dead letter.