Is America’s Government Secular?

It has become a dogma of progressive  ideology that America is a “secular” nation.   What do people mean by secular? Their argument goes this way: “Since the  Constitution establishes a strict separation   of church and state, religion has no place in  how the country is to be governed. Religion is  

A purely ‘private’ matter and therefore must be  kept out of politics or public policy-making.” There is a problem with this claim, however: It’s false. What the Constitution actually  does when it comes to religion   is, first, ban religious tests of  any sort for public office—that’s  

In Article 6—and, second, forbid the enactment of  any “law respecting an establishment of religion   or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—  those are the words of the First Amendment. The plain meaning of those words  is that Congress was forbidden from  

One, establishing a national church (on the  model of the Church of England); and two,   attempting to disestablish or interfering with  the established churches that existed in some   of the states—in certain cases for decades  after ratification of the First Amendment.

But what about the “separation of church and  state”? That’s in the Constitution, too, isn’t it? Well, no.  Try as you might, you will not find the  words “separation of church and state”   in the Constitution. The famous phrase  comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson,   who was not at the Constitutional Convention—(he  

Was in France at the time)—wrote years later  to a Baptist community in Danbury, Connecticut. Jefferson in his characteristically eloquent  way was simply trying to capture the spirit   of the first amendment prohibiting the  establishment of a national religion.   The author of the Declaration of  Independence was committed to an America  

Where people were free to practice any faith  or no faith, as their consciences dictate. None of the Founding Fathers, including Jefferson  who was among the least religious of them   (though not an atheist), ever  entertained the idea that there   was to be a separation of religion  from public life or from politics. 

The secularist claim that our Constitution  consigns religion to the purely private sphere   is contradicted by the words and actions of  the greatest figures in American history,   from Washington, who called  for national days of prayer;   to Lincoln, who proclaimed a national day of  prayer and fasting; to Martin Luther King.

King, of course, was the Reverend Dr.  Martin Luther King, a Baptist clergyman,   who fought racial segregation and discrimination  in the most explicitly Biblical terms.  If you believe the secularist understanding  of the separation of church and state,   Martin Luther King violated that  doctrine in almost everything he did.

And so did every president in American history.   Every single one invoked  God in his inaugural address.  For Martin Luther King, as  for so many other Americans,   racial injustice was not only a violation of the  Golden Rule but, first and foremost, a violation  

Of the teaching of the Book of Genesis that  every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. There are in the world truly secularist regimes.   France, with its system of “laicite”—religion  must be exercised only in the private,  

Not the public, sphere—is one. So, of course, are the  communist regimes of China, Cuba, and North Korea. In such regimes, secularism is  the official public philosophy,   and religion is, to the extent it is permitted  at all, restricted to the private domain.  But that is not an accurate description  of the United States—at all. 

And how could it be? Although we separate the  institutions of religion from those of government,   we do that not to make religion subservient to the  state, but rather to protect it from the state.  We are, after all, a nation which  in its very founding document  

Acknowledges the Creator—God Himself—as the  source of justice owed to all human beings.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident,  that all men are Created equal;   that they are endowed by their Creator  with certain unalienable rights,   and among these are life, liberty,  and the pursuit of happiness.”

Far from being “secularist,” the American  constitutional order holds that our   fundamental rights are not privileges  conferred by any merely human power;   they are, rather,  gifts—endowments—from God Himself.  And they are “unalienable”—that is, they  cannot legitimately be taken away by government  

Or any other human authority—precisely because  they were not given to us by any human authority.  Indeed, we couldn’t give them  away even if we wanted to.  Why?  Because they come from the hand of God. So, is the claim that America  is a “secular” nation true? The answer should now be clear. 

I’m Robert George, McCormick Professor  of Jurisprudence and Director of the   James Madison Program at Princeton  University for Prager University.

#Americas #Government #Secular

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