Religion and Freedom. Or: Why Freedom Requires Secularism.

Dec 07 2007 Published by under Religion, Religion in Politics

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated eleven years, four months, and one day before I was born, but I miss him. There are issues today where his voice is needed even more than it was needed in 1960. But Kennedy is dead and buried, but the issues of religion he had to confront are not. And his voice needs to be heard, because Kennedy was firm in his stand, he was eloquent in the way he expressed it, and he was right.

Yesterday, Mitt Romney gave a speech on religion that many have compared to Kennedy's. And it's not an entirely unreasonable comparison. Like Kennedy, Romney gave his address in response to difficulties that he faces because he is a member of a minority religion. Like Kennedy, Romney expressed is stand firmly. Like Kennedy, Romney was eloquent and well spoken. But he was wrong:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

Romney is wrong. Freedom certainly does not require religion. As the Washington Post pointed out today, Democracy remains alive and well in Europe today, even if the cathedrals there are increasingly empty. The irreligious are not, by and large, advocates for tyranny and slavery any more than the vast bulk of the religious are. I do not endorse a return to nobility, royalty, and the divine right of kings if I fail to attend church on Sunday, or temple on Saturday, or Mosque on Friday. No, freedom does not require religion. If anything freedom - especially freedom of religion - requires secularism.

This is where I really miss Kennedy, because this is the point that Kennedy made so well in his 1960 speech on religion:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

True religious freedom is possible only if there is true separation of church and state. All churches are equally protected only if the government is absolutely neutral toward all churches. As soon as one belief is favored over the others, or one philosophy is belittled while no others are, we create a situation that puts all beliefs at risk. Your faith might be the favored majority view today, but it might not be tomorrow.

Romney believes that there should be a right for the government to "acknowledge God":

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.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

If the government is free to acknowledge God, what God gets acknowledged?

Do we acknowledge the spirits of nature that pagans believe in, or the lares and penates of Imperial Roman households? Do we acknowledge Buddha, or Krishna, or the divinity of the Reverend Moon, or Allah?

Do we acknowledge only one of the Trinity, or all three?

Do we acknowledge the God that provided comfort to Martin Luther King in his Birmingham jail cell, or the God of Pat Robertson who is willing to wreck natural disasters upon a Pennsylvania town because they voted for the wrong school board? I know those two are not the same.

Do we just throw up our hands and say that we're just acknowledging God in a vague, meaningless, non-denominational, non-confrontational sense, and as long as everyone agrees that the atheists are going to hell it's all good?

There can be no acknowledgment of god by the government because it is quite simply not possible for the government to do so without leaving some citizens out. No American should be sent a message that their beliefs or lack of beliefs makes them any more or less of a favored member of society. Period. If we can do that, we will protect religious freedom for all. If we cannot, we all risk losing it.

16 responses so far

  • andy says:

    as long as everyone agrees that the atheists are going to hell it's all good.
    I think that's exactly the point that was being made. Ugh.

  • I for one, would prefer to tell you that we humans can't in good conscience act in any way other than in acknowledgment that God wants us to be reconciled to Him and gave His Son, even while we are sinners - even atheists! I'm sorry that all we can show you is division and less than love.Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Romans12:4,5.

  • oscarzoalaster says:

    "I for one, would prefer to tell you that we humans can't in good conscience act in any way other than in acknowledgment that God wants us to be reconciled to Him and gave His Son, even while we are sinners - even atheists! I'm sorry that all we can show you is division and less than love.Romans 5:8, John 3:16, Romans12:4,5."
    That may be fine for you, but if you want me to believe something so nonsensical you will have to supply some proof - and pointing to your sacred book does not count as proof.

  • Rob Jase says:

    Using Romney's logic then the religiously run countries of Saudi Arabia and Iran must be more free than the US.
    I guess this means that the new Republican talking point about Muslims will be "they hate us for our lack of freedom".

  • Oscarzoalaster, I didn't write that well - it was intended to be a counter to the idea that anyone would be happy someone else was going to hell.
    As to proof, I usually have to start before the Big Bang.

  • Joseph j7uy5 says:

    Apparently, Romney has refused to say explicitly whether atheists and agnostics have any positive role to play in the USA.
    It'll be interesting to see if anything comes of this. But so far, his refusal to let atheists and agnostics into the big tent is, in my view, a very bad sign. It suggests a willingness to make political use of religious bigotry.

  • Paula says:

    "They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God".
    Ok... They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of Evolution, Science, and Genetics too... That is exactly the problem in mix religion with gorvenment or religion with education or religion with something else...

  • Try to establish an idea of what "WRONG" IS.
    You find that that idea changes.
    That is why we have powers to change the laws, because what is wrong changes.
    Freedom is no different. We are free when we are free from wrong and not just free when we are free to choose.
    If I could help to establish the ideas found in theosophy that seven races exist through the human cycle of life on earth and that seven subraces exist on the planet at any one time, then we could begin to understand why beliefs differ.
    If there is an inclination and a superior living during one of those races, then each human retains some of that quality for use at a special phase of our human existence. Why shun any of the constitutions?
    People who are able to host and align their lives with the higher kingdom which I have named girasas, have a responsibility to the rest of the human race(s). While that higher kingdom may respond more readily to the human voice which has either been chosen or has learned to prescribe to the needs of the girasas, then we all want to use our separate and distinct voices to make requests of those people who have the cooperation.
    We appeal to the human beings who have the alliance formulated correctly, but we must ever be on our guard that the alliance may be broken. We must continue to test those people with girasas links so that when and if those links are broken, we will be prepared to repair the links or find others with more workable links.
    Why are these people needed? We need them to help us all to stop wrong in our lives. We ask the girasas kingdom to work with us or use us to improve our lives by removing from our lives the things that hurt us.
    Each race at a particular time in history is necessary and by this necessity, we tolerate their departure from the current them and "active" race essence.
    If we are in the 5th race (the current claim), then we prefer to have the girasas hovering above us to the point that we know little of them, have occasional, intermittent, contact, and no real proof of their existence.
    When we are in a full blown 6th race (current beginning of the 6th subrace in America is claimed), we will know of their existence because we will speak more openly with them, ask them questions, share what we have, etc.
    For people who don't want to be evil, then perhaps they have to feel their way between hosting the good kingdom in their lives and attempting to live without the good kingdom. Do you feel more evil if the good is present with your or absent?

  • Brenda Tucker says:

    Do we acknowledge the spirits of nature that pagans believe in, or the lares and penates of Imperial Roman households? Do we acknowledge Buddha, or Krishna, or the divinity of the Reverend Moon, or Allah?
    Do we acknowledge only one of the Trinity, or all three?
    Do we acknowledge the God that provided comfort to Martin Luther King in his Birmingham jail cell, or the God of Pat Robertson who is willing to wreck natural disasters upon a Pennsylvania town because they voted for the wrong school board? I know those two are not the same.
    Do we just throw up our hands and say that we're just acknowledging God in a vague, meaningless, non-denominational, non-confrontational sense, and as long as everyone agrees that the atheists are going to hell it's all good?
    There can be no acknowledgment of god by the government because it is quite simply not possible for the government to do so without leaving some citizens out. No American should be sent a message that their beliefs or lack of beliefs makes them any more or less of a favored member of society. Period. If we can do that, we will protect religious freedom for all. If we cannot, we all risk losing it.

  • Brenda Tucker says:

    Sorry. I meant for the previous message to look like this:

    Do we acknowledge the spirits of nature that pagans believe in, or the lares and penates of Imperial Roman households? Do we acknowledge Buddha, or Krishna, or the divinity of the Reverend Moon, or Allah?
    Do we acknowledge only one of the Trinity, or all three?
    Do we acknowledge the God that provided comfort to Martin Luther King in his Birmingham jail cell, or the God of Pat Robertson who is willing to wreck natural disasters upon a Pennsylvania town because they voted for the wrong school board? I know those two are not the same.
    Do we just throw up our hands and say that we're just acknowledging God in a vague, meaningless, non-denominational, non-confrontational sense, and as long as everyone agrees that the atheists are going to hell it's all good?
    There can be no acknowledgment of god by the government because it is quite simply not possible for the government to do so without leaving some citizens out. No American should be sent a message that their beliefs or lack of beliefs makes them any more or less of a favored member of society. Period. If we can do that, we will protect religious freedom for all. If we cannot, we all risk losing it.

    We acknowledge that religion has an historical setting. We acknowledge that religions bloom and seed just like races. We acknowledge that our life will again need to penetrate through animals in order to attain a globe to habitate. We acknowledge that those people who operate expertly through the animal kingdoms are free to express themselves and receive our protection and our love.
    We acknowledge that God is not just a participant within the girasas kingdom. We acknowledge that God wants to help the human beings with their plans also and that while the two kingdoms are required to exist within the same body for a period of time, that the separation will occur and that each kingdom is still in need of faculties that permit it to operate as a single solitary entity.
    Humans can get so overrun by the girasas kingdom that they let go of their sensibility as humans. It is a very, very, difficult task - just as it must be a very, very difficult task to work the animals into something more conducive to human life, benefitting them at the same time.
    When we talk about staying separate, we mean keep sensible and operable even during the invasion by them. Take the time you need to speak or think or communicate and don't insist that the girasas do all of it for you. We are a lesser being, but we still have work which is right for us. We have a voice that either yahs or nahs what the girasas think of doing. If I could hear yours from time to time, I would be a happier camper.

  • kc says:

    Sorry. I meant for the previous message to look like this:
    ...

    ..oh, well it makes sense that way.

  • mark says:

    Kennedy spoke to all Americans; Romney pandered to a specific group. But he was spot on with one point: We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny...

  • kozmetik says:

    It'll be interesting to see if anything comes of this. But so far, his refusal to let atheists and agnostics into the big tent is, in my view, a very bad sign. It suggests a willingness to make political use of religious bigotry.

  • denn says:

    For people who don't want to be evil, then perhaps they have to feel their way between hosting the good kingdom in their lives and attempting to live without the good kingdom. Do you feel more evil if the good is present with your or absent?

  • feromon says:

    I think that's exactly the point that was being made.

  • Site Ekle says:

    They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of Evolution, Science, and Genetics too