Thursday, March 03, 2005

Separation of Church and State: Vol. II

We get into this an awful lot around here. Is there an actual separation between the two, and does that mean we have to be free from all religion or just we can't establish one? I've always taken the view that we should have a basic litmus test for this sort of thing. If this is really about promoting a moral and ethical foundation instead of promoting religion, then would the state allow me to raise money and put up a giant, golden statue of the Buddha next to the Ten Commandments. But Justice Scalia takes a differing view:

Scalia, who has little patience with church-state separation concepts, was expected to be a very active participant in the oral arguments, and he was. But, early in the argument, he essentially took himself out of the combat by stating his position with utmost clarity. He said that the Ten Commandments have long been accepted by the Nation’s majority as “a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God,…The minority should be tolerant of the majority expressing its belief that this government comes from God.”
I'm not one to quibble with a Supreme Court Justice, but I think the entire purpose of the freedom of religion mentioned in the 1st Amendment is just so that the minority isn't tyrannized by the majority and its religious beliefs. The majority is free to practice (by the way, the majority is not protestant. Roman Cathoics make up a far larger part of the population than any other denomination, about 60 million of us in the US alone) but not free to set up a state-supported religion that the minority must recognize. I'd probably go into an argument about how the Founders would argue that ultimate authority in a democracy comes from laws, not God. Like in the Declaration, when Jefferson writes about inalienable rights, by definition those are rights that not even God can take away, thus limiting God's power and giving it to the rule of law. But it's late and we've got until June for them to hand down their decision. Plenty of time to go over this.

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