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US law insists on the separation of church and state. So why does religion now govern

Discussion in 'Politics (deprecated)' started by man_slut, Aug 25, 2003.

  1. man_slut

    man_slut TRIBE Member

    God help America

    US law insists on the separation of church and state. So why does religion now govern?

    Gary Younge
    Monday August 25, 2003
    The Guardian

    Montgomery, Alabama, is no stranger to stand-offs. The gold star embedded into the marble at the front of the state capitol marks the spot where Jefferson Davis stamped his foot and declared an independent Confederacy and where former governor George Wallace promised "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever". From that very point you can make out the bus stop where Rosa Parks took her seat and the church where Martin Luther King made his stand, launching the bus boycott that sparked a decade of civil rights protest.
    Stand on the star today and you can witness the city's latest confrontation as the Alabama supreme court house plays host to prayer circles and television trucks in a showdown between the state's most senior judge and the country's highest court.

    This particular dispute is cast in stone. Two-and-a-half tonnes of granite, displaying the 10 commandments, which was placed in the rotunda of the courthouse two years ago by Alabama's chief justice, Roy Moore. The US supreme court told him to remove the monument, which violates the separation of church and state. Moore refused, saying that Christianity forms the bedrock of the American constitution and his conscience.

    Since the deadline passed at midnight on Wednesday, Christian activists have descended on the town from all over the country, keeping a 24-hour watch to make sure the monument is not moved and establishing phone trees to rally the faithful if it is. Many have T-shirts with slogans every bit as intolerant as the south's reputation. "Homosexuality is a sin, Islam is a lie, abortion is murder," says one. (It is difficult to imagine how many more people you could offend on one piece of summerwear.)

    They appear as dotty as they do devout and determined. "What you're watching is that the socialist, communist elements are attempting to push out God from the public domain," Gene Chapman, a minister from Dallas, told the Montgomery Advertiser. Those subversive elements include the national rightwing Christian coalition and the seven southern, Republican judges.

    On Thursday afternoon, Moore vowed his undying opposition to the removal of the commandments; by Friday he had been suspended and his lawyers announced he was prepared to relent. Yesterday, the monument was still there and the crowds of believers kept coming, determined to martyr themselves before a lost cause.

    It would be easy to deride the defenders of the monument or to dismiss the whole charade as the latest illustration of the scale of degradation in America's political culture. However, Britons would do well to remove the mote in their own eye before resorting to ridicule. The only reason America can have these disputes is that it has a constitution that separates church and state (which we don't).

    For, while the spectacle is certainly ridiculous, its symbolism is significant. The US is at one and the same time one of the most fiercely secular and aggressively religious countries in the western world. The nation's two most sacred texts are the constitution and the Bible. And when those who interpret them disagree, the consequent confusion resonates way beyond Montgomery.

    This is a country where 11 states, including Alabama, refuse to give government money to students who major in theology because it would violate the constitution, and where nativity plays are not allowed in primary schools. It is also a country where, a Harris poll showed, 94% of adults believe in God, 86% believe in miracles, 89% believe in heaven, and 73% believe in the devil and hell.

    These two competing tendencies produce some striking contradictions. The supreme court and both houses of Congress all invoke God's blessing before they start work. But children are not allowed to say the words "under God" when they pledge allegiance to the flag at the start of school.

    So while there is a constitutional, albeit contested, barrier between church and state, there is almost no distinction between church and politics. Indeed, when it comes to elections, religion is the primary galvanising force and the church the central mobilising vehicle.

    This is one of the few truths that transcends both race and class. White evangelicals and black Protestants are the two groups most likely to say that their religion shapes their votes at least occasionally, according to a survey by the non-partisan Pew research centre. Since these two constituencies form the cornerstone of both major parties, it would be impossible for either to win an election without them and inconceivable that they could do so without the support of the church.

    But the influence of religion goes beyond domestic politics or social issues such as abortion and gay rights to crucial areas of foreign policy. Another Pew poll revealed that 48% of Americans think the US has had special protection from God for most of its history. Moreover, 44% believe that God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people, while 36% think that "the state of Israel is a fulfilment of the biblical prophecy about the second coming of Jesus".

    At this point America's internal contradictions become an issue on the world stage: the nation that poses as the guardian of global secularity is itself dominated by strong fundamentalist instincts. There are two problems with this. The first is that, as became clear in Montgomery last week, there is no arguing with faith. Fundamentalists deal with absolutes. Their eternal certainties make them formidable campaigners and awful negotiators - it is difficult to cut a bargain with divine truth.

    The second is that America's religiosity is not something it shares with even its few western allies, let alone the many countries that oppose its current path. Yet another poll shows that among countries where people believe religion to be very important, America's views are closer to Pakistan's and Nigeria's than to France's or Germany's.

    These differences go all the way to the top and explain much of the reason why the tone, style, language and content of America's foreign policy has been so out of kilter with the rest of the developed world, particularly since September 11. For these fundamentalist tendencies in US diplomacy have rarely been stronger in the White House than they are today. Since George Bush gave up Jack Daniels for Jesus Christ, he has counted Jesus as his favourite philosopher. The first thing he reads in the morning is not a briefing paper but a book of evangelical mini- sermons. When it came to casting the morality play for the war on terror he went straight to the Bible and came out with evil. "He reached right into the psalms for that word," said his former speech writer, David Frum.

    Bush speaks in the name of the founding fathers but believes he is doing the work of the holy father. He cannot do both and condemn fundamentalism. But if he feels he must try, he might start with the sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill."

  2. ~atp~

    ~atp~ TRIBE Member

    lol. I just posted on the same subject...but deleted it when I saw yours. So I'll print the article here:

  3. shylock_one

    shylock_one TRIBE Member

    Not really the correct forum but....

    I remember watching an interview Larry King was doing with a minister not too long ago and a viewer called in and ask, "If the bible says, 'thou shalt not kill', then how can Bush justify his actions with the war?"

    The minister responded that the quote was in fact incorrect and that the original Greek texts say, 'thou shalt not murder', which had different connotations.

    Hearing that made me sick to my stomach.
  4. king of Funk

    king of Funk TRIBE Member

    Wow......I for one, love delicious irony and this is a veritable feast for my appetite.

    On the one hand you have Islamic Shariah Law. A justice system based on the Quran and the Hadith (The Teaching of the Prophet Mohammed).

    On the other hand you have the presiding judge of the highest court in the state of Alabama openly saying "Christianity forms the bedrock of the American constitution and his conscience". With the 10 Commandments being the centrepiece.

    In this light let me make the following suggestion:

    Let's Punish those who break the "thou shall not commit adultery" Commandment, by having a gathering of their peers publically stone them to death.

    The US administration is brazenly playing to the Religious right at home and "preaching" secular democracy in the Islamic world.

    Provong that once again you can date Marylou and Reema, as long as the news in Montgomery, Alabama doesn't reach Amman, Jordan and vice versa.

    I'm getting bloated with all this irony, someone get me a fucking Petpto Bismol.
  5. Deep_Groove

    Deep_Groove TRIBE Member

    Why did that make you sick to your stomach? If the commandment really was a blanket "Do Not Kill", then you would be condemned by God for killing someone in any circumstances, including, say, self-defense against someone who was trying to murder you first.

    There are all kinds of shades of meaning in the real world.

    So-called "Just War" is another one of those situations where killing is not "murder". I think the destruction of the Taliban was entirely a just cause, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

    More generally speaking, this Roy Moore guy is an anomaly in America, as are the Evangelists who compose a small minority of all the Christians. You guys are making too big a fuss about this. The Supreme Court ruling will be upheld as it should be, the block will be removed, and everyone will get back to their lives...

    - Deep_Groove
  6. OTIS

    OTIS TRIBE Member

    I think he was disturbed because it's typical for "people of the lord" to play the 'interpretation' card so that the bible suits their viewpoint. In this case it was played to somewhat justify war & killing but moreso make it seem like a lesser act compared to murder.

    I don't know about you but I grew up roman catholic, went to a catholic school, and the little quip from a MINISTER of all people goes firmly against the basic and fundimental lessons that are to be derrived from the bible.

    P.S. do you ever say anything non-partisan?
  7. junglisthead

    junglisthead TRIBE Member

    come of it !!!

    first of all there is no "just war" to begin with

    the war in iraq is a sham, other than that oil is now being shipped out of the country again, and the money is filling american pockets

    the war on afghanistan is a sham, since all terrorists from 911 lived in america, and prior to that, most of them originated from saudi arabia

    secondly the taliban were and are not the ones who were getting nailed by the daisy cutters, many were harmess civilians already trying to get through life with what little they had

    now....let me guess your counter statement ... they were all savages, and there were no innocence killed
  8. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    no I'm not going to counter with that. I'm only going to counter with the notion that two genocides that occurred in our life time would have been able to be prevented if we had not followed the ascertain of "no war is a just war".

    Its unfortunate that we must face the contradiction that peace is not a goal for all. Its even more unfortunate that sometimes the downtrodden do not act as hoped when they gain some power. But there are over 500,000 dead bodies in Rwanda that suggest to me it would have been a very just war to have become involved in. There are 15,000 dead Albanians in the former territory of Kosovo who might have wished that the Dutch government thought otherwise as well.

    I'm not arguing the justification for any war, just suggesting that you might want to open your views to a little more grey areas sometimes history is not so beautiful as to provide right and wrong, often it provides horrific and horrible as its choices.
  9. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    What is meant by the concept of 'Seperation of Church and State". Does this mean that a church leader can only become a member of government by renouncing there faith?

    Does the sepration mean that works of art produced and paid for by the Vatican cannot be displayed in government museums. Does it mean that a gift like the satue of liberty can only by displayed if it is void of any and all religous conotations by all.

    I agree completely with the concept of "seperation of church and state". I agree with our PM on his intrepitation of it, and with Mr Chirac and his definition of it. But I don't see Buch breaking this all that badly.
  10. AdRiaN

    AdRiaN TRIBE Member

    Separation of Church and State does not equate to separation of religion and politics. The former refers to institutions, whereas the latter refers to beliefs.
  11. ~atp~

    ~atp~ TRIBE Member

    Let's assume the institutions are separate.

    So should we separate religion and politics? More specifically, should law draw from religion in any direct form?
  12. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    Ar you suggesting that I have the freedom to practice a religion as long as I am not an elected official? Doesn't seem like much of a freedom to me if I can be denied political office because of it.

    Should law draw from religion?

    Chicken and egg question. the laws are representitive of the society and religion has been a chaping force of the society. Should religion play a role in tax laws, nope! should religion play a role in property taxes NOPE. But how can religion not play any role in law when so many of our laws were written before our parents were born!

    Do we have to go back and rewrite our legal texts to remove all mention of god?
  13. ~atp~

    ~atp~ TRIBE Member

    Nope, I'm just wondering if it's right to make decisions that affect everyone based on a religious pretext.

    This is, of course, inevitable. We base our decisions on what has shaped and influenced our life. But to explicitly define laws based purely or even suggestively on a religious pretext seems questionable. What if I disagree with the religious context?

    That's a very good and practical point. Many of our laws were created in a time when religion was perhaps less disputed or at least, had more relevance to the society at the time. So do we go and rewrite all these laws? Sounds impractical, but we might want to at least reconsider those laws that seem to have only a basis in a religious context.

    We don't necessarily have to remove the word "God" from every law book if the word doesn't bear any significance on the righteousness of the law from an agnostic viewpoint...*shrugs* I'm just throwing a few ideas out there to narrow down the conversation.
  14. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    So what is a religous pretext? See I actually like church and state being as far apart as possible. I like the two to be able to contradict one another and to be able to mutually debate one another. But on a certain practical level I believe that the state must lead and not follow.

    Take for example abortion. I'm pro abortion from a harm reduction point of view. I believe that our current system is far better than having young women dead because of back alley abortions.

    Now I respect the catholic churches view that life begins at conception, that all life is sacred and that even the mother of the unborn child has the moral obligation to protect this life. I understand there argument, on a certain level I support there argument. I would do anything in my power to help a woman deliver a child into this world even if she cannot care for it and must give it up for adoption. I know far to many really cool people who were adopted as infants and thus I am pro-life.

    But from a measure of public health a woman must be able to get an abortion perfromed safely and by a doctor in a propper setting. Thus I have a context in which I support something that my religous precepts are actually against.

    Religion is a greater sence of morality, it is a greater restriction. I can follow the letter of the law and still be a rotten human being!! Religion aims one higher and at a certain level I can understand how this may cloud perceptions.

    I don't want to see crosses on the lawn of my government!! I don';t want to see christmas trees either. But when I great a man at christmas that I know to be a christian I will wish him a merry christmas and not a happy holidays! Its a cultural issue to me unrelated yet entirely related to religion.
  15. ~atp~

    ~atp~ TRIBE Member

    It's simple Ditto. If I create a law (to use your example) saying "It is unlawful to have an abortion because God says so" then the pretext for making abortion unlawful is based on religion. If on the other hand I create a law saying "It is unlawful to have an abortion because we believe that the moment of conception immediately gives rights to life for any unborn child" then it isn't (necessarily) based on religion. Necessarily. My point is that I have a problem with the explicit use of religion to justify law. If it can be justified outside of religion, then fine, but religion is not axiomatic for all of us. ;)
  16. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    I agree with you entirely.

    Does putting the ten commandments in stone on a memorial make the memorial religious? Is a tottem poll not the exact same thing. At what point does a symbol trancend the religion it is based upon. At what point does a cultural symbol transend its culture and become quassi religous?

    We have hospitals named after saints that are funded by a public health system. Does seperation of church an state extend so far as to suggest that the names of streets cannot include "Saint" as so many do in Quebec. How about the very names of towns.

    Can I argue that if I live in Saint Catherines the name of the town should be changed to reflect the fact that I don't agree with Christian saints.

    When we learn geography we rename many countries (china for instance is not and never has been called china!) should we also rename countires named after saints. As much as I agree with the argument at a certain point it is still seperate regardless of the name.
  17. AdRiaN

    AdRiaN TRIBE Member

    Interesting ... I'll expect to see you front and centre at the lawn of Queens Park protesting against the menorah that goes up every year for Hannukah.

    We'll see how that goes. :p
  18. Ditto Much

    Ditto Much TRIBE Member

    Just because i don't agree doesn't mean I'll protest it. Anti-Semitism didn't work out to well for my peoples, so we stopped. As an entire religion we simply stopped bothering to say anything about them.
  19. man_slut

    man_slut TRIBE Member

    I'm sorry whose "them?"
  20. OTIS

    OTIS TRIBE Member

    Maybe this has been answered already, but doesnt the President of the United States have to renounce his religion upon inauguration and become atheist?
  21. man_slut

    man_slut TRIBE Member

    August 28, 2003

    Moore's Monument
    Cement Shoes for the Constitution

    California be damned. Every rich moron and pathetic doofus in the Golden State may be running for governor these days, but a howling mob of good Christian people in Alabama is doing its level best to turn them all into yesterday's news. Their leader, Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court, has made it clear that the Heart of Dixie will brook no competition in the race to rock bottom.

    Thanks to him, the Alabama Taliban thinks it can walk on water.

    Wearing two-and-a-half-ton granite shoes.

    In Rome they threw Christians to the lions. In Circus Maximus Mongomericus, they throw red meat to Christian fundamentalists.

    A couple of years ago I went online and checked out an Alabama politics newsgroup. "Increase Your Child's IQ by up to Eight Points!" screamed one poster. Another called for public executions of school kids who are violent.

    Moore's Monument may have been rolled away, but how long do you think it will stay in the closet before he rolls it out again? Pity the road crew if he takes the thing on tour.

    When I was at Birmingham-Southern College, the SAEs had a couple of stone lions guarding the frat house. Another fraternity would cover them in paint from time to time. On one occasion the lions disappeared entirely, only to be recovered from the bottom of the Cahaba River. Rumor had it that the next stage in the fraternal escalation would involve dynamite.

    It was fun to image the offending fraternity rival going to a job interview in later years: "Yes sir, well, I've had some experience dynamiting lions..."

    The part of Montgomery where Alabama governs itself was originally known as Goat Hill. Long before George Corley Wallace (or Jefferson Davis) climbed it, politicians railed against "the Tariff of Abominations" and other betes-noires. On one memorable day they passed legislation making it a capital offense to put salt on a railroad track. (The law is still on the books.) This was before candidates discovered that campaigns are most successfully waged when they are about nothing, nothing at all.

    Uncomfortable discussing taxes, NAFTA and the Tariff of Abominations? Relax, just talk about the Ten Commandments, flag burning, gay marriage, prayer in the schools.

    The last anybody outside the South heard of Alabama state politics before Judge Moore came along was when Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, Republican, was caught relieving himself under the podium in a water-cooler jug so he wouldn't have to relinquish the floor during a filibuster. The receptacle became known as the Confederate Battle Jug.

    Then there was former Gov. "Fumblin' Fob" James, who was overheard cursing in the legislature -- in support of school prayer. "No one has a greater appreciation for a classical education as I do, " declared Gov. James on one occasion. He also said, "I didn't descend from an ape."

    Which was almost as good as the time Lester Maddox of Georgia said, "If elected, I will disintegrate the schools."

    Judge Moore reminds many people of that other little banty rooster from Alabama, George Corley Wallace, who stood famously in the schoolhouse door, founded the American Independent Party and ran for president with Gen. Curtis "Bomb 'em Back to the Stone Age" LeMay stalking at his side.

    The similarities between Moore and Wallace, while striking, are superficial. The differences are profound.

    True, both Moore and Wallace are products of Alabama, have defied federal law and led populist revolts. It is hard to imagine either of them smiling. But George Wallace's appeal was never especially religious. He showed little interest in setting up a quasi-theocracy and did not routinely claim to be defending the Almighty.

    Nor, at the same time, has anyone heard Roy Moore intimate, as Wallace daily did, that he sees "not a dime's worth of difference" between Democrats and Republicans.

    Judge Moore's antics seem more closely related to the infamous Brooksville Experiment and the impetus behind it than to the Wallace movement.

    In the northern part of the state, near Decatur, some people wanted to carve a new town out of Priceville a few years ago. The few houses and trailer homes scattered along a stretch of road were henceforth to be called Brooksville. According to stated plan, the only law would be the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus, as set forth in the Authorized King James Bible. The town would have a volunteer mayor and no other officials. Everybody would just get a gun and protect one another.

    A Probate Judge shot down the idea on technicalities. Brooksville was quickly forgotten after an amusing paragraph or two in the New York Times. However, the impetus behind it did not simply fade away.

    Brooksville is the nation in miniature in the eyes of religious fundamentalists, who have been trying to take over local, state, and national institutions for a long time -- almost 400 years as a matter of fact, ever since Governor William Bradford and the Puritans of Plymouth Colony apoplectically objected to non-fundamentalists taking the day off from work to observe Christmas, an event Puritans regarded as a pagan if not popish holiday.

    Among the abominations America's founding fundamentalists couldn't stand was, of course, the King James Bible (named in honor of the flaming homosexual monarch who "authorized" it -- i.e., put up the money for the translation). Did the would-be founders of Brooksville know King James once fell in love with a page boy in the kitchen and created him Duke of Buckingham? Does Judge Moore?

    Alas, if you think the idea of modern fundamentalists forming their own little town is funny, try laughing about this: they already control a great many school boards, giving them the power to decide what our children will and won1t be taught. They have elected hundreds of judges. Politicians everywhere must placate them daily. "Moderate" religious "leaders" are loathe to confront them in public. They are the loudest voice in many state legislatures, and no Republican presidential candidate would dare repudiate them. Instead, we get George W. Bush, who ran for office lecturing the poor on their responsibilities, proclaiming that the American people1s hearts aren1t right and campaigning at Bob Jones University.

    The character Miles Brand (played by Lawrence Harvey) in the camp classic film "Darling" was said to be "impotent everywhere but in bed." Judge Moore, who is articulate everywhere except when speaking or writing, evidently intends to make a public appearance or hold a press conference about every ten minutes for the rest of his life. The energy expended on setting up and tearing down his many-microphoned podium could have removed that granite monstrosity a dozen times by now.

    This is all happening at a time when Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, another Republican, is trying to pass a $1.2 billion "tax and accountability package." The bill, 594 pages long, will be voted up or down in a statewide referendum on Sept. 9. Meanwhile, the monument may be gone for now, but the Alabama Taliban is no more defeated than its Afghan counterpart.

    David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.

    He can be reached at: davidvest@springmail.com

    Visit his website at http://www.rebelangel.com

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