Romney, Religion & Reasonableness

In his “religion” speech of 06 December, republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said this: “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's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.”

In a commentary on the speech, J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, said this: “Governor Romney should also understand that ‘secular’ is not a bad word. While our culture need not be secular, our government must be – not in the sense of being hostile to religion, but being religiously neutral.”

The definition of secular: “of or relating to the worldly or temporal: not overtly or specifically religious: not ecclesiastical or clerical.” Walker’s and everyone else’s problem lies in what is meant by the term “neutral.” Carried to its logical extreme, neutral would mean that all coins should be inscribed with ALL appropriate pronouncements of ALL religions, such as “In God We Trust,” or none. The same would be true for public buildings and documents.

The First Amendment merely states that CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibit its free exercise. The 10th Amendment states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States (Congress) by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The courts are saddled with trying to make these amendments accommodate each other, since localities affected other than states (state governments) can simply mean groups of people, which could be interpreted as towns and cities.

The courts have both struck down and approved the display of religious entities on public property, finding ways in each case (both ways in this corner’s state) for them to be right or wrong. In the end, it would seem that local groups, especially since no injury to a citizen is involved other than the un-measurable and therefore unrecognizable alleged mental anguish, can make decisions regarding the issue. The group would make use of the “majority rules” provision endemic to democratic government but, of course, would not involve forcing any citizen to observe any establishment of religion, since only God and not doctrine would be involved.

Belief, as well as unbelief, is a personal thing (mind over matter), not government-regulated in any way and therefore never being susceptible to an abridgment of freedom. If an error is made by the state or group, it should be made on the side of separation, but groups of people running their own governing agencies should have the right to display religious symbols as long as the symbols do not establish a religion or effect coercion. This already is the case with respect to money and government buildings on all levels.

Walker further stated, “Government must not be allowed to meddle in religion, for or against, or take sides in religious disputes, favoring one religion over another. As soon as it does, it denies someone’s religious liberty.”

There are perfectly reasonable laws in this corner’s state, almost always un-enforced, that disallow snake-handling. The “peyote case” of a few years ago comes to mind. Should the government allow butchering of chickens or other animals as a form of worship? May the state prohibit the “religious” practice of polygamy…or even bestiality? Should the state allow the “Phelps crowd” to disrupt religious exercises (funerals)? Government sometimes must “meddle” even into religious practices in order to keep civil order, its fundamental domestic responsibility. Walker needs to get past this over-simplification of religious freedom. No observance that adversely impacts the society or forces conditions on such things as the legitimate conducting of business can be allowed in the name of religion or anything else.

It’s probable that Romney equated secularism with hedonism, defined as “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life.” If so, he described the current trend in this country toward the old “if it feels good do it” philosophy, and the devil take the hindmost. The Judeo-Christian concepts form the antithesis to that trend, with the admonitions of God as spelled out in the holy scriptures defining the “right” way to go, most of the civil law simply emanating from the Ten Commandments, for instance.

It may be that Walker actually homed in on “humanism,” defined as “a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially: a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual's dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason.” If so, as Romney said, he’s wrong. Self-realization through reason drove Hitler and Hirohito, but self-realization through recognition of the supernatural – God – and God’s exhortations drive people of goodwill.