Defusing Hate: The Church-State Wall Can Stop A Rising Wave Of Intolerance
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Sep 09, 2010 at 12:14:09 PM EST
The wave of anti-Muslim hysteria sweeping the nation right now is deplorable. Americans of goodwill who value the Founding Fathers' commitment to religious liberty must stand against it.

Discouraging incidents continue to mount. In lower Manhattan, protests have erupted over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., some local residents are trying to block construction of a mosque. In Gainesville, Fla., a radical Christian fundamentalist pastor plans to burn Qurans this Saturday.

The sad thing is, we've been through this before. It happened in 1838 when Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs issued an order demanding the expulsion or extermination of Mormons in that state. It happened in 1844 when bands of "nativist" Protestants torched Catholic churches in Philadelphia. It happened in 1941 when mobs attacked, beat and killed Jehovah's Witnesses because they refused, on religious grounds, to salute the flag.  

It's understandable that some responsible people want to respond to the bigotry they see all around them. In Hartford, Conn., the city council has decided to ask a Muslim leader to open its meetings with a prayer from the Quran.

I'm sure this decision was born of good intentions, but it's the wrong response. Rather than encourage government bodies to sponsor Islamic, Christian or any other type of religious service, we would do better to reaffirm our commitment to separation of church and state - the platform upon which religious liberty rests.

As Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn put it, "Now, I think no general body should start its sessions with any prayer. City council is supposed to make sure potholes get fixed and residents have the best cable service possible. They are not supposed to become pastors or religious officials in any way."

But Lynn also pointed out that "fundamental Christian hypocrisy" of some groups demanding that meetings open with their prayers but protesting when other religious groups seek that right.

As bad as the situation is right now, it's also a teachable moment. This is an opportunity for leaders with vision to reaffirm all that is great about America - to remind our people of the importance of diversity and stand up for equality for everyone regardless of their beliefs about religion.

The demagogues have had their say. Now it's time for powerful voices to rebuke Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and all of those who claim to champion the values of our Constitution even as they mock them. It's time to remind America of the core vision of the Founders and what they intended when they adopted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And to do this without apology -- with no "buts."

Above all, it's time to embrace the idea that government has no business meddling in religion. Let individuals say whatever prayer or secular reflection that is meaningful to them, with the state sponsoring none. Our leaders should remind the people that under the First Amendment, all religions must be treated equally - with no faith receiving favors or burdens.

The best way to respond to hate and bigotry is to embrace basic principles, not trash them: That religious and philosophical diversity is a good thing. That the government cares not where, how or if you worship. That complete religious liberty for all is best ensured by the separation of church and state.

The best answer to bigots is not to take away their right to speak - but to offer better speech by explaining exactly how wrong they are and why their views run counter to the spirit of freedom that animates this nation.

P.S. Muslims have been living in America since our nation began, and many of our Founders supported their rights. James Hutson, a historian at the Library of Congress, has an interesting piece on this.




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But Lynn also pointed out that "fundamental Christian hypocrisy" of some groups demanding that meetings open with their prayers but protesting when other religious groups seek that right.

More than that... the rhetoric is that "diversity is acceptable" or that there is freedom of religion in America, but that non-Christians are trying to force Christians to be like them by denying them their "right" to pray.  That was what the mayor of Lakeland Florida implied in a talk he gave, and that is what I hear and read around here.  He was talking about the invocation given before each meeting.

The problem is that there are a number of groups that have not been asked to lead the "invocation", including the local mosque (they did ask the UU church and the Synagogue to pray... after being called out).  Non-Christians are not only being ignored, but they are singled out if the do NOT take part in the prayers- not standing and bowing their heads, for instance.   They think if they aren't dominating the rest of us, then they're somehow being persecuted.  Just as the jackass in Gainesville is crying "persecution" because of the reaction to his hate-filled plans.

Part of it is a dire need for education- teaching people what the separation of church and state means and does not mean.  It does not mean that atheists are winning because there are no prayers before government meetings.  It does not mean people are being persecuted when others tell them "NO!" when they proselytize.

It does not mean that private prayers will be banned in public places... as long as they ARE private (Too often I've heard the preaching-prayer - like loud "grace" at a restaurant that actually is a sermon directed at others).  It doesn't mean that kids can't pray before a test.  

These are some of the things that are being taught that it means in the churches.  They need to realize- and this will only come when they start hearing the truth about the issue- that separation of church and state protects them as much as it protects everyone else... and that America will cease to exist as a free country if that separation of church and state is ever torn down.  Indeed, I would argue that if separation of church and state is ever eliminated in this country (the dominionists winning, for instance), America will become the worst and most horrible tyranny that ever existed- worse than any other government including Nazi Germany.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Sep 09, 2010 at 05:12:28 PM EST

Bob, I don't think these guys have a problem with a tyranny. Reminds me of a quote from a book, "It's good to be in a police state, if you're a policeman." Well, it's good to be in a theocracy if you're in the right religion. The proof of it is their mealy-mouthed claims to accept that slavery was wrong, while (as documented at sites like this) they have so many links to Rushdoonists and neo-Confederates that they have no identity at all except nostalgia for a past ruled by the worst tyranny America has ever had: a tyranny violently enforced by an entire race against another without all that tax-intensive big government stuff. The seduction of being part of a Master Race is that you want the freedom to tyrannize others, for an easy wealth, for sexual license, or just out of simple sadism. That's what freedom means for "entrepreneurs" and their eager henchmen.

by super390 on Thu Sep 09, 2010 at 11:10:49 PM EST
Parent


As a conservative Orthodox Christian, I am sure that if the dominionists had enough clout, that I would be on their little list, since I reverence icons and cross myself when I pray. These people are just nuts enough to do strange and hurtful things to other people if they get enough power. I agree that there should be no 'invocations' at public meetings since the Jesus they invoke is only a parody of the one I worship.
Jim of Olym

by rdrjames on Sun Sep 12, 2010 at 04:21:31 PM EST


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