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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Garden is Beautiful: Assault on Church-State Separation: Pt. 1

Published: March 14, 2008
Section: Opinions

There is not a single resident of the United States of America that does not benefit every day from the Constitutionally protected separation of church and state. Regardless of one’s beliefs and religious practices (or one’s lack thereof), no individual can legally have an outside religious exercise imposed upon him or be prevented from his own exercises for religious reasons.

When you stop and think about it, this is a very precious guarantee. Imagine how greatly the victims of the Inquisition, the Holocaust, or the Roman Empire’s persecutions would have benefited from such a protection. Millions of people have lost their lives, their freedoms, and their basic human rights and dignity for want of free exercise. I cannot fathom how any citizen would not cherish this separation every day of his life and strenuously dedicate himself to its defense at the slightest chance of a threat to it.

I say this because the machinations of theocracy have begun to make their first, modest attempts at eroding America’s proud tradition of secular government, and without the due diligence of the American people, they could gain a foothold from which this most basic of our founding principles could be seriously threatened.

Some of the most insidious sources of these Constitutional assaults are coming from within the American government itself, specifically from members of the House of Representatives. The House has recently been considering several resolutions that express the support of religious, and more specifically Christian, practices and traditions. House resolutions have no official legal status and cannot be used to modify existing laws or allocate any government funds, so there is no direct damage resulting from their passage; however, they do not require passage in the Senate or the signature of the President to go into effect and as such can be passed relatively easily and without much publicity. Their strength comes from the rhetorical power they provide; they can be cited to justify future legislative action and they serve as official statements of position for the House as a whole.

The first resolution of concern was H. Res. 847, entitled “Recognizing the Importance of Christmas and the Christian Faith”. Introduced by Representative Steve King of Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District, the text was as explicitly religious as the title suggests. It resolved that the House of Representatives “recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world”, a statement that cannot be taken in any way but an expression of preference for Christianity. Even more ominously, it further resolved that the House “expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide”. This comes dangerously close to declaring a foreign policy based on religion. Imagine the reception this could receive from our Muslim allies during a time when we desperately need to secure as much support from the Middle East as possible. This goes a long way toward confirming the fears of many in the Islamic community that our military involvements in the region are attacks on their faith and their way of life. Instead of encouraging support for our humanitarian goals, we are provoking what amounts to a Crusade.

One would hope that such language would inspire strong debate in the House and face great difficulty in being passed. However, the resolution faced absolutely no difficulty at all in coming up for a vote, and, with only a simple majority needed, it passed by the incredible total of 372-9.

This nearly uncontested victory served to embolden the evangelical faction of the House, and they have returned with an even more extensive and extreme resolution articulating their fundamentalist aims. H. Res. 888 bears the cumbersome title “Affirming the Rich Spiritual and Religious History of our Nation’s Founding and Subsequent History and Expressing Support for Designation of the First Week in May as ‘American Religious History Week’ for the Appreciation of and Education on America’s History of Religious Faith”. It was introduced by J. Randy Forbes of Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District on December 18, 2007. Representative Forbes is one of the most outspoken Christians on Capitol Hill. He founded and currently chairs the Congressional Prayer Caucus, and he has made a name for himself as a staunch defender of religiously charged legislation. His strong code of ethics apparently makes allowances for political corruption, however; he received massive campaign contributions from the Political Action Committee of disgraced former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay, and he ignored calls to return them or donate them to charity after the depth of DeLay’s depravity was revealed. Forbes has been very successful at attain strong support for H. Res. 888, and it now boasts 80 co-sponsors, including members of both major political parties and House leaders like Minority Whip Roy Blunt (MO-7th District), Republican Conference Chair Adam Putnam (FL-12), Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thad McCotter (MI-11), and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul (TX-14).

Despite having only four concrete statements of resolution, the text of the full resolution is quite extensive. This is because the resolutions are preceded by a series of 75 ‘whereas’ statements which exist in theory to make the case for what is resolved but in practice sevre to paint a historically revisionist picture of the United States of America as a fundamentally Christian nation founded with the intention of strong links between the government and the church. They consist of a series of historical half-truths, blatant lies, and out-of-context quotes from noteworthy Americans. While examining all of them in detail would be unfeasible, I will present and analyze a few of them in next week’s column to highlight the shoddy research and biased view of history with which the entire resolution is replete. I will also examine the actual resolutions and look at the possible ramifications of its passage.