The constitution, our compass.
Apart from thoughts on activities prohibited, the Founders recognized occupations that must have rights protected. Thus they gave Congress power to "promote the progress of science and useful arts." Remarkably, no branch of government was given power to create offices and initiatives to promote religion. Moreover, the Founders would not name in the Constitution any God, prophet, sacred writing, ritual or religious organization.
Such clear separation of state authority from church polity and privilege brought immediate assaults on the Founders and the Constitution, both said to be "godless." After more than 200 years, certain religious devotees are still challenging "the supreme law of the land." And some public officials, pledged to respect and support that law, appear to search continuously for ways around its most rigid commands.
State-church ventures by the present administration involve these perilous decisions: 1) Ignore constitutional law that bans religious qualifying tests for "any office or public trust," 2) Identify religious groups qualified as "faith-based" for public trusts in service, and 3) Provide those groups official status and public funds for government service. The violation of law and illegal hiring of aggressive "faith-based" (i.e., religious) advocates could undermine volunteer secular programs and finally destroy the protective wall between state and church.
A major political party remains in the clutch of dominant fundamentalism, where recruits for public office undergo detailed religious scrutiny. Successful candidates reveal their doctrinal beliefs, faithful performance of sacred rituals and, for added allure, may allege a direct mystic communion with deity.
Aspiring politicians have made boastful assertions about their spirituality and strong faith, claiming that supernatural religious conversion has endowed them with superior power to lead. Will partisans continue screening for candidates who pass religious tests, despite the Constitution's permanent ban on such testing?
Much of the recent controversy in filling judgeships relates to whether nominees will be moderate, nonsectarian and praiseworthy for their independence and fairness? Aggressive ideological surveys could select jurists most likely to advance sectarian religious agendas, thus destroying the integrity of secular courts.
Federal and state legislators allied with religious activists continue relentless pressure to establish indoctrinating rituals (prayer and Bible reading) in public schools. Without opposition, those alliances may successfully establish religious rituals, as well as nationwide public financing for private and parochial schools.
From the history of struggles between religious influence and government authority, the Founders understood that our Ship of State must have a permanent compass and ordained course. They also knew that religious interference could not be allowed to change the compass bearing set for safe passage.
Hopefully, America on constant watch will hold to her chartered course, rejecting ventures into the spiraling turmoil of sectarian opinions. Above all, we must hope to avoid forever the more deadly vortex of religious hatred and strife--the inevitable tyranny wherever sanctimonious zealots seize power and establish theocracy.
Lee Tiffin Missoula, Mont.
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|Publication:||Church & State|
|Article Type:||Letter to the Editor|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2004|
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