A Secular Republic Founded By Christians

It has always been easy to mistake the United States for a Christian nation. The founders were - to a greater or lesser extent - Christian and the vast majority of the population has been Christian from the start of the nation to the present. Nevertheless the Republic itself, thanks to the first sentence of the Bill of Rights, is explicitly prohibited from any religious activity:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Which is highly unusual for the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century when each nation had an established religion, sanctioned and supported by the state.

There is a reason for this prohibition: In the two centuries immediately before the foundation of our nation Europe suffered from bloody, almost continuous religious wars. Protestants of various sects and Catholics fought each other for civil power and the right to impose their religious views on others. England killed a king for his Catholicism, invited his heir back and then deposed that monarch's Catholic heir. Ultimately it settled on a Protestant monarchy with one, established, protestant church. That church was given the exclusive right to determine theology and to harass dissenters.

A large number of the original inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies moved to North America to escape persecution when some other sect took the upper hand in the struggles in England. By the time of the Revolution most people in the colonies found themselves living near to people who they had persecuted, or who had persecuted them, or both.

Although the wiser among them were sick of the fight many still had the stomach for further conflict.

Unlike many in the enlightenment, the founders recognized the positive role of religion in civic life. They did not fall into the stale anti clericalism of the French Revolution. Instead they sought to allow religion to thrive by preventing the religious from ever getting their most fervent desire: the power to impose their version of the kingdom of heaven on this earth.

The preservation of this unique and supremely wise arrangement has never been assured so it is worthwhile to stop and appreciate its value to all, religious and irreligious alike. It is particularly worthwhile when two large religious groups in the state of California - the Catholic Church and the Latter Day Saints have managed to violate it.

And, make no mistake, Proposition 8 - the measure that prohibits the state from recognizing gay marriages - establishes some religions as superior to others. It recognizes marriages performed by certain Christian sects  and marriages that conform to standards established by these sects as valid. At the same time, it prohibits the state from recognizing marriages  performed by other Christian Churches - The Metropolitan Community Church and tolerant congregations of many mainstream Protestant denominations - unless they happen to conform to the standards of the favored sects.

Regardless of their personal beliefs and relationship with god, gays need not apply.

With proposition 8 the State of California has allowed a particular group of religions to decide who shall be permitted to enter into matrimony and who should not. Regardless of our religious beliefs or lack of belief, we must all now receive the permission of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Mormon Elders to pledge our troth before god and society.

Having made themselves the arbiters of who should marry and who should not, the Catholics and the Mormons are now becoming rather uncomfortable with the consequences. Members of these established churches - and they have become the established authorities on the subject of marriage - are amazed that others should be angry at their interference in this personal religious matter. Now, after successfully persecuting others for their beliefs about the sacrament of matrimony, they claim innocence and ask for protection from the state.

Our founders had it right. A state that establishes one religion as superior to others invites sectarian conflict. Such a state cannot survive as a democracy.

 

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  • 11/15/2008 11:43 PM Anonymous wrote:
    Although I am 100% in favor of recognizing gay marriage, I take issue with your claim that Prop 8 is an establishment of religion because it prohibits an act which is allowed by some religions. That is like saying that homicide laws discriminate against religions which practice human sacrifice. Also, the same argument could be used _against_ gay marriage, since it favors religions that allow gay marriage over those that don't

    People have the right to approve or disapprove of any action for whatever reason they see fit in a democracy. The best we can hope for is that people will eventually be persuaded more by evidence than by blind faith.

    Also, FWIW, take note that the Bill of Rights prohibits /congress/ from legislating religious favoritism, but saying nothing about state ballot initiatives :-p.

    - Things that have been forbidden to congress under the bill of rights are generally considered to be forbidden to the states as well.

    Actually I think that the issue is that the state officially recognizes and sanctions the acts of some religions, while withholding sanction from other religions. It has chosen to confer privileges on marriages that meet the standards of some religions but withhold them from those that meet other standards.

    People have the right to approve or disapprove of any action for whatever reason they see fit. They do not have the right to make their approval or disapproval a part of the law. This goes beyond persuasion. It introduces the coercive power of the state into deeply felt personal matters. When this happens people become angry and you embark on the path of sectarian violence. We don't need to go back into history to see where this leads.

    I may believe that god is a dangerous superstition but I have no more right to make my atheism a part of the law than someone else has the right to legislate belief in the Holy Trinity as a requirement for public office.

    I rant but I happen to hold deep spiritual convictions. As a believer in something I am willing to stand strongly for the right of others to hold their own strong convictions and strongly against the right of others to impose their convictions through the government.

    So far as Wonks Anonymous can tell there are no modern religions that practice human sacrifice. He is not sure of what his response would be to a modern religion that practiced consensual human sacrifice.

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    1. 11/16/2008 12:42 PM Amazed 1951 wrote:
      But we do further our common beliefs, be they religious or civil, via our governments. Otherwise, what would be the value of a government, why would we bother?

      - Yes, common beliefs. But sometimes beliefs that were once common become less common.

      WA

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  • 11/16/2008 12:32 PM Amazed 1951 wrote:
    Wow, what a sermon. Are we now supposed to make a comment on this...I mean, like, you've said it all...what more can be said? How would any upright, upstanding American dare argue with this?

    -Irony?

    WA

    Reply to this
  • 2/12/2010 5:27 PM RichieT wrote:
    There is a big difference between allowing gay marriage and denying it. Allowing it, doesn't mean everyone is going to do it. Denying it means NO ONE CAN.
    Reply to this
  • 2/12/2010 5:34 PM RichieT wrote:
    The Treaty of Tripoli which was signed June 7, 1797. Article 11; As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/treaty_tripoli.html
    Reply to this
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