This is why C-Span is so great, even though it is so boring much of the time. Once in a while I channel-surf through the Dish network news channels, pause on C-Span, and listen to someone making so much sense I want to bottle what he or she is saying and pour it, forcefully if necessary, into every federal and state legislator’s brain. No, why stop there? Into the brain of every person in the United States. Even the world if I could find enough bottles.
Melissa Rogers was testifying today before a Congressional hearing on “Religious Expression in Public Places.” She is an attorney, a Baptist, a Religion and Public Policy Professor at Wake Forest University, and more, I’m sure, besides (including being a good-looking woman and a fine speaker, which helped keep me watching C-Span longer than I had intended.)
One of her main points was that the Constitution and the Supreme Court have hit it just right when it comes to religious expression. We don’t need new laws, she said, what we need is to understand and enforce the laws we already have. People have the individual right to express their religious views and practice whatever religion they want. People also have the collective right to have government not support religion in any fashion, because the support of religion is never in the abstract—it always is the support of some particular religion to the exclusion of others.
When governmental religious support does become abstract, it becomes meaningless, as when a pre-meeting prayer uttered before a public body is stripped of all denominational or religious content. “God, Supreme Being, Ultimate Reality, whatever we wish to call you, we ask for your blessings, if that’s what you give, or your presence, if that’s what you give, or whatever it is you give (if you give anything), which we can’t be sure of, since we can't really claim to know who or what you are.”
So Rogers was crystal clear and emphatic in her call for government to stay out of the sphere of religion. This isn’t a war on religion, she said. Just the opposite. Religion thrives best when it is free of government rules and interference. When people call for government support of religion in this country, what they really mean is support of the Christian religion, and this obviously is a huge Constitutional no-no. So people can’t call for this directly, but the actions of government speak more loudly than words (I think I read recently that no Muslim or Jewish group has received funding from the Office of Faith Based Initiatives).
Rogers had a great response to those who want to subvert the Constitution by having the Ten Commandments and other Christian dogma displayed in courtrooms. She asked how a Christian would feel if he or she went to court and saw Koranic sayings plastered all over the walls, then heard the judge start off the proceedings with an Islamic prayer. “Wouldn’t that make you feel uncomfortable as a Christian? Wouldn’t you wonder if you could get a fair trial?”
It is indeed bizarre that Bush and company want Iraq to be a secular democracy, while they are doing their best to make the United States a religious (Christian) democracy. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the Iraqis want to found their constitution on traditional Islamic principles, I don’t see how the Bush administration has any room to complain given their blatant efforts to make Christianity our own state religion.