Archive for February, 2008
Where do our candidates stand on basic matters of separation of church and state and the constellation of values and issues that intersect this foundational doctrine of our culture and our constitution? First Freedom First, a joint project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, has ten well-crafted questions to help us find out.
FFF suggests using them at
Town Hall meetings or other locations where candidates for office will be gathering. You can copy and paste them into an email message to the candidates. Or, use these as suggestions to help formulate your own questions to candidates, to find out their views on safeguarding separation of church and state and protecting religious liberty.
These are things that can sometimes make candidates squirm; and they are sometimes coached not to talk about them. But avoidance does not mean that people do now want to know the answers or that there are not important philosophical and public policy matters that directly relate. Our candidatees should not only be prepared to answer such questions, but they can be reasonably assured that we would like to hear good answers.
1) Leaders on the religious right often say that America is a “Christian Nation.” Do you agree with this statement?
2) Do you think Houses of Worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax exempt status?
3) Do you think public schools should sponsor school prayer or, as a parent, should this choice be left to me?
4) Would you support a law that mandates teaching creationism in my child’s public school science classes?
5) Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?
6) Will you respect the rights of those in our diverse communities of faith who deem same-gender marriage to be consistent with their religious creed?
7) Should “faith-based” charities that receive public funds be allowed to discriminate against employees or applicants based on religious beliefs?
8) Do you think one’s right to disbelieve in God is protected by the same laws that protect someone else’s right to believe?
9) Do you think everyone’s religious freedom needs to be protected by what Thomas Jefferson called “a wall of separation” between church and state?
10) What should guide our policies on public health and medical research: science or religion?
One of the current fashions emanating from Inside the Beltway is the declaration that the “culture war is over,” and in the case of E.J. Dionne, that it is the wrong war to be fought. The currency of such proclamations may not last long. They are variations on the old saw that the religious right is dead, dying, over the hill, and so on. There are analyses to be made about the State of the Religious Right, which is certainly in a state of turmoil and transition, in the wake of the passing of the founding generation from public life. But any analysis whose central premise is any of the above, is probably wishful thinking, at best.
The time is not to kid ourselves with wishful thinking, but to be clear about the current nature and capacities of the religious right; staying aware of the direction of the religious right’s issues, organizations and electoral campaigns, and making any necessary adjustments.
Here is an example from today’s news: one of the most divisive issues of the culture war, marriage equality, is now before the California Supreme Court. It’s as high profile a case as they come; and in the largest state in the union; and it may well be decided prior to the November elections. The case will be heard on March 4th.
The San Francisco Chronicle has a helpful article about how religious institutions on both sides have lined up with amicus briefs in this case. This is important as the arguments made by these groups (as well as many others) will inform the battles to come in this area, and may very well serve as helpful briefings for candidates, staff and consultants.
The Chronicle reports:
As the state Supreme Court prepares for a three-hour hearing March 4 on the constitutionality of a state law allowing only opposite-sex couples to marry, the justices have been flooded with written arguments from advocates on both sides – including two large contingents of religious organizations with sharply differing views.
On one side are the Mormon church, the California Catholic Conference, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. They describe marriage between a man and a woman as “the lifeblood of community, society and the state” and say any attempt by the courts to change that would create “deep tensions between civil and religious understandings of that institution.”
On the other side are the Unitarians, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Soka Gakkai branch of Buddhism, and dissident groups of Mormons, Catholics and Muslims. Saying their faiths and a wide range of historical traditions honor same-sex unions, they argue that the current law puts the state’s stamp of approval on “the religious orthodoxy of some sects concerning who may marry.”
Raoul Kennedy, the attorney for the plaintiffs said, according to the Chronicle:
“… same-sex marriages were recognized by the Christian church in the fifth century, were observed among natives by the first Spanish explorers in the Americas, were common among the Mojave Indians of the Colorado River in southeastern California, and have been documented in more than 230 African tribes.
Besides religious denominations, Kennedy’s clients include about 80 churches and temples in California and more than 250 clergy members, some of whom perform same-sex weddings despite the state’s refusal to recognize them.
“By sanctioning only marriages between a man and a woman, the state relegates the beliefs and practices of (these) religions, denominations and clergy to second-class status,” Kennedy said. He argued that such treatment violates the California Constitution’s guarantee of “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference,” language that state courts have interpreted as separating church and state more strictly than the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Further info on the case can be found on the web site of the California Supreme Court.
All of the amicus briefs can be found here.
It is not clear when the court will rule on the case, however, there is the possibility that the ruling will come before the November election, and of course, then be an animating campaign issue, just as it was when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its decision on marriage equality in the run-up to the 2004 elections.
So, let’s not be lulled into complacency. The issues that animate the culture wars are alive and well and are not going away, and neither are the active players. The LGTB civil rights movement will continue to go forward, and the reactionary institutions of the religious right and several generations of trained activists will carry on as well. We can also reasonably expect that the Republican Party and its religoius right allies will skillfully exploit the issue (as they have in the past) if it should come up.
I think that the question that we Democrats at all levels need to answer for ourselves is — will we be ready if the California Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality?
The religious right has succeeded in dominating public discourse on the intersection of science and religion for a long time now. Among many other things, seesaw battles have been waged in many states over the teaching of creationism or intelligent design; and faith based “abstinence” programs as against thoughtful, comprehensive sexuality education.
But beyond the courtroom and legislative theatrics, and conflict driven media coverage, mainstream science and religion have been getting organized. Those who posit that religion and science are inherently in conflict are two sides of the same counter productive framing of the argument. Most Americans understand, believe and accept that faith and science are not necessarily in conflict. Those who support religious pluralism and sound science and science education are natural allies against the religious supremacism, Christian nationalism and crackpot science of the religious right.
A few of these efforts include Evolution Sunday, (actually, Evolution Weekend, Feb. 8 – 10 2008) in which hundreds of churches have sermons discussing the compatibility of their faith and evolutionary science; the publication of a book by the National Academy of Sciences on the compatibility of faith and science; and the publication of a groundbreaking theological statement by the United Church of Christ that seeks to end the “feud” between science and religion. The UCC has backed it up with an ad campaign targeted to science blogs.