Separate, Please ; Secularism Is Not a Dirty Word

Article excerpt

When a news story reports that a foreign country is a secular society, most Americans are pleased and comforted to know that some rogue nation is not being governed by wild-eyed radicals. When presidential candidates, politicians and some pastors warn Americans that their own country is headed toward secularism, many Americans run around as if their hair were on fire, predicting the end of the country as we know it.

Why is that? We are not headed toward secularism. We've already arrived. We've been an established secular society since the beginning of the republic. It's what the Founding Fathers thought so important that they included it in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.

No, the First Amendment doesn't say that specifically but it does guarantee freedom of religion. That includes, much to the chagrin of some, freedom from religion.

What it is

One definition of secularism is the belief that religion and ecclesiastical affairs should not enter into the functions of the state.

That brings up the separation of church and state that causes such an uproar. The Founders did not want the church dictating to the government and vice versa. It's a good rule that has served us well for 236 years. Despite what some politicians and others would have you believe, it is in no danger now.

Secularism is not a bad word. Nor is it a bad policy. In fact, most of the civilized world is secular: all of North America, most of Central and South America, most of sub-Saharan Africa, most of Europe and Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The most theocratic countries lie in the Middle East and North Africa. That, of course, is where Islam dominates. And Islam scares the bejesus out of a lot of people. What those folks can't accept is that Islam doesn't make people bad; it's bad people that give Islam a bad name. Yes, interpreted in its strictest sense, it can become oppressive. Then again, so can Christianity. (See the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades.)

Theocracy

No one - well, almost no one - wants the United States to become a theocracy. Iran is a theocracy. It has an elected president but is run by the mullahs. Iran used to be a secular society, but the regime installed by the United States - which was corrupt and brutal - was overthrown and replaced by the mullahs. Now the government of Iran is corrupt and brutal.

Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' best allies in the region and one of its biggest oil suppliers, is a theocracy. …