Now That the Votes Are In: Church-State Separation in the New Administration

Article excerpt

As you read these words, either Barack Obama or John McCain is preparing to assume office as the next president of the United States. This editorial was written prior to the election, so we were uncertain of the outcome when it was drafted. What we do know, however, is that we're going to be busy one way or the other.

Part of that is because of the ongoing activity of the Religious Right, a well-funded, well-organized political movement that will keep pushing its narrow vision for this country regardless of who is sitting in the White House or which party controls Congress. If the atmosphere in Washington is not favorable to these groups, you can count on them to turn their focus on the states and on local governments.

Aside from the Religious Right, we have deep cause for concern about the future of church-state separation in America because, to be blunt, too many Americans just don't know what is at stake. A recent survey on religious liberty issues by the First Amendment Center indicates that supporters of the Jeffersonian wall of separation between church and state have their work cut out for them.

In this survey, 55 percent of respondents told pollsters they believe that "The U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation." Only 39 percent disagreed.

An old adage says that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion but not his or her own facts. That is worth remembering in this case. No matter what people may believe, the U.S. Constitution simply does not mandate that we are a Christian nation. In fact, the words "Christian" and "Christianity" appear nowhere in that document. Instead, the Constitution's First Amendment states that the government may make no law respecting an establishment of religion, thus mandating the separation of church and state.

Sadly, we've come to a point where many people are unaware of the words in our country's foundational document. How did this happen? It's not as if the Constitution is some secret or hidden thing. Indeed, with the rise of the World Wide Web, it's only a mouse click away. Any American can read it--and they should.

But apparently, many people don't bother. Instead, they are swayed by misinformation and propaganda spread by TV and radio preachers and their pseudo-historian allies who argue the "Christian nation" line. Numerous mainstream historians have debunked this view, yet it persists.

The poll found other troubling results. Only 54 percent agreed that freedom of worship should apply to all groups, even if their views are considered "extreme or fringe"--a 15 point drop since 1997. …