Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

The Tension between a Godless Constitution and a Culture of Belief in an Age of Reason

Academic journal article Brigham Young University Law Review

The Tension between a Godless Constitution and a Culture of Belief in an Age of Reason

Article excerpt

The Tension Between a Godless Constitution and a Culture of Belief in an Age of Reason

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick& R. Laurence Moore W.W. Norton& Co.(1997)


Would Pat Buchanan, a perennial favorite of the Religious Right, violate the Constitution if he said: "God wants you to vote for John Doe"? Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore in The Godless Constitution1 would answer this question "Yes!"2 If not the letter of the law, then certainly the spirit behind the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and the "No Religious Test" Clause of Article VI would be offended by such a statement.3 What then should be the role of religion in public life?4 Should religious leaders be involved in politics? Should voters consider a politician's religious beliefs at the polls?

The Godless Constitution proposes that the founding fathers deliberately omitted any reference to God in the Constitution in order to "build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil."5 Kramnick and Moore argue that the founding fathers relied heavily on Enlightenment theory generally,6 and the writings of John Locke specifically, in drafting the Constitution. The result was to create a country where "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' and where any person may hold public office, regardless of his or her religion or even irreligion.8 This figurative wall, according to the authors, is violated when religious groups become too vocal in politics, seek to legislate the individual conscience, support specific candidates solely because of their religion, and encourage others to do the same.

The current state of the "impregnable wall" of church-state separation, according to Kramnick and Moore, resembles Swiss cheese.9 They attribute the glaring gaps in the wall to the vigilant and vigilante Christian Right, represented by groups like the Christian Coalition and leaders like Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Pat Buchanan. Consequently, Kramnick and Moore dub the so-called "religious" or "Christian" right the party of "religious correctness," turning the concept of "political correctness" on its head.lo

The authors argue that the Christian Right violates the spirit of the Establishment Clause, if not the text, by its impermissible entrance into politics.ll Kramnick and Moore concede that religious leaders have every right to become involved in politics, run for office, sit on school boards, etc.; however, they believe that the wall is breached when religious leaders claim that their political party, or a specific political candidate, is the "right one," or the one that God supports.l2 They object to the Religious Right's professions that, unless one views an issue a certain way or supports a specific candidate or political party, one is not Christian; they argue that, by using these improper tactics, the Religious Right manipulates the public's perception, drawing attention away from important issues.l3

The Godless Constitution further challenges the Religious Right's assertion that this is a Christian nation, and criticizes its alleged "flip-flop," or reversal. Kramnick and Moore assert that, having failed at its attempt to include a Christian God in the Constitution, the Christian Right has changed its tactics and "today is seeking ways to ascribe to the Constitution a religious purpose."14 The authors point out that "Americans are continually told that the framers were deeply religious, Godfearing Christians.... It follows that such religious men drafted a Christian Constitution in which God presides over and inspires a Christian political system."15 This misreading of history, coupled with politics of exclusion, is deeply offensive to Kramnick and Moore, who accuse the Christian Right of manipulating history to serve their purposes.

Kramnick and Moore's interpretation of history (which has received some criticism of its own)16 describes three leadersRoger Williams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson-who were deeply committed to the formation of a secular state where religion and government are separate. …

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