Magazine article USA TODAY

Government and Religion

Magazine article USA TODAY

Government and Religion

Article excerpt

THE MIGHTY FIRST AMENDMENT in the Bill of Rights tells us that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." The meaning and intent of that proviso seem rather clear, as well as commonsensical, namely, that the government adhere to a "hands-off policy" when it crones to getting mixed up in theology. Yet, from all the "to do's" going on, one has to look seriously at what Friedrich Nietzsche believed when he wrote, "There are no facts--only interpretations !"

Cases tested against the ordinary proscription include school prayer, vouchers for church-related schools, and display of the Christmas creche and Ten Commandments in Federal and public buildings. Alabama Supreme Court Justice Joe Moore thought his cause was bigger than the First Amendment when he refused a Federal order to remove a 5,000-pound granite monument on which the Commandments were inscribed. Fired from his job, he pled that this conscience obliged him to follow a "higher law."

Those who want to give a liberal interpretation to the Amendment argue that it never was meant to shut out God in government--His name already is there. Witness the phrases, "In God We Trust" and the oath in court with placing one's hand on the Bible, assuring that the truth be told, ending with the phrase, "So help me God." (However, an atheist need not touch die Bible nor say that oath. He is on his own recognizance, so to speak.) In World War I, even Germany put the phrase, "Gott mit uns"--"God with us"--on the belt buckles of its soldiers.

Some few months ago, Army Intelligence Gen. William Boykin, in a public speech and full dress uniform, declared that the Moslem's Allah was Satan. This when we are trying to reconcile Iraqi culture with our own! He barely received a tap on the wrist for his injudicious remark. But perhaps one should not confront die issue of church and state directly but obliquely by appealing to the history of government when religion was "embedded" there and looking at the consequences. What immediately comes to mind are the Crusades of the Middle Ages and the Jihads of the Ayatollas.

The Spanish Inquisition, with Tomas Torquemada on a tear, convicted heretics, but then let the state carry out the punishment. Our own Pilgrims, who could not get along in England or Holland, brought to America an attitude of pure intolerance for other religious views. They pilloried dissidents and burned some at the slake in the Salem Witch Hunts. India still has not recovered from the injustice of the Hindu Caste system and its disdain for the "Untouchables." England's King Henry VIII broke away from Rome and established his own Church of England with himself as the head, and then raided the wealth of Catholic monasteries. The struggle between his daughter, Protestant Queen Elizabeth of England, and Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, resulted in the latter losing her head.

The Counter-Reformation found Rome's influence being felt in England, as Jesuits became confessors to the powers that be and worked to undermine the Protestant government. (It becomes understandable why that Religious Order was banned from "almost all the western countries except Catherine the Great's Russia.) John Calvin set up a dynasty in Switzerland in which the state was to be subordinate to the church and ordered burning at the stake for heretics. …

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