Georgetown Conference Explores Secularism

National Catholic Reporter, March 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Georgetown Conference Explores Secularism


WASHINGTON--On Feb. 20. a conference at Georgetown University here focused on cleaning up what many Americans consider a dirty word--secularism.

The goal of the conference, called "Secularism on the Edge: United States, France and Israel." was to define what secularism is and what it is not. It drew participants from all three countries.

"[Secularism] is a guarantee of two things: freedom of religion and freedom from religion," said conference organizer Jacques Berlinerblau, Georgetown professor of Jewish civilization.

"In a perfect world, it balances the citizen's need of those two fundamental rights."

Secularism is not a synonym for godlessness or atheism or any other form of anti-religiousness, said Berlinerblau, author of How to be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. Secularism is interested in maintaining government's disinterest in religion, he said.

How successful the United States has been at separating religion and government was the subject of the first session, an interview conducted by Berlinerblau of John Fea, professor of American history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Berlinerblau showed a film clip of John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in which he proclaimed his belief that "the separation of church and state is absolute" and that presidents' religious views should be private. …

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