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There is No Real Separation Between Religion and Government - October 6, 1997

Richard Brian McCarty

Modern day liberals, from the ACLU wanting an injunction against the Boy Scout Oath to Patricia Ireland's attack on the Promise Keeper movement, have said repeatedly there is a wall between religion and government. They use that to justify their argument that those with open religious convictions should not be involved in politics. They claim that religious conviction is a veil. Further, they act as if it is something new on the American political scene. History proves them wrong.

The " wall of separation" comes from a Supreme Court opinion some years ago. The opinion, as all others, has been debated by justices and legal scholars. The opinion flows from the First Amendment, which of course, reads that there should be no establishment of Religion.

That clause was put in the Amendment to prevent an official state religion. The United States was filled with people who had faced religious persecution from the Church of England. The founders wanted to prevent that from happening in their new nation. Nowhere is it written that the founding fathers intended no religion, nor intended the denial of the existence of God.

In fact, if one looks at the works of the founding fathers, references to God can be found from the start. Jefferson wrote that men are " endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." Was he talking about the mother and father who brought the man into this world? Was he talking about man himself? Of course not.

When one looks at American history, leaders who stand out had strong religious beliefs. Every President, including Clinton, has ended his oath with " so help me God." Lincoln prayed heavily during the Civil War and read often from the Bible. He would refer to it often when trying to make a point. Calvin Coolidge's strong religious beliefs reaffirmed the nation's belief in the Presidency after the Teapot Dome scandal of President Harding. Some would argue Jimmy Carter was elected President because of his religious faith after the Watergate scandal.

Franklin Roosevelt often appealed the help of "Almighty God" when he gave his stirring speeches during the Depression and World War II. Upon Roosevelt's death, Harry Truman asked the nation " if you pray, please pray for me." He did not say " Well, you see I would ask people to pray for me, but I hold a government job, and there is this wall of separation, and I can't ask that." During the pre-war hours of the Gulf War, President Bush was ministered to by Rev. Billy Graham. Say what you will about the war, but Bush, in his most difficult hours as President, turned to his religious beliefs, just as so many had before him. It would be worrisome if they did not.

Further, the notion of religious leaders rising to political prominence is not novel. James A. Garfield was a preacher and became President in the Nineteenth Century. Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister, appealed to Christian beliefs to lead the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm X's strong Islamic convictions were the basis of his political power. So is it any real oddity that men and women with strong Christian beliefs have an impact on politics today?

It seems the real threat to religious freedom may be the cries from the liberals. Why is it wrong to them that a man or woman who has strong religious beliefs dares to have opinions about political matters? Why are they afraid of that? Isn't that persecution?

Perhaps they are afraid of the results. The three major religions in the United States, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all teach to live life honorably in deference to God. They all teach self-discipline and charitable works. However, if everyone followed those teachings, there would be an end to the Liberal movement. And, that would put the Patricia Irelands of the world out of a job.

Maybe that is too cynical of a conclusion. Perhaps many Liberals are well meaning in their defense of religious freedom and allow their zeal for it to distort their interpretation of the way American life has flowed since the beginning. Perhaps their zeal prevents them from seeing the persecution they produce by calling for those with deep religious convictions not to express political opinions.

Even if given the benefit of the doubt, their opinions on how America should be governed are still worrisome. What kind of leaders would we have in the political arena if they could only be men and women who could cut on and off their most personal of beliefs? Isn't that against human nature?

If they could cut off their religion at the government door, who is to say they could not cut off any previously given political convictions? How then could the nation trust its leaders?

Further, is it right to ask them to give up the right to turn to God in what has to be their most trying moments in life?

Maybe that's why the great leaders of our nation often referred to God. They knew it was silly, and just plain wrong to pretend there was ever a separation of religion and government to the extent they could not openly express their belief in God. They knew, as the Pledge of Allegiance states, that we are " one nation under God, " not one nation just under.

Richard Brian McCarty has worked on several political campaigns of conservatives. He holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina and a BS degree from Lander University. An experienced writer, McCarty's columns are written from a distinctly Southern point of view. He is sometimes Southern, sometimes conservative, sometimes humorous, and sometimes all three.


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