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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Separation


I have had some misgivings that this post might raise a few eyebrows but having never learned to avoid the defense of principle I am going to put aside my fears and take on a subject that has caused me a great deal of concern of late. I am speaking of separation—between church and state, and another kind of separation that a few politicians of late have espoused as a badge of pious circumspection.

Bear with me, if you will. These topics are closely related, though they need some further clarification before it is wholly apparent. The politicians I refer to, all male, have made a very public point of refusing to meet with or be unescorted in the presence of a woman. Just to be clear, I am not making an oblique reference to some sort of assignation, but rather a meeting held in the course of normal business. When asked the reason, the men to whom I refer ducked the the question, referring to the late Rev. Billy Graham as the source of this injunction.

Now let it be said that I have no quarrel with the late Rev. Graham. What I question is the introduction of a particular religious perspective in the public conduct of our country. If public servants cannot serve all the people whom they represent without restriction, and without violation of their religious principles, then I suggest they should avoid seeking office. Beyond this I beg to question why this injunction should exist in this day and age—at least in public life. What compels such behavior? What about those who have changed genders, or are genderless? Does the same rule apply to them or to those of other races, religions or cultures?

It is hard to ignore a sly but clearly implied sexualization. I suppose one might make a case for extreme probity in the face of #MeToo, and if so I cast no stones at those who wish to follow Graham’s counsel as a personal credo. But to the larger point, I say—if one cannot serve the people transparently and without limitation, do not serve in a public capacity.

Now I said that I believe this subject is connected in a larger frame to the issue of separation of church and state and here’s why. Those who conceived of the great American republic were men of faith They were also fugitives if you will, men who chose to separate themselves from both civil and religious repression. They had personally witnessed and knew at first hand the dangers posed when the leadership of a country decided that those who held different religious views were heretics. Punishment and death invariably followed. It is because they were such excellent students of history that they took extraordinary pains to ensure that our government had no power to make law respecting the establishment of religion, nor the authority to prohibit its free exercise. In other words, our government was expressly forbidden to conflate its purpose with that of any religious perspective and in a few words required to permit the free exercise of whatever beliefs its citizens might harbor. The business of this government in the wisdom of our founders was to govern, and not meddle in questions of personal or corporate faith.

The on-going efforts of those who seek to create a nationalistic interpretation of our country, and beyond this to align it with a particular set of religious convictions is enjoying newfound adherents who have lost sight of the lesson so well understood by our founders. We cannot have a country that respects all faiths and beliefs, including those who hold no religious conviction if we seek to confound our charter, and assert the pre-eminence of any single religious viewpoint. As individuals our morality and conduct may be governed by whatever faith we choose, but as a state—we are bound to honor and respect the freedom of all our members to believe and practice their faith without the incursion of government ordination.

We cannot have all that we love and honor about our country and discard the principles on which it was founded. To those who lay claim to patriotism as a thinly disguised form of nationalism—one that provides cover for racism, sexism, and religious intolerance I say it is not this country that you love, but the very thing this country was created to guard against.


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