Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, May 05, 2005

RELIGION IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE

George Will is being unusually silly today:

Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."


Will accomplishes the dubious trick of implying that not voting for atheists is somehow, vaguely, unconstitutional. Wrong.

Will rhetorically reduces the difference between voters' preferences and constitutional restrictions on officeholding to one of "de facto" vs. "de jure." Imagine doing this if religion is not at issue. Suppose we passed a law prohibiting people who wear clown suits from holding elected office. I would consider this a violation of freedom of speech. But it is the prerogative of voters not to support candidates who like wearing clown suits (if, for example, they don't seem serious enough to handle public responsibilities). So what's the difference between wearing a clown suit and believing in God? Religion. Will is quietly buying into an assumption here that religion, and religion alone, should be rigorously excluded from the public square. To impose a special burden of self-censorship on religious people is interestingly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. It is directly at odds with the principles of a free society.

Will's essay is an exercise in missing the point. The biggest example of discrimination against Christians and other non-secular-humanist faiths, which Will never addresses, is that we are taxed so that curricula which exclude or contradict our faith can be taught to our own children.

3 Comments:

  • Will starts out with the following: "The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans. In last week's prime-time news conference, he said: 'If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship.'
    "So Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a long, luminous list of other skeptics can be spared the posthumous ignominy of being stricken from the rolls of exemplary Americans. And almost 30 million living Americans welcomed that presidential benediction."

    One has to wonder if Will would have been happier if Bush had simply stated the obvious truth: "All of you people who incessantly wring your hands and bewail the immanent prospect of an Taliban-style theocracy in America are simply a bunch of lunatics, whose paranoid ravings are really starting to annoy those of us trying to conduct a reasonable dialog." No, couldn't do that; wouldn't be prudent.

    By Anonymous Strophyx, at 9:11 PM  

  • Strophyx, you are SO COOL. I love your comments. :)

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 5:35 AM  

  • I suspect that it's not so much the de facto requirement of behaving in a manner consistent with Christian beliefs that bothers him, but the necessity of publicly proclaiming one's religion.

    I will admit that if I was American, I would find it a little worrisome that declaration of Christian belief seems to be more of a requirement than actual Christian behaviour.

    Of course, given the nature of religion, I suppose just about anything *can* qualify as Christian behaviour if you are determined and selective enough. (Alas.)

    As for the necessity of declaring that non-believers can be good Americans... I'm pretty certain (if memory of polls serves) that a majority of Americans feel that a non-believer can *not* be a good President. So my sense is that Bush's remark was not quite so obvious for a significant minority of Americans.

    By Anonymous Tom West, at 1:19 PM  

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