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>Why Those Who Dismiss Religion From The Public Square Are Wrong

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Richard Neuhaus of First Things has it right.

September 18, 2008

In his article “A New Order of Things” in this Month’s Meridian, Neuhaus takes us back to our founding fathers–specifically to Thomas Jefferson. He said that Jefferson wanted to be remembered as the author of the Virginia Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. In the text of the bill, said Neuhaus, Jefferson underlined this sentence: “The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.”

For some unknown reason the silly “religious” left found a fight to pick with Sarah Palin, partly because she appeared “in their face” and said she was a believer of Jesus Christ and principles of truth found in Christianity. The audacity of that woman! thought the liberal press and their coterie of Ivy League-trained pseudo sophisticates. “And she’s from Alaska. Can there be anyone who is really in the know from Alaska?”

“Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46

Never mind the fact that she fought and won over corruption in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. No matter that she worked for the Oil Commission in Alaska, faced-down big oil and won big dollar concessions from them and as governor returned about $1,200 per year to every citizen of Alaska because of this. No matter that she was a successful small town mayor and a governor with almost an 80 percent approval rating.

The combination of all of the above gave her ten years of administrative experience compared to Barak Obama who has no executive experience, gave nothing back to the citizens of Illinois, and has little or no experience running things; yet the young darling of the left is preening all over the globe before television cameras, hoping to become president on no account of his own. Yes, you could say Barak Obama is a “no account” politician. All talk and bluster, very little accomplishment.

The partisan remarks about Palin’s qualifications are as out of control and silly as the people making them. Here are some of the inane stuff liberal Democrats like to say: “How could John McCain put her up to run next to him? If he dies, she’s president and she’s no more fit to be president than my servant back in North Adams or the Bar maid at Joe’s Dinner. It’s an outrage, that’s what it is. An affront to our superior inherited intelligence and McCain should be charged with treason. Why, she’s got a 15-year-old daughter who got pregnant out of wedlock. If she can’t run her household better than that, what business has she running for vice president of the United States?”

These are only a few of the slanderous, supercilious comments. The fact is, Governor Sarah Palin has the Democrats running scared. That’s why all the negative talk and suggestions that with Palin, Senator McCain is attempting to spoof the world. It all started with Palin’s religion. It’s the genesis of all the dribble they write and say about Sarah and her family, and why Obama and Biden have placed her family members “in play” and “free game” to not only criticize but to slander and to set a smelly pen of wild hound dog attorneys loose to rummage around Alaska trying to pick up the scent of scandal and dig up dirt on her, but “Mr. Obama, save your money! They won’t find any.”

But as to Sarah’s religion, or yours and mine, it is not considered fair game by decent people, but only for Barak’s legal bulldogs who work for indecent Democrats that will do anything to keep a religious person out of office. Their mantra: anyone as brassy as Palin, who openly spouts her beliefs, must be stopped at all costs. Must be expunged from the public square.

But we disagree. As Neuhaus so eloquently writes, “In a republic of free citizens, every opinion, every prejudice, every aspiration, every moral argument has access to the public square in which we deliberate the ordering of our life together.

“The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.”

Neuhaus writes that civil government is “ordered by, and derives its legitimacy from, the opinions of the citizenry. Precisely here do we discover the novelty of the American experiment, the unique contribution of what the Founders called this novus ordo seclorum , a new order for the ages. Never before in human history had any government denied itself jurisdiction, whether limited or total, over that on which it entirely depends, the opinion of its people.

That’s what Lincoln, the founding father of the Republican Party, forcibly argued to Judge Douglas over slavery. While Douglas stubbornly held to the Dred Scott decision as the law of the land, Lincoln had the deeper insight into how this republic was designed to work.

“In this age, and this country,” Lincoln said, “public sentiment is every thing. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. He makes possible the inforcement of these, else impossible.”

Neuhaus said the question of religion’s place in the public square is not, first of all, a question of First Amendment law. It is first of all a question of understanding the theory and practice of democratic governance. Citizens are the bearers of opinion, including opinion shaped by or espousing religious belief, and citizens have equal access to the public square. In this representative democracy, the state is forbidden to determine which convictions and moral judgments may be proposed for public deliberation. And partisans should not attempt to limit the discussion, though it comes from a man or woman of religion. Though the argument refers to religious texts.

This is something the snobs and elites must learn. In a free and robust democracy, an opinion is no more disqualified for being religious than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb. “There is, or at least there ought to be,” Neuhaus said, “no legal or constitutional question about the admission of religion to the public square; there is only a question about the free and equal participation of citizens in our public business. Religion is not a reified thing that threatens to intrude upon our common life. Religion in public is but the public opinion of those citizens who appeal to religion in public.”

And this is the thing most non-religious people fear most. “It matters not at all that the speakers’ words are to advance religion, any more than it matters that other associations would advance the interests of business or labor or radical feminism or animal rights or whatever.

“For purposes of democratic theory and practice, it matters not at all whether these religious associations are large or small, whether they reflect the views of a majority or minority, whether we think their opinions bizarre or enlightened. What opinions these associations seek to advance in order to influence our common life is entirely and without remainder the business of citizens who freely adhere to such associations. It is none of the business of the state. Religious associations, like other associations, give corporate expression to the opinions of people and, as Mr. Jefferson said, ‘the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.’ ”

What should be our fear in America is the special definition the elites give to a concept known as “the separation of church and state.” Their misconception makes it mean the separation of religion from public life. That would be their goal, but it is not reality or the truth. The writer said they do not understand the theory and practice of democratic governance. America doesn’t have a secular form of government, “if by secular is meant indifference or hostility to opinions that are thought to be religious in nature.” America’s “government is as secular as are the people from whom it derives its democratic legitimacy. No more, no less. Indeed a case can be made—and I believe it to be a convincing case—that the very founding principle that removes opinion from the jurisdiction of the state is itself religious in both historical origin and continuing foundation. Put differently, the inspiration for religious freedom, as of other freedoms, is itself religious.”

All of this is anethma to the elite on snob hill, to the vicious left wing in America. Their view of religion is just what Obama called it, a crutch to which “those people cling to.” To elitists it can’t represent contemporary thought or intelligence. How could it, it isn’t true? “Gov. Sarah Palin—combining fervent Christian faith with political moxy and celebrity power—is an interloper from an earlier America that secularists had long since consigned to the past. But it keeps coming back.”

Thank God our founders knew how important religious beliefs were. “We hold these truths,” they declared. And I believe explicitly with Richard Neuhaus when he said. . . when these truths about the “unalienable rights” with which persons are “endowed by their Creator” are no longer firmly held by the American people and robustly advanced in the public square, this experiment will have come to an end.In that unhappy case, this experiment will have turned out to be not a novus ordo seclorum but a temporary respite from humanity’s penchant for tyranny.

Yet it is a longstanding fact that secularized elites in our universities and our courts are embarrassed by the inescapably religious nature of this nation’s founding and subsequent history.

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