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My Take: The five biggest misconceptions about secularism
Misunderstandings about secularists and secularism do a disservice to America, says Jacques Berlinerblau.
October 6th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: The five biggest misconceptions about secularism

By Jacques Berlinerblau, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jacques Berlinerblau is associate professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University. His book, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom has just been released.

As far as the Republicans are concerned, President Barack Obama is secularism’s go-to guy in Washington. Newt Gingrich refers to him as a “secular-socialist.” Mitt Romney charges that his opponent advocates a “secular agenda.” And Rick Santorum frets that Obama is imposing “secular values” on “people of faith.”

The president, however, seems not to have received the whole him-being-a-secularist memo. American secularists have thrown up their hands in frustration over his supersizing of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. They roll their eyes at his God talk. As for his recent call for days of “prayer and remembrance” to commemorate 9/11, well, would the late Rev. Jerry Falwell have done it any differently?

After spending years trying to sequence the genome of American secularism, I have arrived at a sobering conclusion: no -ism is as misunderstood as this one. All of which is bad for secularists, secularism and America. Let’s look at some of the biggest misconceptions out there:

1. Secularist: Just another word for atheist: Not true! But that doesn’t mean there is any thing wrong with nonbelievers. Nor does it mean that secularists and atheists don’t share scads of objectives in common (e.g., opposing religious establishment, securing freedom from religion, defending free expression).

American secularism’s roots can be traced to Christian political philosophy (yes, you read that correctly). Its main architects were Protestant thinkers like Martin Luther, Roger Williams, John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

What evolved was a political worldview deeply suspicious of entanglements between what these gentlemen called “the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.” They asked: “How can we configure our government so that citizens of different religious groups may all live in equality, peace and order?”

Atheists, by contrast, posit the nonexistence of God(s) and proceed to explore the implications of that intriguing premise. Let’s put it this way: While nearly all atheists in America are secularists, not all secularists are atheists. In fact most secularists are not atheists — but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

2. Secularism simply means total separation of church and state: Separationism is, undeniably, a form of secularism. But not the only form. Secularists need to accept this, if only because more and more state and federal governments are giving separationism the old heave-ho.

As conservative Christians like to point out, the Constitution never mentions separationism. That idea surfaces in Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in which he lauded “a wall of separation between Church & State.” It was not, however, until about a century and a half later that the wall was actually built. This occurred in a series of stunning Supreme Court decisions that briskly evicted religion from public schools and spaces.

The separationist worldview crested in the 1960s and 1970s. When John F. Kennedy talked about a country where the “separation of church and state is absolute,” he articulated post-World War II liberalism’s dream. Or delusion. Even Supreme Court justices whose decisions helped erect  Jefferson’s Wall conceded that total separation is impossible to attain.

That is because the United States is historically and culturally Christian. We rest on Sundays. We close federal offices on Christmas. We put the word “God” on our coinage. Most citizens are believers. The state cannot logically “separate” from them. As Justice William Douglas - no foe of secularism - once remarked, total separation would mandate that, “Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups.”

Government and religious citizenry are entangled. This doesn’t mean we should endorse those entanglements. Rather, we must recognize separationist secularism as something extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

3. Secularism is for Democrats: This was increasingly true with each passing decade from the 1960s forward. But after John Kerry’s debilitating loss to George W. Bush in 2004, all of that changed. Party strategists now recognized the power of the so-called “values voters” — the conservative Christians whose energy and activism propelled the incumbent to his second term.

A few months before Kerry’s defeat, an obscure state senator named Barack Obama blew the roof off the 2004 Democratic National Convention with a speech in which he intoned: “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States.” It was a harbinger of things to come. By the 2006 midterms, stories leaked about Democratic consultants who advised candidates never to say “separation of church and state” on the stump.

By 2008, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were Bible-thumpin’ with aplomb. Presidential candidate Obama, for his part, was promising to renovate George W. Bush’s faith-based Office. Separationist secularism, long in decline, was about to be rolled. What replaced it? Read on.

4. Secularists don’t make accommodations: Although few have noticed it, the Democrats have pivoted from “separation” to “accommodation.” This means the government can fund or assist religion; it just can’t play favorites. Thus, all religions are equal in the eyes of the faith-friendly state.

Is this approach secular? The jury is still out. Accommodation does respect the First Amendment principle of refraining from federal establishment of religion.

Consider the White House faith-based office. In theory, it funds all religious groups who provide social services (hence no establishment). In practice, however, things have not worked out so well (see complaints against both the Bush and Obama offices). Further, accommodation doesn’t really accommodate or take into account nonbelieving citizens.

5. Secularists are anti-religious: In recent years some have made secularism into a synonym for godlessness, possibly because a few extreme atheist groups have taken to calling themselves “secular.” Yet the idea that believers cannot be secular is incorrect and politically disastrous.

Secularism, as noted above, was born of Christian thought. Historically, its greatest champions have been those opposed to state support of one church or religious institution, such as Baptists, Protestant dissenters, and minorities including Jews, Catholics, Sikhs and others.

Secularism’s mission is to maximize freedom of and freedom from religion. But unless we start speaking of it in precise terms, and bringing secular believers and nonbelievers into coalition, it won’t be able to render this service to America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jacques Berlinerblau.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Church and state • Courts • Politics

soundoff (1,517 Responses)
  1. NY Veteran

    Organized religion is all about "do as I say not as I do". For all of you right wingers, just one week, put a note instead of cash in the colleciton plate. And tell your god fearing paster, bishop, imam, rabbi or whatever they are, that you belive so much in Paul Ryan's conservative position, that instead of giving them cash, you are instead giving them the opportunity to improve themselves. Let them cut their budget the way you wish to cut the goverments. Let them in turn pass that along to a more austere lifestyle for themselves. Let them close the soup kitchen with the promise of a bettter life with that opportunity. Be less secular at work and tell your employer that you want to speed up the recovery and they should keep some of your payy since you have too much. Lets see some of this oppotunity trickle down happen for GOP supporters. Practice what you preach. Or just admit taht you are hippocrites and stay home and watch football like the secular frauds that you really are.

    October 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  2. joethejuggler

    Pretty good article, but I will point to one flaw in the reasoning. The notion that separation of church and state is not somehow part of our country because it was only in the late 19th century that the Supreme Court ruled that it is the meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment is contradictory to the reasoning that leads one to conclude that our country is culturally and historically Christian because our coins have the word "God" on them (that didn't happen until the 1950s). Are we culturally and historically a slave nation since the founding fathers didn't explicitly abolish slavery? Are we culturally and historically a misogynist nation since women didn't get the vote until the 20th Century?

    October 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Solitairedog

      Actually we are culturally and historically a misogynist country. Still.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  3. John P. Tarver

    I do not believe the first amendment right of freedom of religion can be canceled by Justice Black's klansman notion of seperation of church and state. Perhaps secularists would be happier in a different Nation.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Dido

      I agree. The least secular counbtries in the world are also the best (Afghanistan, Iran, etc..) We religious people are not only tolerant but smarty as well.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      we'd be happier living in this nation if people like you wore hats that said, "i don't use my brain".

      October 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Flappy

      Isn't the Klan primarily a religiously affiliated organization?

      I think that may be a bad term to use to describe secularism. Ironically it makes the opposite point to the one I think you were trying to make. Secularism is about tolerance. The Klan is about intolerance.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  4. Rainer Braendlein

    In order to understand things we need to consider history a little. Up to 1742 a. D. the pope (daddy rat) had very great temporal power in Europe beside his ecclesiastical power. Through the great merit of Frederic the Great, King of Pruzzia, the pope got deprived of his temporal power. Frederic the Great was a Protestant with an extreme wide cultural horizon, and he was extremly virtuous, clever and smart.

    Frederic knew exactly how the Roman Catholic Church worked. He knew that it was merely an apparatus of power ruled by evil bishops which were greedy for honor, power and riches (just read Frederic's book "Antimachiavel"/Chapter 11/On Ecclessiastical Principalities). Frederic knew that the Roman Catholic clergy was not concerned about the soul's health of the Catholics.

    Frederic knew exactly (like Jesus Christ) that also the Protestant Church of Pruzzia was in danger to be infiltrated by wolves in sheep's clothing (Frederic called them ambitious clergy) which would not seek the soul's health of the church members but only their own material benefit, or power and honor like the Roman Catholic clergy.

    The Culture Minister of Pruzzia was a strict Potestant during Frederic's reign that shows what was going on in his heart. Frederic was convinced that Protestantism was the right religion.

    Yet, as ruler of Pruzzia Frederic prefered no religion publically in order to avoid the emergence of any apparatus of power like the Roman Catholic Church. Frederic assessed his citizens only according to their real practical merit or virtue, and not according to their creed.

    And this is the solution: A state or administration should assess people according to their true practical behaviour but not according to their creed. Nevertheless, their is only one true doctrine of faith, yet even if someone beliefs in the true doctrine he can commit sins or even crimes when his faith decreases. Hence, the government should be secular or neutral.

    And finally Jesus Christ will judge us according to the real, practical deads or works which we have done.

    http://confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    October 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  5. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    The author says,

    "It was not, however, until about a century and a half later that the wall was actually built. This occurred in a series of stunning Supreme Court decisions that briskly evicted religion from public schools and spaces."

    This is wrong, the seperation was built into the consti.tution and has always been there. The Supreme Court just closed the gate.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • joethejuggler

      Exactly.

      In broader terms, our country was definitely founded as a secular nation.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • joethejuggler

      And for what it's worth, the Supreme Court's Reynold's v. U.S. was not the first time the question was raised. Madison argued successfully against a bill that would have given tax-paid support to ministers in Virginia.

      I think the court was right in saying this was the original intention all along. Also, there were no court cases prior to this that ruled the other way. (That is, Reynold's was not a reversal.)

      October 7, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  6. Bootyfunk

    Thomas Jefferson, a christian thinker? LOL!

    "Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."
    "I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies."

    yes, Jefferson was quite the christian...

    October 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Jefferson didn't believe in the deity of Christ. In fact, he wrote his own bible, leaving out all the miracles.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • GAW

      A Christian Deist. Not conservative by today's standards.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • joe

      He was a deist. Believing in Christ doesn't necessitate believing in the church.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • GAW

      True Jefferson had no use for the church. He appreciated the 'ethics' of Jesus but had no room for the miraculous. If he was here today he would receive no warm welcome among most conservative Christians.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      what a lazy journalist. do your homework. here's some more quotes by "christian" Jefferson:

      "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man."
      "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
      "The Christian God is a being of terrific character - cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust."
      "He is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong."
      "If we could believe that [Jesus]...countenanced the follies, falsehoods and charlatanisms which his biographers father on him, ...the conclusion would be irresistible...that he was an imposter."

      seriously, this guy didn't do a drop of research. baaaaad journalist. Jefferson didn't much care for christianity. wouldn't exactly call him a christian thinker. he says in a number of letters he is a deist, not a christian.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • emory gayle

      Your point is a good one, but the quotes are Franklin's, not Jefferson's. Plenty of Jefferson's anti-Christian quotes out there, though.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • TR6

      OH YES!!! Please can we have more Christians like Jefferson

      October 7, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  7. palintwit

    Limburger cheese should be renamed Sarah Palin cheese.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • GAW

      Troll bait post

      October 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  8. Bibletruth

    "The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge." Perfect description of an evolution beleiver.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      be dumber. there are MOUNTAINS of evidence to support evolution - religion has exactly ZERO evidence. brilliant conclusion that people who follow proof and logic are ignorant, and people like you, who are in a religious cult called christianity, who ignore proof and evidence are really the smart ones. LOL.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Sorry, I'll take science over ancient mythology and primitive superst!tions any day.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "The illusion of knowledge"

      That phrase describes religious "knowledge" perfectly.

      Science does not know everthing. Religion does not know anything.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Sorry if science cannot explain evolution to the last question, but if you take away your faith, Biblethumper, what proof do you offer a skeptic that the world is 6000 years old, and we were all born from a single inbred couple?

      I am a deist, but I have no faith in religion. None. Too contradictory and hypocritical.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, it's a perfect description of thumpers like you, Bibblebabble. You idiots are content to believe that some sky-fairy created earth in 6 days because you read it in a book written by a bunch of people thousands of years ago. If anyone is delusional about 'knowing' something, it's people like you.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Arvoasitis

      "Truth springs from the earth,
      And righteousness looks down from heaven." (Psalms 85:11)

      October 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • esperanza

      Wow. And the same can be said for you. At least evolution has scientific backing. Creationism has only the bible, which is filled with more inaccuracies, falsehoods, contradictions, and scientific impossibilities than Harry Potter. And Harry Potter is great!

      October 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • emory gayle

      Actually, Bibletruth, the greatest enemies of knowledge are people exactly like you.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  9. Zaphod

    Removing religion from government is not an attack on faith, it's working to protect the beliefs of every citizen.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Bingo!

      October 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • GAW

      ^ What this guy said.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • darsan

      Wow!! I salute you.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  10. NorCalMojo

    This is like an article from a moderate Muslim. Moderate secularists are happy to let the militant atheists run around insulting everyone, but when they get a little back, they cry and pretend the atheists don't really speak for them.

    It's doublt speak and everyone knows it.

    As long as secularists find it necessary to insult everyone's faith, they're going to invite hatred. If they don't like that, they should learn to respect the beliefs of others.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      But it's okay for Christians to insult other religions, atheism, agnosticism, free thinking and secularism.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • joe

      No, it's not "double speak". You're just bearing false witness.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Ron

      "This is like an article from a moderate Muslim. Moderate secularists are happy to let the militant atheists run around insulting everyone, but when they get a little back, they cry and pretend the atheists don't really speak for them.

      It's doublt speak and everyone knows it.

      As long as secularists find it necessary to insult everyone's faith, they're going to invite hatred. If they don't like that, they should learn to respect the beliefs of others."

      As if having faith requires one to hate people with a different opinion on faith than their own. If questioning faith invites hatred, then I have to question how much faith those who claim it really have.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  11. Theen Allah Fat Mullah (the Original Hinduism Source.......)

    Governments, Army, and Religions are powers, they will continue to fight for their domination, America or anywhere in the world. PEACEFUL WORLD IS NOT IN THEIR INTEREST.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  12. amarjeet

    Secularism is a concept free from religion in dealing with civil society with all human beings. Faith is a philosophy of belief in one God that alone universal, present everywhere & watches all the time your actions. Faith & conviction is not specifically any religion. There are thousands of religions but faith is just one. There are so many religions and new coming up under leadership of pseudo religious leaders who are all in one with wisdom, vices & vicious objectives. But in public services all leaders in public positions have to keep off in decision making process, profess human equality and human dignity without bias. This is widely understood as secularism by people at large.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  13. TheMovieFan

    According to the right wingers, Obama is a secular Muslim who follows the teaching of Rev. Wright?

    October 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  14. albie

    my secularist believes are definitely not born of christian doctrines – they are a reaction TOO them

    October 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • albie

      To rather

      October 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Neutral_observer

      You really need to learn how to spell, albie.
      The overall laxity of grammer seen on these opinion pages is a sign of our Idiocracy. It;s frankly insulting.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Neutral_observer

      uh, I meant "grammar"

      October 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  15. Ellen

    So we now have the flip side of the article written against secularism from last week. Can we ever escape from dogma? Although this article is more political in nature, it still "holds a lot of truths to be self-evident." We in the US are fortunate to live under a government that recognizes that freedom is all-encompassing, even including freedom from being judged by others who claim to think exactly as we do. I didn't fit the mold criticized by the article last week and I don't fit the response either. I am Christian because I believe that Christ was an especially gifted teacher in his time. But I am not religious. I care deeply about the quality of leadership in our government, but I am registered as an independent because I come down differently on different issues. I don't subscribe to one ideology. That a doesn't make me wishy-washy; it makes me independent from ideology. I am law abiding, whether I believe in the law or not, because that's my job. I pay my taxes because I feel I need to pay for the security provided by the government. I do my best to follow the golden rule because my self-respect demands that I treat others as I expect to be treated. I'm not perfect; I'm human and feel fortunate to have this time on earth to express who I am.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • George

      Ellen, if you don't realize your're an atheist, come out of the closet and face the truth about your wicked self.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Waiting

      Well said Ellen

      October 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      George, I'll bet you wonder why no one ever wants you to come to their parties, happy hours, offices, homes, or anywhere they might be that would require them to endure your presence for longer than 2 seconds.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  16. dave

    This article IS secularism. The auther is searching to justify himself before God in his own mind and take others with him.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Bear

      Secularism has NOTHING to do with god and whether or not god exists. It has SOLELY to due with governmental policy and the appropriateness of involving religious input and consideration in policy that applies to all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations.

      You're barking up the wrong tree.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Which god? There are so many invisible sky fairies, I lose track of them.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Thank you, Bear. I doubt what you've written will sink in for people like dave, but you're absolutely right. People can believe in God and still be secularists, as the author said.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • waitasec

      who's god?

      (facepalm)

      October 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  17. Colin

    Science – Hello Religion, I'm science. I am about 3,000 years old.

    Religion – Hello Science, I am older than you. As far as we can tell, I go back about 40,000 years or more. There is even evidence that Neanderthals practiced me.

    Science – Really!! How do we know that, Religion?

    Religion – Because of you.

    Science – So, Religion, what do you do?

    Religion – Well, in the USA, I give comfort to not very smart people by letting them think that a being powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies will cause them to live happily ever after in heaven after they die if they follow some rules laid down by ignorant farmers and herders in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

    Science – You're kidding me. They buy that?

    Religion – You'd be surprised. Not only that, but in poorer, less educated parts of the World, I can actually convince people to hit themselves until they bleed, starve themselves, bob in front of a stone wall for hours on end, wade into filthy rivers and, in some cases, to kill other people or even themselves.

    Science – Oh my goodness, I'm not sure I want to be your friend. Do you do any good?

    Religion – I sell a lot of books. And what about you science, what do you do?

    Science – I relieve pain and cure disease. I also extend lives, allow travel, communication, and people to understand and control their environment. I allow humans to explore outer space, the bottom of the oceans and subatomic particles. In short, I have allowed humans to live longer, more informed lives, and with a degree of knowledge and comfort once never dreamed of.

    Religion – Wow, they buy that?

    Science – No, of course not. Unlike you, I have to deliver. I cannot claim something and avoid skepticism by alleging that it only happens after you die, or that my claim is "beyond understanding" or otherwise exempt from critical analysis or proof.

    Religion – That's gotta suck.

    Science – You get used to it. Anyway, I need a friend I can rely on. One of substance, not dreams. One of proof, not spoof and one of intellectual discipline, not flakey promises. I don't think we can be friends. Please go away.

    Religion – Now we both know that's not going to happen.

    October 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Orygun Duck

      A certain reality check is in order. As someone who has spent time in graduate school, I can tell you don't be naive about the world of science. And that is, science as it is actually practiced has a lot to do with money. Your research depends on the stuff. Pass the plate, please. And selling books helps. Ever heard of publish or perish??

      October 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • sammy 47

      Science teaches us that we are all made of accidental star dust and therefor we and everything we do is equally meaningless. IIt's religion that taught that it's worthwhile to relieve human pain and suffering, that people are not merely animals but have a conscious, the concept of collective conscious, love your fellow neighbor as yourself, equality in front of the law, and all of the concepts of morality that we all, including scientists hold dear.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Lomax

      I absolutely LOVE this! Is this your own creation? It's great!

      October 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • sybaris

      Sammy, you really don't understand what science "teaches" nor do you have a grasp on the evolution of the group/society.

      You're guessing.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Neutral_observer

      Sammy 47:
      Please look up and read Lawrence Strauss. "Something" CAN indeed come from "nothing" without any help (from God).

      Science "is". It's not a surrogate for faith: It is empirical, demostrable "truth". Unfortunately it requires the knowedge, focus, intelligence and patience that religion does not. Faith is for dummies and lazies. Sorry.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You can always tell a thumper: they consistently fvck up the word "conscience," writing "conscious" instead. I guess it's because it's got that Satanic word "science" tucked in there just to tempt them.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Pat

      O duck – you are right that science today requires money. Since the returns on money are so great it is foolish that it is so poorly funded. You should write your congressman and senator and explain that even in bad economic times not increasing the very small amount of goverment support for science will hurt the both the economy and people's well being. Please keep encouraging contributions to science.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • smart man

      gold. you made my day. let's start our own planet.

      October 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  18. Julie

    Why did this turn into an argument about atheists vs christians? Secularism does not question the validity of either, rather it posits that any religious belief or nonbelief can only share equal protection when separated from the rule of law. Why is that wrong?

    October 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • Barry

      Because human beings, whether religious or non religious, seem to have an innate need to be "right". They also have an uncontrollable need to let everyone know they are "right", and to inform all the "wrongs" that they are stupid, hypocritical, going to hell, anti science, etc.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Orygun Duck

      Atheists love this debate. They are very 'evangelical' about their beliefs.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves." – Buddha

      October 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  19. Marksu

    Saying America is a 'Christian nation' because the founders were Christian and the majority is Christian is a bit like saying America is a 'white nation'.

    Careful!

    October 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bobby

      The majority of the folks in the US are Christians, so yes, mostly a Christian nation. The majority of the people are white, so yes, a white nation. You can take heart that we ALL came from the same female in Africa (by the way, a black nation) about 150,000 years ago. 🙂

      October 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • jimbobbeebob

      No its like telling the TRUTH!!! It was and is a Christian nation....contrary to what anti-theist secularists want to write in our history books.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      jimboobee, you don't have a clue what you're braying about.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • rick

      it is mostly a female nation, too

      October 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  20. Nat Q

    "As Justice William Douglas – no foe of secularism – once remarked, total separation would mandate that, “Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups.”"

    Except that's not really what most people I know who consider themselves secularists/religious separatists mean by the term. It does not mean government agencies cannot ever come into contact with religions or religious people, but that those agencies can not make special policies that grant special privileges or deny services to people based on those religious affiliations.

    Of course police and fire protection could respond to a crime or fire at a Christian's house or a Christian church, but they must do so at the same level of attention, speed, and response as they would at a Muslim, Sikh, atheist, or Buddhist's home or place of worship. They can't, say, send fewer forces or provide slower response to a shooting at a Sikh temple than they would at a Christian church or at an atheist gathering.

    Separation in most modern secularists' eyes is not separation in terms of contact (which of course is impossible), but separation in terms of special consideration, in terms of legal policy.
    It means that all groups are treated equally, legally, with none being unduly promoted in terms of exposure or perceived validity above the others by government action, agency, or access to public facilities and events (which, yes, sometimes does mean separation in terms of contact since you can't claim to provide equal treatment when only allowing contact with one particular religious philosophy–like only allowing a 10 Commandments memorial at a courthouse and excluding other religious monuments. In that case, the only way to be equal is to either allow all religions to put up monuments or to have no acknowledgement of any religious stance at all).

    October 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Bear

      Indeed.
      they don't separate themselves from coming into contact with religious beliefs per se, but they do separate religious belief from what factors should be considered when determining governmental action and legal policy.

      October 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Awakened

      If they would pay taxes, which in turn pays the salaries of the fire fighters...why wouldn't they respond to a fire at a church? This country needs to be non-secular, as intended by the fore fathers, and collect taxes from all income, secular or not!

      October 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Awakened

      Sorry, I meant: this country needs to be secular (not non-secular as orinally stated)..

      October 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.