STEVE BOUSER: Church and State: Letâ€™s Not Play With Fire
I like the nice people at the Christian Book Store in downtown Southern Pines. When I stop in, they give me fudge samples.
But when I walk by the storeâ€™s big plate glass window these days, I feel like averting my eyes. Nothing personal, but what I see therein increasingly makes me uncomfortable â€” not because I have a problem with churches (I attend one), but because the displays so often reflect larger societal trends that worry me half to death.
Before you reach for your poison pen, Dear Reader, please hear me out.
Lately, the window has been dominated by a supersize poster containing the Ten Commandments. So far, so good. A Christian store or a Christian church is exactly where they belong. Where they donâ€™t belong is in a court of law â€” especially not if the idea is that the court is supposed to be enforcing said commandments.
Yet right there in that same display window are copies of three books currently on sale inside. One is called â€śSo Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny and the Battle for Religious Freedom.â€ť It is written by Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who is still mad about losing a dispute over a massive stone Commandments monument that he had placed inside the court building.
The other two books currently being promoted in the window are â€śMen in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America,â€ť by Mark Levin (intro by Rush Limbaugh), and â€śCourting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Is Usurping the Role of Congress and the President,â€ť by Pat Robertson.
Those are not religion books. Those are government books.
Why have all the right-wing Web sites and talk shows (and bookshops) suddenly launched this choreographed campaign to discredit our supposedly independent courts? Why do the Supreme Court nominations mean so much to them? Simple. They now control both of the other two branches, Congress and the presidency. The judiciary is all that stands between them and their dream of remaking the nation in their own image.
And what blueprint would they use for this remaking? Why, to hear them tell it, presumably nothing other than the Ten Command-ments.
I hope not. Theyâ€™re great as religious ideals to strive toward, but Iâ€™d hate to see our country being run by them.
Have you read them lately?
Take No. 1: â€śI am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.â€ť What would that mean if courts were really to start enforcing it? That Hindus and Buddhists, who have other gods before them, would be charged with committing a felony?
How about â€śThou shalt not make unto thee any graven imageâ€ť? Do we arrest all the artists and sculptors and printers among us?
â€śThou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vainâ€ť? ... â€śRemember the Sabbath Day and keep it holyâ€ť? ... â€śHonor thy father and thy motherâ€ť? ... â€śThou shalt not covet they neighborâ€™s houseâ€ť? Come on. Does anybody really want to start playing Taliban and criminally prosecuting everyone who cusses or plays golf on Sunday or disses his dad or casts an envious eye on the split-level next door?
If the answer is no, which I hope and pray it is, then letâ€™s quit playing with fire. All these demagogues suddenly rushing headlong to try to rile people up by mixing religion with politics (mostly right-wing politics) scare me. Before theyâ€™re finished, I fear they will have done a lot of damage to our Republic and the principles that are supposed to underlie it.
And, yes, one of those principles â€” donâ€™t let them bamboozle you into believing otherwise â€” is the principle of separation of church and state.
The Constitution may not say anything about a â€śwall.â€ť But the founding fathers had a reason for forbidding government, right there in Amendment No. 1, from passing any laws â€śrespecting an establishment of religion.â€ť
They knew from first-hand experience with England the dangers that lie in anything smacking of a state church. They didnâ€™t want it to happen in America.