Note: Today’s blog post originally ran last year to mark Independence Day. For more information about the “Christian nation” myth, see this Americans United brochure.
Today is Independence Day, and many of us will be meeting up with family for cook-outs, picnics, reunions and other events.
Tomorrow is the birthday of an unsung hero of church-state separation: the Rev. John Leland.
Leland, born in Grafton, Mass., on May 14, 1754, became a nomadic Baptist preacher after abandoning the Congregationalism of his early years. He eventually moved to Virginia in 1775, where he quickly became a prominent religious and political figure.
You may not realize it, but this is a significant day in the United States. Yes, it is Cinco de Mayo, which means you can have your fill of margaritas and guacamole. But it’s also the National Day of Prayer (NDP) – and that means we’re all getting treated to a big bowl of church-state mixing.
Some far-right Christians have a hard time obeying the law. Among them is Religious Right attorney Matt Barber, who really dislikes the idea of church-state separation and particularly has a bone to pick with the Internal Revenue Code’s prohibition against pulpit politicking by houses of worship.
In a recent column, Barber spouted the tired, old line that “the words ‘separation of church and state’ are found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution….”
Abraham Lincoln faced his share of sharp criticism from political opponents during his career, but among the most stinging accusations against him may have been an implication that the future president was “an open scoffer at Christianity” – in other words, an atheist.
“That I am not a member of any Christian church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular,” Lincoln wrote in July 1846, shortly before winning election to Congress.
The year was 1832, and a cholera epidemic was ravaging the United States.
Doctors of the day were powerless to stop the disease. As its depredations spread, some desperate members of Congress decided that only divine intervention could save the country. They proposed an official day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.
President Andrew Jackson was not impressed. Jackson announced that if Congress were to pass such a resolution, he would not sign it into law.
Saturday is Religious Freedom Day. While it’s not one of our most well-known or popular holidays, Religious Freedom Day shouldn’t be overlooked. Our country is in the middle of a campaign, spearheaded by far-right religious groups and their political allies, to redefine religious freedom. We cannot allow this to happen.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) urged courts and legislators to “tear down” the wall of separation between church and state in a November opinion column for The Washington Times.
“Simply put, the idea of a rigid separation between church and state is without any basis in our history or laws,” Hatch wrote. He went on to argue that most Founding Fathers didn’t agree with Thomas Jefferson’s concept of a “wall of separation” between church and state; instead, Hatch said they favored John Adams’ view, which he characterized as a “mild and equitable establishment of religion.”
When most people consider the qualities they want in a president, things like the ability to manage the economy, forge political compromises and tend to foreign policy come to mind.
But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has an additional qualification: He believes it’s absolutely essential that the president be a believer who prays regularly.