Standing Up For Church-State Separation In

Surveying the political landscape in the wake of the November elections, it's easy to get discouraged.

Religious Right groups are crowing and insisting that they have some sort of mandate to make their repressive agenda the law of the land. Pat Robertson, James Dobson and their allies are demanding that the Bush administration move forward immediately with the dismantling of the wall of separation between church and state.

But fair-minded observers know there is no such national mandate from the American people. Across the nation, turnout in this election was on average quite low about 39 percent. Many of the Senate and House races were very close. On top of that, issues like the war on terrorism and the possibility of conflict in Iraq monopolized headlines in the weeks before the election.

The American people in November did not vote for tearing down the church-state wall. The people do not want our public schools bled to death while tax aid is transferred to private religious schools. Polls show heavy opposition to public funding of "faith-based" social services that discriminate in hiring. Americans do not favor a government infused with a narrow sectarian perspective. Politicians who try to force these things onto the people will soon learn they've made a mistake.

Defense of separation of church and state has always been a long-term project. Americans United has been at this task for nearly 56 years. We've seen administrations come and go. We've watched the political makeup of Congress fluctuate. We've seen Supreme Court rulings favorable to church-state separation and several hostile to it. Through it all, Americans United has soldiered on. 

In the late 1970s, the Religious Right began assailing the concept of church-state separation. Movement activists backed candidates, got them elected and were confident they would soon have everything they wanted.

It didn't work out that way. The Religious Right got too ambitious. Its leaders frightened people, and there was a backlash. The American people favor a sensible, moderate course. They are no fans of extremism.

To be sure, there will be negative fallout from this election. We will have to be especially diligent regarding the federal courts, paying special attention to any Supreme Court nominees. Legislation that threatens the church-state wall will undoubtedly come up in Congress, and some of the leaders there are hostile to basic constitutional principles.

Clearly, we are going to have our hands full.

Yes, it's easy to get discouraged. But it's essential to move beyond that and pledge to work and continue fighting for our core principles. The wall of separation between church and state and fundamental freedoms it protects deserves nothing less.