The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Separation of church and state

I find it hard, this time of the year, to figure out what to respond to people who wish me "Merry Christmas." Since this isn't Nazi Germany, we Jews don't go around wearing badges that say "Jew," so many of them are simply innocently making an assumption that everyone they meet celebrates Christmas, and I don't really want to start an argument with such people, so I'm stumped for a reply. Sometimes I simply say "Happy New Year"; my wife says "Happy holiday"; but neither seems quite the right response. (Often I just nod to acknowledge it. But even that does not seem the right response.) And also there are people who do it quite deliberately: I saw a column recently by someone who said she always wishes people "Merry Christmas" and was happy to note that others wish her "Merry Christmas" in reply; she takes that as approval. People like that I would happily start an argument with, but I can't tell the two apart, so I'm stuck.

We find people arguing that "separation of church and state" is not proclaimed in our Constitution. Truly, those specific words do not appear. But neither do the words "air force." Yet nobody would say that the Constitution only provides for an army and navy, and the other branches of the Defense Department were unconstitutionally established. Not even Justice Antonin Scalia would hold to that literal an interpretation of the Constitution. So we really have to go to the intent of the people who wrote the Constitution. The Constitution itself says that "no religious test shall be required" for any office. And the First Amendment, which many of us (myself included) consider to be one of the most important parts of the Constitution, forbids an "establishment of religion." Now, many "religious conservatives" maintain that the First Amendment simply forbids raising one form of Christianity above another; I think that George Washington, who wrote the famous "to bigotry no sanction" letter, would put that idea to rest.

I think the biggest expert on the meaning of the Constitution in this regard has to be James Madison. He is widely believed to have written much of the Constitution itself; he certainly did write many of the papers called "The Federalist" which explained the Constitution to the people. And he was also the author of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, including that First Amendment which we are discussing here. And if you read my earlier post on reading fhe Constitution, you will see that Madison, at least, believed in a very strict separation of church and state. So I think we are on strong ground in defending that separation.

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