Chris Jepson: But not in government

It's hard to find any separation of church and state within the Republican presidential field.

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  • | 7:41 a.m. January 21, 2016
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” – Thomas Jefferson

My brother, Uncle Stevie, coined a humorous expression that goes, “Religiously but not in church.” We use it when we’re doggedly pursuing a task or having a particularly good time. We laugh at the context, at the irony of the expression. To be religious is typically associated with attending an institution such as a church.

It’s hard to find any separation of church and state within the Republican presidential field.

One thing that particularly baffles me about many Republicans is their inability to connect the dots on religious freedom. “They” want more of a specific religion (Christianity) in the public forum. They want public meetings, sporting events and civic gatherings opened with prayers to a specific godhead. They want sanctioned prayers in public schools. They want to place monuments and testimonials to a specific religion in the public square. They want “us” (all Americans) to genuflect before their collective religious beliefs regarding reproductive choice, gay rights as well as who should be eligible for public office (no atheists, secular humanists or agnostics need apply).

That our Founding Fathers purposely omitted any reference to God in our U.S. Constitution fails to enlighten the faithful that separation of church and state was their specific intention. Freedom of religion quite logically implies freedom from religion.

Even the most cursory historical understanding of western civilization underscores that assertion. In 1517, Martin Luther tacked-up his 95 theses precipitating the breach within Christianity, sparking nearly 180 years of fanatical religious warfare in Europe. Still fresh in our Founding Fathers minds was the reality of that European devastation caused by religious warfare. Hence, we see the unequivocal separation of church and state within our Constitution.

We have two clear examples of what religious dogmatism wreaks. One is historical. The 17th century Puritans, left to their own extreme religious logic, prosecuted 19 women (and men) as witches, hanging them all except one, who was “pressed” to death. My other example illustrates today’s mixing of religion and governance. Look no further than the implementation of Sharia law in Saudi Arabia and the effect on its citizens. One example: Women cannot drive or leave home without a male relation as an “escort.” They actually behead adulterers and blasphemers in that religiously “certain” nation.

America’s piously dogmatic would argue that I am identifying two outrageous cases illustrating the extremes of combining government and religious piety. But tell that to America’s gay community or any woman pursuing her unequivocal right to reproductive choice.

In the last Republican debate Ted Cruz singled out “secular humanists” as undermining America’s morality. As a life-long secular humanist I was alarmed at Cruz’s politically crude attempt to vilify me as immoral because I do not subscribe to his religious beliefs. Because I do not believe as Cruz, should I or any other American non-believer be made to feel out of place in America? That is exactly what those who advocate the mixing of religion and government would achieve if successful at combining church and state.

The author Robert Heinlein observed that, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” As would Cruz, as would Republicans if unopposed.

To paraphrase Uncle Stevie, “Religiously but not in government.”