Friday, August 10, 2007

Hits & Misses at the LGBT Candidate Forum

VISIBLE VOTE '08
.
"Post-game" reports on the Visible Vote '08 Candidate Forum
.
You can watch the Headline News Segment here.

ABC News report called the forum
"a strikingly candid and revealing discussion."

“I screwed up,” Bill Richardson concluded
in a post-forum interview.

Finally, here are MY reflections -- "Hits & Misses" -- also available on The Huffington Post.

Stumbling to make separate sound like anything other than unequal the Democratic front-runners swore allegiance to civil unions for LGBT Americans in Thursday night’s HRC/Logo sponsored candidate forum. I was privileged to be in the studio audience for the historic gathering of presidential candidates addressing LGBT issues to an LGBT audience – an event hardly even imaginable an election or two ago. It was an honor to be there and one of the questions a reporter asked me afterwards was “did you hear anything new?”

What was new and important and worth celebrating, I believe, was the willingness of six leading Democratic candidates for President of the United States to address rather than dodge questions of concern to the LGBT community. Marriage Equality. Work place discrimination. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Hate Crimes. Yet I yearned to hear about the OTHER issues that impact LGBT Americans – the war in Iraq, global climate change, poverty and a sustainable economy to name a few.

For example, as the mother of a son on active duty in Iraq I would have loved to hear more of their plans for getting us out of Iraq! And so I left the forum thinking that the narrowness of the questions did not adequately represent the broadness of the concerns of LGBT Americans for the health, welfare and future of their country. I left simultaneously rejoicing in the “one giant step forward for ‘LGBTkind’” and sobered at how many steps forward we still need to go.

That said, what was also new was the clarity of the commitment to including LGBT Americans in the “liberty and justice for all” equation. Again and again ALL the candidates came back to fairness and equality for all Americans as a core value for them and for their campaign. And that is something to rejoice and be glad in.

What wasn’t new – or sadly, even surprising – was the bobbing and weaving around “The M Word”: Marriage. Gravel and Kucinich -- who have roughly the same chance of being elected as I have being invited for tea at the Bush White House – stepped up and called it like it is: equal rights for all Americans doesn’t mean marriage for some and unions for others. The others all had their hedges trimmed and ready to go: Richardson wants something “achievable,” Obama “isn’t there yet,” Edwards is “on a journey” and Clinton’s reasons were “personal.”

Truth be told, I couldn’t help but wonder if Senator Clinton’s “personal” reason for supporting civil unions over civil marriage is that personally she’d really like to be elected President of the United States. Politically I totally “get it” – marriage is just not the ditch the Democratic front- runners are going to die in. At least not this year.

Another notable moment was the sadly stunning crash-and-burn of Governor Richardson in response to Melissa Etheridge’s “is homosexuality a choice” question. A valiant defender and advocate for LGBT issues in New Mexico his stumbling, halting response was a very “real” moment in what was arguably the least scripted of the presidential candidate forums so far in this election cycle. He didn’t do himself any good with the target audience last night but he certainly illustrated how some deeply held convictions elude sound biting and deserve just a yes or no answer.

Finally, as a person of faith I was deeply gratified to hear across-the-board commitment from the candidates to return the White House to support of the separation of church and state: to end the infusion of public policy with religious ideology -- a sad hallmark of this current administration.

Moving on, I’m encouraged to have more than one horse in this race. And I’m tired of hearing who isn’t electable because of what. The American people – L or G or B or T or anywhere in between -- deserve better than an election decided on race or gender or hairstyle. They deserve the kind of frank exchanges we heard last night – the hits and the misses – and HRC and Logo deserve thanks for helping make it happen. It was an historic opportunity for all Americans as the once invisible LGBT citizens of this great country took their place alongside all the rest calling this nation to be the best that it can be.

43 comments:

Roger Olien said...

I was astounded by Hillary Clinton's attempt to put a positive spin on DOMA and Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell: the Republicans would have done so many worse things if they hadn't been in place. Wow! For me that was a "crash-and-burn" moment for the Senator.

Anonymous said...

I was embarrassed by the production. I heard that HRC was "casting" the audience. If so, I guess they could only find gay men, old lesbians and a few D-list celebs. Then there were the "issues" of interest to the LGBT community which apparently are only a few....marriage equality, discrimination, hate crimes, etc. They made the LGBT community look like the interest group that are often accused of being. It was sad that both the HRC and Logo found it necessary to be so one-note. That being said, I thought all the candidates were brave to show up and go one-on-one with the repetitive questioning. Hillary, as always, cearly stood out as the saavy politician who knows how things work in Washington and how best to move forward on gay issues.

Suzer said...

For me, Hillary's crash and burn moment was when she once again tried to reiterate support for "let the states decide." Any second year law student knows that full faith and credit must be given to marriages no matter what state they are performed in, and that anything else (whether called a "civil union" or "marriage") would be a hindrance to interstate commerce and unconstitutional.

She's smarter than that -- we know it and she knows it. I wish she'd just be honest about why she won't support marriage equality. I'd much more appreciate a "look folks, I think the country isn't ready yet, but I want to start with civil unions and go from there" than her constant dodging around the issue. She's a very intelligent and highly educated woman, who knows she is spouting a policy that would be unconstitutional while she panders for conservative Christian votes. I expect better from her.

I much more appreciated Barack Obama's honest and forthright approach. His dodges of questions were much smaller in scope, and he's an excellent speaker. If I had just last night to go on, he'd get my vote.

I agree with Rev. Russell about the other issues we are all concerned about, but also understand that with the time limitations and target audience, they probably weren't going to talk much about the war in Iraq or poverty issues. They did get some conversation in around health care issues, which was good.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous above about the audience...."gay men, old lesbians and a few D-list celebs...." with ONE very noteworthy exception....there was one very sexy, bright, hot and marvelous lesbian priest! But I would be prejudiced, wouldn't I?

Louise Brooks

Anonymous said...

Suzer -

You completely missed Hillary's point.....maybe another year of law school would have made the difference! She went the states decide route rather than going Federal, which would not have been a welcome outcome.

Law school grad

Suzer said...

No, Law Grad, I did not miss the point at all. Why would federal civil union or marriage rights have a bad outcome? No reason I can think of. I'd love if you'd share your reasoning.

Hetero couples have no fear of their marriages not being recognized if they move from state to state. Gay couples, as it stands with a "states decide" rule (for the handful of states that do give some measure, if not full, equality), lose their benefits of marriage if they move out of state. Under a "states decide" basis, gay couples also have no right to all sorts of federal benefits bestowed on hetero couples.

Hillary knows this, as you should, too, if you are indeed a graduate of any accredited law school. There is no equality for GLBT persons if states are allowed to create a patchwork quilt of rights granted in some states and not others across this country. If Hillary truly believes in equality, she won't continue to espouse letting the states decide.

If you are thinking she is letting the states fight it out until a case eventually reaches the Supreme Court and a decision comes down to settle everything, I think that is the wrong tactic, especially with the Justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court. She should be more courageous and stand up for equality now, IMO.

Anonymous said...

The full faith and credit issue is the problem with "letting the states decide". Anyone LEGALLY married in MA has their marriage vaporize if they move to Virginia.

And that's a problem.

I too would have a lot more patience if they said, "we have to start with unions". The M word wouldn't be a big deal to me if it weren't being made such a big deal by those opposed to giving my family ANY legal rights and protections.

Even in CA we are in some danger, at least one initiative trying to get on the ballot woudl OUTLAW the paltry benefits we get from our domestic partner laws right now.

IT

Mark from Minneapolis said...

Thanks for attending the forum. I watched it on LOGO and could not stay focused to listen through Senator Clinton's reponse. I thought that the panel countered Hillary's "leave it to the states" argument with our struggle for equality akin to the civil rights movement can not afford us to be left to the states because if the civil rights movement was left to the states, segregation would be state law in many states. I believe in a collaborative federal and state action to bring us all forward.

Lois said...

As the very proud mother who with her husband raised five children to adulthood -- four straight, one gay, all equally loved and cherished by us -- I find it abominable that the media and the population as a whole still speaks of 'gay rights' rather than EQUAL RIGHTS! Would we dare speak of 'black rights' or 'Hispanic rights'or 'women's rights' any more, in this country? You bet your life we wouldn't, and that's the way it should be.

What in the name of God is it that keeps society from seeing our countless millions of gay children, grandchildren, siblings, friends as equal in every way to our straight children, grandchildren, siblings, friends?

My four straight kids married the person they loved; my gay son was 'allowed' to wear a wedding band, with nothing official attached to it, even though his life partner and he were together for years, until our beautiful son died. I've written to each Democratic candidate (the Republicans are a lost cause on the issue) who blithely speaks of 'civil unions but not marriage,' and have told them they will never get our vote.

Cherished gay family members are first class citizens in every way, and that includes marriage, nothing less. Civil unions? They're scarcely even 'marriage lite,' and are *not* acceptable. Equality is just that ... equality in all ways. As one of the questioners at the forum wisely asked (paraphrased, here): Would the panelists accept 'civil unions' for *themselves*, rather than marriage? I think we know the answer to that one.
Lois

RonF said...

Suzer, if you want to refer to the "Full Faith and Credit' clause of the Constitution, be sure to consider the whole thing:

Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state. And the Congress may by general laws prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.

Seems to me that the Federal DOMA is covered under the latter part.

Mind you, I will be interested in seeing that come before the Supreme Court. Has it, yet? I'm frankly surprised that some couple hasn't moved from Massachusetts to some other state (say, California), applied for (and get denied) some benefit or status that is marriage-dependent, and then start suing. If it does get overturned by the Supremes, get ready for a Constitutional amendment to finally get proposed.

RonF said...

Given that the whole point of the gathering was to address "LBGT issues", it's hardly surprising that issues more general than that weren't addressed. There's no unique take on the Iraq war from the LBGT viewpoint; I'd be surprised if their opinions on the subject were not as varied as the population as a whole. So the candidates concentrated on the special interest issues that were of most interest to the special interest audience.

PseudoPiskie said...

I also saw "one very sexy, bright, hot and marvelous lesbian priest" several times. The cameraperson must have been especially attracted to one of the men as we got to see the same guys over and over. It looked like there were about 15 people there but it sounded quite different.

I wish the discussions had been available to more people. I have LOGO but the local cable doesn't carry it - which I why I won't switch from satellite. (I get very strange looks from the salesmen when I tell them that.) And that same cable is too slow to entice people to watch on the web. There is not enough coverage to encourage the Repuglicans to even think about doing anything remotely similar. They have to dodge the subject completely or toe the prejudiced party line.

Anonymous said...

To Louise and Susan

This is still all about flaunting something that is intrinsically wrong and in your heart of hearts you know it and can't help yourselves

Jim said...

Rev. Russell:

It always amazes me when a Christian, especially an ordained Christian pastor, objects to faith based initiatives.
I could understand it coming from an atheist or agnostic, but one who believes in God should not deny that our country was founded by people with a deep abiding faith in God, and dare we say it, Jesus.
I tire of having to explain to people that a clear reading of the U.S. Constitution nowhere requires "separation of church and state." What it does is prohibit a a state religion.
In other words, Mitt Romney could not become President and make us a Mormon nation, just as JFK, all fears aside, could never make the U.S. a Roman Catholic nation.
Separation of church and state is a myth dreamed up, mostly by people who don't want to be bothered with morality and the fact that our country was founded by men of faith. Flawed men, hypocritical men in some cases, but men of faith no less. Men in this case relates to the founding fathers and is not a meant to denigrate the contributions of women in the founding of the country or their accomplishments since.
So please, leave the "separation of church and state" to those who want to misread or deny the religious foundation of our government. Why a member of the cloth wants to do away with that is beyond me.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

Anonymous said...

As the very proud mother who with her husband raised five children to adulthood -- four straight, one gay, all equally loved and cherished by us -- I find it abominable that the media and the population as a whole still speaks of 'gay rights' rather than EQUAL RIGHTS! Would we dare speak of 'black rights' or 'Hispanic rights' or 'women's rights' any more, in this country? You bet your life we wouldn't, and that's the way it should be.

What in the name of God is it that keeps society from seeing our millions and millions of gay children, grandchildren, siblings, friends as *equal* in every way to our straight children, grandchildren, siblings, friends?

My four straight kids married the person they loved; my gay son was 'allowed' to wear a wedding band, with nothing official attached to it, even though his life partner and he were together for years, until our beautiful son died. I've written to each Democratic candidate who blithely speaks of 'civil unions but not marriage,' and have told them they will never get our vote. Our cherished gay family members are first class citizens in every way, and that includes marriage, nothing less. Civil unions? They're scarcely even 'marriage lite,' and are *not* acceptable. Equality is just that ... equality in all ways. As one of the questioners at the forum wisely asked (paraphrased, here): Would the panelists accept 'civil unions' for *themselves* rather than marriage? I think not.

Mark said...

Well, whatever the "Founding Fathers" intended, Jim, they're dead and we're not, and it's not the same kind of country it was in their time. Separation of church and state is the only really workable solution in a polyglot culture in order to ensure the well-being of the greatest number of citizens.

Suzer said...

Hi RonF. There is much legal reasoning behind same-sex marriage and many complex legal theories I haven't even started to explore in depth. Law school was a loooong time ago for me, and I don't practice in the area of civil rights law or family law, so I'm a bit rusty.

DOMA made the legal questions regarding same-sex marriage and full faith and credit even more muddied. It is, however, settled in U.S. case law that marriage and procreation are considered fundamental rights under our Constitution, and that states must give full faith and credit to marriages performed in other states. There are public policy exceptions to full faith and credit, which include things like polygamy and, arguably, same sex marriage. That's why there was a rush in so many states to get state constitutional amendments against same sex marriage passed, so the states' public policy would be well known.

There are also many well reasoned arguments using due process, equal protection, and the right to privacy which advocate for same sex marriage. And Rev. Russell's comments section is probably not the place to be setting all that out. :)

My point is that is seems disengenuous for Hillary to be espousing a state's rights model when that so clearly cannot work when dealing with marriage. My family law class was many years ago, but I do remember discussing the issue of the recognition of the validity of marriages from another state and that it is necessary to give full faith and credit to those marriages and also divorces. I believe the issue came up in conflict of laws as well.

One cannot leave one's rights at the state line. Our country would look very different today if Lincoln had allowed states to determine whether slavery was allowable in its borders, or if the Civil Rights movement had not been successful in the 60's.

I fear that if we leave this to the states, it will take years of legal wrangling before any equality is achieved. I may not see it in my lifetime. My partner and I will have to suffer the consequences, but hopefully future generations will benefit from our desire to have equal rights with heterosexuals.

And Jim -- hi. Like it or not, the First Amendment has been interpreted by courts through the years as placing a veil of separation between church and state. I've heard your argument from others many times, but we cannot go back in time and reinterpret the Constitution the way you'd like it to be. It is true that many of our Founding Fathers were Christians, and some were not. Faith based initiatives, while not all bad, come dangerously close to supporting a certain religious viewpoint, and this is why some people have a problem with them. What if the government were to supply funds to a Wiccan group that practices polygamy -- funds to, say, support strong marriages. And they then use that money to counsel couples and support the idea of polygamy. It's just an example, but I'm trying to make a point that the government should not indirectly be supporting one religious viewpoint over another. In a perfect world, faith based initiatives would be a good thing. The potential for misuse is what is troubling.

Blessings,

Susan H.

Jim said...

The founding fathers recognized that they had not written a perfect document. In fact, the first few amendments, what we now call the 'bill of rights' was called for before ratification. The amendment process is there for a reason.

Legalists (as opposed to legal thinkers) continuously search for permission. The constitution and the Bible do not provide permission for the internet! Maybe another way has to be considered. Of course not if it violates our prejudices. ;;sigh;;

I could not watch the debate. My internet connection was comprimised by the storms in the area, as was direct tv. Reading the transcripts and looking at the post event videos, I see democrats very aware that they cannot win without the Southern 'Bible belt.'

FWIW
jimB

uffda51 said...

The melding of church and state can sound pretty good - if you happen to be a member of the majority religion.

Who in government should decide which groups get my tax dollars?

It’s interesting that the overwhelming majority of faith based initiative dollars go to organizations that practice Mr. Bush’s religion. More specifically, to that faction within Mr. Bush’s religion that share a particularly narrow set of beliefs.

What happens if a government decides it would tolerate active campaigning by churches on behalf of purported God-favored candidates?

What happens if a government attempts to silence a church that dares to suggest that Jesus would oppose pre-emptive war and occupation in Iraq by attempting to revoke their tax-exempt status?

Jim said...

My point was that why should we, as Christians, be at all concerned that our nation espouses a Christian or Godly view.
I am not embarrassed that Congress says a prayer each day and I believe the 10 Commandments are an appropriate decoration for a courthouse.
Let those who don't believe gnash their teeth over the non-existent Constitutional clause that so many call "separation of church and state."
Christ said the gate is narrow and the only way to the Father was through Him, so if I believe that and believe I am called to evangelize that, why would I seek to hinder my opportunity to spread the message.
So call me the "f" word (fundamentalist) if you will, but I see no reason to wring my hands over whether children are exposed to the values and commandments that have served mankind well for several milleninium.
I believe that in addition to the theory of evolution, it is not a bad thing for children to be taught the theory of Intelligent Design. Afterall, as a believer, and I assume most of us on this forum are, isn't that what the story of Genesis is all about.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying we require people to pray, go to church or believe, and we certainly respect those who believe in different, if false, religions, but this is America and it was founded as a Christian nation, so feel free to disagree, but don't feel free to dismantle.
Let the liberal mocking begin.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

Linda in VT said...

Damn, I composed a long comment and the computer ate it. So let me say in short: If I (a straight white clergy ally) had been questioning Gov. Richardson, I would have followed up his stumble over "it's a choice . . ." with: "And does that matter?" In other words, I understand that it may be politically necessary to insist that gay and lesbian persons should be allowed to marry persons of their same gender because those are the persons they are born to love. But I still want to ask: Wouldn't real equality mean that we can all fall in love with and marry the person we choose, not the person who's chosen for us, by society or destiny? Heterosexism is so pervasive that we need to find an "excuse" for same-sex marriages, whereas heterosexual marriages are considered "natural." Phooey.

Caminante said...

[Jim's comments take the discussion away from the topic at hand (intelligent design, ten commandments in the courthouse). I won't even go there other than to say I disagree.]

Anyway, it's because of the non-portability of the benefits and rights conferred on us in civil union that we don't move away from our state. They are not the full boat, they are a step forward, but we sure don't want to move to a place that would no longer recognise our civil union.

I mean, how many hetero couples carry around their marriage certificate in their wallet as proof that they are legal? Yet my partner and I carry a copy of our civil union document just in case.

David Charles Walker said...

Susan: Thank you for being there. I share your concerns.

Lois: Your words are an inspiration to all of us. Thank you, thank you, thank you... from my heart.

Anonymous said...

Jim,
I am one atheist tired to the teeth of this sort of remark:

Separation of church and state is a myth dreamed up, mostly by people who don't want to be bothered with morality

You Christians Do Not Own Morality and I am tired to death of you acting as though you do. If you need to be reminded of that, I can point you at any number of morally challenged "Christians" and morally sound secularists.

And as long as you (a) presume that you own morality, and (b) try to impose your religiously derived policies on me, this is one atheist who will VEHEMENTLY support separation of church from state. You keep your church out of my state, and I'll keep my state out of your church.

Which means, for example, if you want to kick gays out of your church and not let them marry or preach, no problem. I don't care. But don't interfere with my civil rights in the secular sphere,a depriving my family of legal protections.

IT

Jim said...

Dear Caminante:
Rev. Russell's words: "Finally, as a person of faith I was deeply gratified to hear across-the-board commitment from the candidates to return the White House to support of the separation of church and state: to end the infusion of public policy with religious ideology -- a sad hallmark of this current administration."

So, for the record, not off topic. As a non-LGBT person, I don't feel the desire or need to weigh in on those issues.

As to the atheist responding to me:

Glad you're here on a Christian website, I hope you find the Peace and Love that passes all Understanding and that it will transform your life as it did mine.

In the meantime, I'm not requiring you to believe anything you don't want to believe.(if you read my post carefully you would see that)

And if you get time, please send me a copy of the section of the U.S. Constitution that uses the phrase "separation of church and state." Thanks.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

Suzer said...

Jim -- I am sure you know that phrase is not in the Constitution, but is in fact an interpretation of the First Amendment. The phrase, which I believe was coined by Thomas Jefferson (who I believe would have a pretty good idea of the intent of the Founding Fathers), has appeared in many Supreme Court decisions and has been relied upon to protect both religion and the individual.

Your argument is similar to those who say "show me where the Bible quotes that and I'll believe it." We could go on and on with that kind of argument, so I personally find it very unhelpful.

You may not like it, but over a century of U.S. jurisprudence, based on the First Amendment, has come to accept separation of church and state as a necessary part of freedom in our country. The beauty and genius of it is that you are allowed your religious belief, and others are allowed a different belief or even no belief, and the government can dictate that belief to none of us. What is it that makes you uncomfortable with that? (I'm truly asking, not trying to challenge you, but would like to understand why the issue of separation of church and state seems to offend some people.)

Blessings,

Susan H.

Anonymous said...

Jim, in your efforts to theocratize the US, fortunately for the rest of us, most of you Christians can't even agree with one another.

You do ignore the fundamental argument that I had with you (your sweeping claim that morality is somehow uniquely "Christian") and focus on the absence of a specific statement from the Constitution. It's a bit like the arguments that the NRA uses to justify letting any citizen buy a fully automatic assault rifle--or arguing about angels on the head of a pin.

Meanwhile, here's some evidence of the view of one of the "founding fathers":

"Believing... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." --Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802. ME 16:281



IT

Fran said...

Well, I'm not going to get into the fray here, but I just wanted to say the Rev. Russell that this is by far the best write up I have read of the event. I couldn't watch it, so thanks for your views.

Jim said...

Susan H:

Thank you for you kind reply. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I too believe that everyone has a right to their own beliefs and that the government should do nothing to interfere with that.
To go a step further I believe that All Saints has a right to express from the pulpit any opinion or belief it wants, up and including supporting politcal candidates without interference from the IRS.
What I object to is the attempt to erase and eliminate any connection between God and government. Heck, our government has prayed in Congress for more than 200 years.
"In God We Trust" is on our money. Children recite "under God" in our pledge.
My only objection is to that small minority who believe it is their right to eliminate those references.
If a judge wishes to display the 10 Commandments, that is his right. Not to say he should still administer the law fairly.
We live in a Christian nation, but there is room for Muslims, Buddists, atheists, etc. But the fact our government has always had a basis in God is, in my humble opinion, a non-negotiable fact of American history, tradition and reason.
But I appreciate your tone and honor your opinion, even if it differs from mine.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim from Michigan

Anonymous said...

How far have we fallen!

Once the Baptists were strict separationists, as evidenced by Jefferson's letter reassuring the Danbury Baptists of his separationist beliefs.

But now, the majority of the Baptists (S. Baptist Conv.) have decided that Caesar is more important than Christ. Yes, perhaps you can blame this devolution on the corrupting influence of the non-denominationals and tiny splinter groups (or, IRD). Now, it is the former established churches of the Colonies that defend separation of church and state, while Roger Williams' spiritual descendents desire an established church as long as it is theirs.

NancyP

RonF said...

IT, Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists seems to be the first public use of the phrase "separation of Church and State." It's instructive to look at the context in which it was used and what he meant.

The First Amendment's ban on an establishment of religion was meant to ensure that there could be no Federal established church. However, it did not ban the States from having such, and at the time that the Danbury Baptists wrote their letter Connecticut had an established church, which was not the Baptist church. Their concern was that under the laws of Connecticut, their rights to practice their religion was not considered absolute, but was in fact considered to be subject to the will of the legislature. To quote them:

But, sir, our constitution of government [the Connecticut Constitution] is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.

To which Jefferson replied,

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

It's clear that the meaning of the phrase "separate of church and state" is the assurance that the state will never interfere with the practice of religion and will never give any one religion any special status as the State religion.

It does not mean is that the State will take no notice of religion in general, nor that it will not recognize religion in general as something to be encouraged and supported.

RonF said...

Mark said:

Well, whatever the "Founding Fathers" intended, Jim, they're dead and we're not, and it's not the same kind of country it was in their time. Separation of church and state is the only really workable solution in a polyglot culture in order to ensure the well-being of the greatest number of citizens.

Mark, you are certainly welcome to your opinion. However, what the writers of the Constitution said and meant is now the law of the land. If you want the relationship between the State and religion in general to be different than what the First Amendment says, then feel free to propose a Constitutional Amendment to that end. We have a Constitution to ensure that we have the rule of law, not man, in the United States. The law does not and should not mean what one or a few people decide is most expedient at the time.

RonF said...

Jim, I ask what you mean by the comment that the United States was founded as a Christian nation? It is certainly not a Christian nation in the sense that Iran or Egypt or Saudia Arabia (and many others) are Moslem nations, where Islam is the established religion and non-Moslems are not free to practice their religion (upon pain of death, in some cases).

RonF said...

NancyP said:

"... while Roger Williams' spiritual descendents desire an established church as long as it is theirs."

I'm not all that familiar with what the Southern Baptist Convention is up to these days. Could you show me the statement by them that would indicate they want to set themselves up as the established church of the U.S.?

RonF said...

NancyP, unless the SBC is proposing something quite radical, I think you are misusing the term "established church". The phrase has a specific meaning, and I rather doubt that the SBC intends that (for example) the President of the United States would have to be a Baptist, Baptist officials would automatically be members of the Federal legislature, the SBC (and only the SBC) would receive direct funding from the government, etc., etc.

Suzer said...

Given our history and our jurisprudence, I tend to see our nation as a secular nation, in which a majority of citizens adhere to one sort or another of Christian religious belief. Using the term "a Christian nation," as RonF noted, creates a picture of countries such as Iran, which have an established religion inseparable from the laws of that country. I'm not sure that's what Jim means by using that phrase, though, as he noted that there is room for all religious belief as he views it. (And of course, he may clarify this himself :)

The Founding Fathers were most certainly influenced in their lives by Judeo-Christian religious belief. I don't really take issue with government merely mentioning God or religion, or even supporting religion in a very general sense. Trouble is, that means supporting ALL religions, as our government should not show favortism to one or the other. If we are having prayer in the Legislature, it is appropriate that occasionally a Hindu or Buddhist lead the prayer. This does happen, as I recently saw a news story about some Christians protesting a Hindu leading prayer in Congress (I think it was Congress).

I understand, though, that some folks fear our government having ANY entanglement with religion, to the point of even the mention of God being offensive. I think, legally, both sides have valid arguments. As a Christian, the mention of God bothers me little, but if I were an atheist, I might be offended that. I have to put myself in the shoes of another.

My concerns involve using tax dollars to fund religious schools, teaching the Bible in school, or using faith based initiatives to support groups that exclude those who won't profess a certain type of Christian belief -- that bothers me and I think crosses the line contained in the First Amendment.

The fear is that government will go too far, will become so excessively entangled in religion that it will slip into discrimination against the minority. If a militant form of Islam were to suddenly become the majority religion in this country, wouldn't we want our Constitutional protections to be strong, and not weakened by government encroachment upon the First Amendment? It's just a thought.

Rev. Russell -- thank you for allowing us the space for this discussion. I for one find it a very interesting subject, though it is veering away from the original post. :)

Jim said...

Ronf
Bad writing on my part. What I was trying, in a stilted way, to say was that the Nation's founders were by and large Christians.
The thought process and ideals were particularly Christian ideals.
However, and this is important for the debate, in their great wisdom and genius made certain that citizens in the country would not be punished for being, or not being Christian.
But clearly they believed in God and thought that belief an important underpinning of the new - and lasting nation.
Everyone is welcome here, to worship or not worship here, but my point is that those who founded the country never believed the erasure of belief was what they were writing about.
Hope that clears it up.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim from Michigan

Mark said...

Well, Ron, it is until we say differently.

And that's a fact.

RonF said...

I kind of figured that's what you meant, Jim, but I thought I'd ask for clarity. Thanks! Indeed, the Christian faith and its associated moral and societal standards formed a template for the development of American society and law.

Which leads me to note Suzer's opposition to teaching the Bible in school. Consider that the Bible is just about the oldest book in existence, and that what is written in it has had a foundational and continuously pervasive role in not just American society but Western society in general. Wars have been fought over it throughout the centuries. Moreover, great works of peace, compassion and mercy have been based on it's pages. It is one of the major works of literature and has influenced much of literature.

It seems to me that ignoring the Bible in education leaves out something essential. I agree that secular school should not teach the Bible as doctrine, but it seems to me that it should be taught as literature and as history.

Suzer said...

Ron --

If I thought it were possible to teach the Bible purely as history or literature I might (only might!) agree with you. If parents want their children to learn about the Bible, I believe the best way to do that is to enroll their child in a private school and/or teach them at home and at church. That's what my parents did and they did a fine job.

My concern stems as much from the question of whether it is possible to teach the Bible without imparting religious doctrine, as it comes from my distrust of those who would be teaching the courses. I fear that personal religious viewpoints of teachers would undoubtedly be expressed. Here in Southern Baptist country (Georgia), I fear there will in fact be little effort to stop the teaching of religious doctrine in classes studying the Bible. On the other hand, what if an atheist teacher taught the Bible class? What if his/her opinion was imparted even through tone of voice? What if kids come to see the Bible ONLY as literature or history, devoid of any kind of spiritual message? I just think teaching the Bible in public schools is a minefield that can't be cleared, and that's for folks on both sides of the issue.

Would you feel the same about allowing the Qur'an to be taught in public schools? Or teaching religious texts of the Baha'i faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, Book of Mormon, etc.? (All strictly for historical or literary value, of course.)

While I respect what I see as your somewhat idealistic view of being able to teach the Bible divorced from it's spiritual nature, I think the danger is too great that religious indoctrination would be occurring on public tax dollars, despite anyone's best efforts to keep that from happening. My state recently began allowing the Bible to be taught in public schools as an elective course, so we'll probably see the results (and pitfalls) of that in the next few years.

RonF said...

Suzer, I do agree that there would be some effort required to teach the Bible from a historical and social viewpoint without using it to proseltyze. But I think it's worth the effort. As far as teaching the Qu'ran and other holy texts, I wouldn't think that they'd be particularly appropriate when teaching American or Western history or literature (since they've had little influence on them), but it might well be appropriate when teaching world history, Asian literature, etc.

RonF said...

Mark, I'm afraid I don't understand your response. Can you expand?

RonF said...

Everyone is welcome here, to worship or not worship here, but my point is that those who founded the country never believed the erasure of belief was what they were writing about.

Good point, Jim, and it appears to me that there are many who desire just that end point; the erasure of belief, or at least the erasure of any official recognition or support of belief.