Following up on the last item, on the religious right’s “Thanksgiving Family Forum” in Iowa for Republican presidential candidates, Igor Volsky flagged the line from the event that struck me as the most important.
The quote came from Newt Gingrich, who condemned the very idea of a secular state. “A country that has been now since 1963 relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t be surprised at all the problems we have,” the thrice-married, serial adulterer said. “Because we’ve in fact attempted to create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare.”
The disgraced former House Speaker’s reference to 1963 was apparently a reference to the Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp Supreme Court case. It was an interesting dispute: the justices considered whether public officials could promote Bible passages and the Lord’s Prayer over public school intercoms. Eight of the nine justices backed the separation of church and state — it wasn’t the job of the state or state schools to push religion onto children.
The underlying legal principle was simple: religious instruction should be left to families, religious leaders, houses of worship, and the conscience of the individual — not the government. In Newt Gingrich’s mind, the court was not only wrong to rule this way, but the very idea of taking children’s religious lessons out of the government’s hands represents an example of “driving God out of public life.”
That’s pretty twisted.
Also note, Gingrich doesn’t have to like it, but we haven’t “attempted to create a secular country”; the secular country was created more than two centuries ago. Our entire system of government is based on a secular Constitution that guarantees a separation of church and state.
I’m curious, though, what Gingrich would prefer we replace our “secular country” with, exactly. There are some countries that endorse Gingrich’s worldview and intermix God and government — Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind — but they’re generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.
Indeed, when it comes to American values, one might even say a move towards a theocratic system is a “nightmare.”
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