July 3, 2006


The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government: As "people of faith" step up their crusade to inject religion into judicial decision-making, people of reason must understand why America should be a wholly secular state (Thomas A. Bowden, AynRand.org)

They call themselves "people of faith," and they are waging war
against a basic principle of American government: the separation of church and state. Complaining that our secular culture has improperly banished God from government, religious conservatives are working tirelessly to inject faith-based decision-making into America's legal system.

This conservative onslaught requires a bold defense of the secular state--by people of reason. [...]

A proper defense of the secular state must penetrate to fundamentals. It is insufficient, for example, to criticize Christian evangelicals for imposing their own narrow creed on a diversely religious citizenry. Such superficial criticism implies
that faith-based governmental action is permissible if representative of all beliefs, when in fact our Constitution forbids it.

America was established for a secular purpose: the protection of individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution neither mentions God (except to forbid religious tests for public office) nor imbues government with any religious purposes.

Individual rights can be protected only by a secular state whose every action is grounded in objective fact and guided by reason, not blind faith.

It's always an insipid argument--particularly since you can't derive rights rationally--but it's especially so on the 4th of July Weekend:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Republic is explicitly faith-based.

MORE (via Matt Murphy):
-The Mark of Zorach: REHNQUIST'S AND SCALIA'S COMMANDMENTS (Leon Wieseltier, 06.29.05, New Republic)

Here is Rehnquist. He begins by remarking upon the somewhat paradoxical instructions of American law on the question of religion and government. "Our cases, Januslike, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history. ... The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom." Or non-religious freedom: Freedom for conscience is not always the same thing as freedom for faith. But otherwise Rehnquist's account of the tension in our tradition seems unremarkable. And by way of annotating the more pious face of Janus, he cites Douglas in Zorach: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." This citation here looks only like an exercise in precedent, which is the food of law. By quoting Douglas and two other judicial observations about the central place of religion in the history of American self-understanding, Rehnquist appears to be making a comment about jurisprudence, not a comment about metaphysics. He is describing the law, not the universe; history, not philosophy; what is legal, not what is true.

Then comes the trick. He continues: "This case, like all Establishment Clause challenges, presents us with the difficulty of respecting both faces." So it does. But this immediately follows: "Our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being, yet these institutions must not press religious observances upon their citizens." Hold on. What sort of proposition is this restatement of Douglas? "Our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being": When Rehnquist smoothly incorporates Douglas's theistic language into this supremely reasonable sentence, he alters its tone. It is no longer a statement about what is, and has been, believed. It is now a statement of belief. It is an ideological statement disguised as an empirical statement. Rehnquist is saying not that this is said to be so, but that this is so. When he writes plainly, nakedly, innocently, sincerely, that "[o]ur institutions presuppose a Supreme Being," he has left the realm of legal hermeneutics for the realm of political theology. He has used history to smuggle philosophy.

Perhaps history is a better guide to what our institutions presuppose:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Ah, yes, the institutions of the Republic are established to secure the Blessings from our Creator.

[originally posted: 2005-07-01]

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2006 9:30 PM

" . . . you can't derive rights rationally . . ."

Nor can morality be derived rationally.

Posted by: Cayce at July 1, 2005 1:13 PM


Posted by: oj at July 1, 2005 1:16 PM

Individual rights can be protected only by a secular state whose every action is grounded in objective fact and guided by reason, not blind faith.

Of course Soviet communism supposed itself to be grounded in objective fact and guided by reason instead of blind faith. Though I suppose a Randian would just say the Reds got their facts wrong. Randians have never understood that all facts, objective or not, are filtered through our faith and that no amount of reasoning or mechanizing can change our basic, faith centered, human rationalizations. Ayn Rand was Karl Marx with a different machine.

Posted by: Shelton at July 1, 2005 1:30 PM


Thanks for posting...I'd still like to see someone confront Wieseltier with the Declaration and hear him try to explain his essay. I don't think he'd get very far.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 1, 2005 2:48 PM