National Post (Canada), Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Come November, six dozen organizations will descend on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for the “Godless Americans March” to protest what they believe is a troubling growth of religious influence in American culture and government. They say the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended the federal government to be devoid of religious values, but that Uncle Sam is infected with a creeping religiosity.
The opposite is true. It is only in the past 50 years that the “separation of church and state” has been interpreted as requiring all trace of religious principle and every token of faith to be swept off the public square.
But for half a century, the public administration of the United States has been progressively secularized, and although the U.S. Congress still employs a chaplain and opens its daily debates with a prayer, it’s difficult to detect the handprint of faith in any federal institution. Recent court decisions have forbidden prayers before public high school football games and struck the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Still, the march organizers point to the commemorative ceremony at Washington’s National Cathedral after Sept. 11, to President Bush’s frequent invocations of “God” and the “Lord,” and to the expansion of school voucher programs that permit parents to send their children to denominational schools. The marchers appear intent on establishing a new right to avoid ever being confronted by opinions at variance with their own — which is the opposite of the First Amendment’s core protection of free speech.
Why should this matter to Canadians? Because the United States exerts a powerful social influence on this country. There has never been an official separation of church and state in Canada although multiculturalists frequently talk as though such a firewall existed. Secularists attacked Christianity in the public square in the 2000 federal election, and this spring, Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, boasted that one of his proudest moments in public life was keeping all mention of the Christian God out of the Parliament Hill ceremony following Sept. 11.
While it is wise and right in principle to keep the state from imposing a religion, it is equally unwise to make the state the adversary of religion, as some all too often seek to do.
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