Sunday, July 8, 2018

church and state

"Mr. Trump’s administration has consistently treated the separation of church and state as a form of heresy rather than a cherished American value."

That sharply worded commentary is from an op-ed by Susan Jacoby ("The White House Is Tearing Down the Wall Between Church and State," NY Times 7/5/18).

Jacoby goes on to write: "Attacks on the wall of separation established by the founders . . . are nothing new. What has changed under Mr. Trump is the disproportionate political debt he owes to extreme religious conservatives, whose views on church-state issues — ranging from the importance of secular public education to women’s and gay rights — are far removed from the American mainstream."

For Jacoby, the separation between church and state is at the core of American democracy but she sees the Trump administration trying to breach it routinely and with intent.

For example, she writes: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned to the Bible — specifically, Paul’s epistle to the Romans — to justify President Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents."

Whether Sessions correctly interprets the passage from Paul — Jacoby thinks not — is immaterial to the fact of his citing it in the first place. Those who composed the foundational documents of United States democracy — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution — pointedly stayed clear of citing religious texts in support of their then, and apparently still, revolutionary positions. We have, and at speed under the Trump administration, gone backward since then.

In another telling example, Jacoby refers to a visit by Education Secretary Betsy DeVosy to NYC, home to what happens to be the biggest public school system in the country, during which DeVosy, "did not inspect a single public school. Instead, she stopped by two Orthodox Jewish schools and spoke at a fund-raiser where she was introduced by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan."

Am I correct in remembering that Sinclair Lewis wrote in "It Can't Happen Here" that when fascism comes to America it will have a Christian face? Perhaps, were he around today, he might have amended that to say a Judeo-Christian face.

As for myself, let me say the routine abuse of religion for political purposes is one reason I refrain from indulging my residual affection for Judaism.

Jacoby has written books about Tom Paine, and the nineteenth-century orator Robert Ingersoll, nationally famed in his time for trying to bring Paine's radical secularism —or, as Jacoby prefers to put it, freethought —  back into circulation. Her strongly argued op-ed is in that vein.

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