Robert Paul: Religion and the Constitution
Dear Timothy: In responding to your column, I am not too sure where to begin so I’ll just work through your points. First, the argument about whether the United States of America was founded on Christian principles does not hinge on whether there were Christian or non-Christians signing the Declaration of Independence. The issue lay with the cultural ethos that created the founding documents. Regardless of the founding fathers’ religious perspectives, they were raised in a culture that shaped their very ideals.
Second, you take issue with the idea that our nation was founded on Christian values and argue that the Ten Commandments are universal to all cultures. While there is some truth to all peoples across time sharing some core morality, the idea of America being founded just as easily on Hindu values is a veritable impossibility. The Hindu value system, while it does have aspects of the Ten Commandments within it, does not have the idea that “all men are created equal.” Gandhi, in fact, wished he could expunge from the Vedas the passages that allowed for the establishment and maintenance of the caste system. The Hindu culture would have never created America’s founding documents.
Third, the separation between Church and State was written into the constitution not to keep religious ideas out of government but to safeguard against the State dictating religion to the people. The founding fathers understood that part of the right to pursue “life, liberty, and happiness” entailed the right to pursue one’s own faith.
Finally, the idea of a “secular government free from the will of religious interests” that “stays out of religion” is an impossibility. Law inevitably rests on some philosophical and or religious underpinnings. This cannot be avoided. Moral and ethical concerns are adjudicated based on presuppositions that are – in the end – faith based.
So the best way forward is not to exclude “religious” ideas from the market place of ideas. For this in the end is a form of religious intolerance. Rather, we need to come together and reason together. All ideas are not equal; people are. For this reason, as Ravi Zacharias once said, we should strive to keep ideas in their hierarchy and people in their equality.
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