Friday, October 28, 2016

Robert George's theocratic wet dreams

Robert P. George
On Wednesday the rabidly homophobic Robert P. George gave a speech at a Catholic Information Center event honoring the late Justice Antonin Scalia (♫Ding-Dong♫, etc). The Christian Post tells us that George warned that the belief that religion should be excluded from any role in the public square has become the “normal” and “accepted.” George went on to quote Abraham Lincoln:
It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
That passage is from a proclamation by President Lincoln on April 30, 1963 for prayer and fasting. Proclamations have no legal effect. They are non-binding political exercises. This particular proclamation was provided upon request from the Senate. Lincoln probably didn't write the document although he did approve it. But as long as George wants to go back to the good old days, let's go back a bit further.

In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson asserted that the Constitution provided a “wall of separation between church and state.” This letter was first reviewed by Jefferson's attorney general, Levi Lincoln (“Levi” to avoid confusion”). Jefferson explained to Levi that the letter “furnishes an occasion, too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings and thanksgivings, as my predecessors did.” In 1808 Jefferson wrote:
Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.
But let us get closer to home. Robert George, if I recall correctly, is the founder of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. Madison was fundamentally opposed to merging religion and government. So much so that he rejected having congressional chaplains who were paid from the public coffers.

More to the point, Madison yielded to congressional pressure in 1812 and proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting. However, Madison regretted doing so and he subsequently denigrated his own decision in the “Detached Memoranda.” Madison explained why religious proclamations are inconsistent with (may I say?) American ideals:
Altho' recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers.

The objections to them are 1. that Govts ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms. 2. The members of a Govt as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities. They cannot form an ecclesiastical Assembly, Convocation, Council, or Synod, and as such issue decrees or injunctions addressed to the faith or the Consciences of the people. In their individual capacities, as distinct from their official station, they might unite in recommendations of any sort whatever, in the same manner as any other individuals might do. But then their recommendations ought to express the true character from which they emanate. 3. They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced Xnity, is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious & political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one Govt in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea.
Furthermore, we have not sufficiently challenged the ubiquitous “public square” argument. The problem is not the in the public square which is where citizens freely walk and exchange ideas. The problem is the corrupting effect of religion on public policy. The purpose of religion is to provide a path to an afterlife if one follows the rules. Religion is about the hereafter which many of us do not believe to exist. Public policy should not reflect ideas about what might please or piss off someone's god depending upon their arbitrary rules.

Madison also wrote the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause is in there for a reason. No one is keeping Robby out of public discussion of religion. So when he warns warns that the belief that religion should be excluded from any role in the public square has become the “normal” and “accepted” — correctly substituting “public policy” for “public square” — that's pretty much what the framers of our Constitution had in mind all along. So exactly what is Robert George complaining about?

George's idea of religious freedom means the imposition of the teachings of the Catholic Church by force of law; No abortion, no contraception and no gay marriage and that's just for starters. Ironically our founders' intent was to specifically protect Jews and Catholics by not imposing Protestant ideology.  We are most fortunate that George has largely failed. That doesn't deter him from pushing the envelope. Those folks are relentless.

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