Dear Mr. Obama,
In 2006 you made a speech at the Call to Renewal's "Building a Covenant for a New America" conference. The speech is often cited today as your position on religion in public life. I think it's great that you had the courage to address the issue. And I agree when you say that "secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square." But you stated to your evangelical audience that evangelical founders were the ones who established separation of church and state. You desperately need a history refresher course on exactly who those brave founders were, that stuck their necks out for the First Amendment.
Open Comment to Barack Obama on Religious Tolerance
Dear Mr. Obama,
You made the following remark:
Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil
libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First
Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John
Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views
on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the
scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who
were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious,
because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their
ability to practice their faith as they understood it.
Mr. Obama, you neglected to mention the Quakers, who were persecuted in more than one American colony. Quakers had a major influence on the establishment of American tolerance. You also forgot about the Freemasons, who shared a belief in a Supreme Deity. A number of founders were Masons, and supported the First Amendment because intolerance affected their position in American society so directly. And what about the Unitarians? Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Virginia law on religious tolerance, never joined a church, but he attended the Unitarian Church for much of his life, and Unitarian thought had enormous influence on him. Not to mention the gamut of atheists, deists, rationalists and secular Age of Enlightenment figures who raised the issues of tolerance in those days.
There's no real basis for a blanket statement that evangelical founders fought to separate church and state. Why? Because some of those early evangelical founders were fiercely intolerant, and continued to fight for established religion in their home states long after the First Amendment was adopted. Lastly, you have no historical basis to say that "civil liberterians" weren't among those founders of First Amendment freedom. Maybe the ACLU wasn't around in those days. But ANYBODY qualified as a "civil liberterian" if they supported passage of the First Amendment!
Mr. Obama, if you become President of the United States -- and I hope you will -- you have the right to take your personal faith into the White House. But as President, you will be charged with the executive responsibility for official tolerance of every single religion, spiritual way and philosophy in the United States, from the biggest to the smallest, including the non-Christian ones. Christians may be in the statistical majority in the U.S., but "the majority rules" does not work as a government dynamic when it comes to separation of church and state. I hope I never see you signing a bill that would favor mainstream Christianity in any manner, at a cost to Americans who believe or practice differently.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.