The increasingly aggressive religious behavior of American elected officials continues to remind us of the importance of keeping church and state separate, that it’s not just an abstract, remote concern.
Such governmental proselytizing affects everyone every day, directly as well as subliminally.
When the attorney general of the United States gives a public speech in his official capacity that promotes what The Humanist magazine senior editor Jennifer Bardi calls a “conspiracy theory about the horrors of secularism,” millions of Americans receive the message whether they consciously agree with it or not.
Speaking at Notre Dame University law school’s De Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture on October 11, Attorney General Bill Barr opined:
“Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as otherworldly superstition imposed by a killjoy clergy; but, in fact, Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct. In other words, religion helps frame a moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.”
Reading between the lines and noting that Barr is a devout conservative Catholic (and that 70 percent of Americans still identify as Christian), he is implying that the Judeo-Christian doctrines of a particular religion — Christianity — are the “ultimate utilitarian” values for all “human conduct,” including in the United States.
In other words, he was officially sermonizing for Christ at the expense of every other religion not only in the nation but the world, not to mention dismissing nonreligious humanists out of hand.
This kind of government promotion of religion — any religion or religion in general, much less a particular one — is exactly what the framers of the U.S. Constitution feared and tried to prohibit with the First Amendment. The amendment prohibits the government from favoring, or “establishing,” religion or restricting Americans’ freedom to worship as they please.
Clearly, the administration of Donald Trump, in thrall to the GOP’s evangelical Christian voters, not only doesn’t honor this constitutional amendment but is manifestly and insideously trying to expand the influence and presence of Christianity in the government — and, thus, throughout the nation.
And it’s not only Barr.
On the same day the attorney general was railing against secularism at Notre Dame, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was stumping for Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, at the American Association of Christian Counselors annual convention.
Pompeo told the crowd he sought the Lord’s direction in his life every day, calling himself an “imperfect servant serving a perfect God.” In his speech, he reiterated his Christian view that human beings are nothing without divine assistance.
“But no matter what comes before you, I pray you’ll help hurting people stay immersed in God’s Word,” Pompeo said. “… And I pray you’ll do these things not out of your own strength, but by relying on, as Paul says, ‘Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we are able to ask or to imagine.’”
These private religious sensibilities publicly espoused by Barr and Pompeo — two of the federal government’s primary cabinet officials — are not universal truths or even policy edicts, but Christian dogma. Which is to say, superstition.
So, here we have powerful U.S. leaders urging Americans to adopt their personal religious views as quasi-government policy.
Thomas Jefferson, for one, is rolling over in his grave.
And it’s not just Barr and Pompeo.
In my own state (South Dakota), our new governor, former U.S. congresswoman Kristi Noem, is easily as evangelical at heart as the attorney general and secretary of state.
Announcing an official religious service on her first day as governor in January, Gov. Noem wrote in an email to supporters:
“On my first full day as governor, I will be hosting a Sunday morning prayer and worship service in the Capitol rotunda. Please join me and my family as we dedicate the next four years to the Lord and spend some time worshiping Him.“
Note that she was dedicating her gubernatorial term first to the Lord, and only second to the down-to-earth needs of her constituents.
Then, in April, Noem (and the governor of neighboring Nebraska) officially declared a day of prayer for people in her state negatively affected by recent destructive flooding.
“This coming Sunday, I am asking South Dakotans to join me in praying for the well-being of our state, our first responders and all those who’ve been affected by this disaster,” she said in a statement, adding, “By the grace of God, our communities will emerge from this challenge stronger than ever.”
In fact, the state’s communities recovered and moved on thanks to the good planning, hard work, courage and compassion of the many people who rolled up their sleeves and went to work with purpose and human compassion after the flooding. Even thanks to Gov. Noem’s own efforts. Not divine assistance.
This constant drumbeat of support for an invisible deity, like the myriad lies uttered daily and chronically repeated by the Trump administration, leave a lot of Americans thinking that such things must be true.
But they’re not.
In the end, people create their own destinies as far as can be confirmed, not an absent purported divine.
The Founding Fathers were predominantly men of the Enlightenment, who valued reason and sought to create an evidence-based, not theocracy-bound, government “of the people,” not of God.
As our top elected officials try to insinuate (and sometimes force) religion into the public square, they dishonor our founders and the Constitution they fashioned specifically to prohibit such religious influence.
The question is, why is it allowed? Every time they’re voiced by our leaders, these faux ideas get further embedded in American minds.