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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Degrees of Separation: Religion in the Public Square

Back in my graduate student days at Wheaton College, my professors told me to "think deeply." I honestly didn't know what they meant fourteen years ago. Through this website I've learned the meaning of thinking things through, then going beyond my initial gut instincts to thinking deeply about various issues.
From gay rights, to tax policies, to the ongoing World War, I've been forced to explore my own ideas and opinions, and sometimes, change those opinions.
Of the First Amendment and religion. I've been thinking about it, especially the Separation of church and state. It's caused a real slow down in posting on other topics this week. Hopefully, I can correct that.

I'm still pondering, and now realize there will likely be no single post from me on this topic, at least not yet.

While I'm pondering, I would point you to a book on Liberty Recommends on the right.
The Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath. He traces the rise and fall of a philosophy that had such a profound impact on the 20th Century, but who's influence has faded in the 21st.
Also, read this link to a history of Jefferson's phrase that has caused so much change over the past century. Here's the end of the article:
If, as I have argued, the wall is a profoundly flawed metaphor for First Amendment doctrine, then should we search for a better, alternative metaphor, such as James Madison’s “line of separation”? I think not. Although other tropes may yield interesting insights, we are best served by returning to the First Amendment itself.

Jefferson’s figurative language has not produced the practical solutions to real-world controversies that its apparent clarity and directness led its proponents to expect. Indeed, this wall has done what walls frequently do: It has obstructed the view. It has obfuscated our understanding of constitutional principles governing Church-State relationships.
The repetitious, uncritical use of felicitous phrases, Justice Felix Frankfurter observed, bedevils the law: “A phrase begins life as a literary expression; its felicity leads to its lazy repetition; and repetition soon establishes it as a legal formula, undiscriminatingly used to express different and sometimes contradictory ideas.” Figures of speech designed to simplify and liberate thought end often by trivializing or enslaving it. Therefore, as Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo counseled, “[m]etaphors in law are to be narrowly watched.” This is advice that courts would do well to heed.

A wall restricts influence on both sides, and presupposes the influence of religion, particularly Christianity, is always a negative. There are many who believe, as the author of the above article does, that the metaphor of the wall of separation has done great damage to our national discourse, and is at best extra-constitutional:
The judiciary’s reliance on an extraconstitutional metaphor as a substitute for the text of the First Amendment almost inevitably distorts constitutional principles governing Church-State relations. Although the “wall of separation” may felicitously express some aspects of First Amendment law, it seriously misrepresents or obscures others. In Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State, I contend that the wall metaphor mischievously misrepresents constitutional principles in at least two important ways.
Read those two important ways. Then, joining me in some deep thinking. My Wheaton College professors would be proud of you...and proud of me.

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