July 1 2018 First Sunday Monthly Service on State-Church Separation: The American Story

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July 1 2018 First Sunday Monthly Service on State-Church Separation: The American Story

Post by tim »

Our July 1st 2018 service featured our usual introductory review of the idea of our “atheist church.” On this occasion the emphasis was put on the fact that Freethought is not “faith-based,” an adjective that is now often used as a synonym for the adjective "religious." Of course, this serves very well to sell the idea that religion is and can only be about supernaturalism. The truth is that, as the American pyshcologist and philosopher William James said, religion is just “one's total reaction upon life.” And for Freethinkers this is primarily a reaction of questioning and, especially, of doubt.

Doubt gets a “bad rap.” If one searches online for images having to do with doubt – as was done in preparing the service's accompanying powerpoint presentation – one finds primarily instances representing and quotes decrying doubt as a failing. Doubt is seen as getting in the way of happiness and, especially, of effort and accomplishment. But nothing could be further from the truth! Doubt is a strength, not a weakness, because it is the main spur to thinking. Indeed, the scientific method is a method of applied doubt. And in every other aspect of life doubt plays a vital role, even in politics where people ought to doubt their leaders.

The main service was conducted by guest speakers Rex Burks, an attorney, and Owen Younger. These two presented in March of this year on their experiences visiting and interacting with believers at “all are welcome” Bible Study classes at area Christian churches. On this occasion the subject was “The History of State-Church Separation in America: A Primer.” Mr. Burks is an attorney and led an exploration of the background and legal basis of judicial decisions relating to state-church separation. This began with observing that the Bill of Rights and its First Amendment with it's Establishment and Religious Liberty clauses were a byproduct of the failure of the original article of Confederation that the new United States began with. It was Thomas Jefferson's 1802 response to an 1801 letter from the Danbury Baptists from which the idea of state-church separation and, in particular, the phrase "Wall of Separation" was first taken. It became a legal principle when the US Supreme Court cited this letter, quoting the relevant part verbatim, by way of indicating what the First Amendment was originally intended and understood to mean by the Founders themselves.

At first, these strictures only applied to the federal government. But with the Fourteenth Amendment in the wake of the Civil War, these guarantees of State-Church Separation and Religious Liberty were "incorporated" by means of the principles of Equal Protection and Due Process and applied to the states and all levels of government. They key court cases that brought further progress then began with challenges to taxpayer funds being used for books and transportation for private schools. Such schools were, at the time, overwhelmingly Catholic parochial schools which came into being because the public schools were controlled by the Protestant majority and used to inculcate Protestant doctrines. The "Lemon Test" was discussed as a landmark in the evolution of state-church separation jurisprudence. And, finally, attention was paid to more recent pushback appealing to religious liberty as justifying breaches in the Wall of Separation between state and church. It was observed that despite setbacks and threats that we are all too well aware of, the trend has been and continues to be in a positive direction. Many related interesting questions were raised and considered.

Rex and Owen are scheduled to return in September. Their subject then will be “Answering The Five Christian Claims.” This will be about their own views on five arguments that Christians typically and dependably make about their faith and why those claims are wrong and wrong-headed.

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