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Last night in Cranston

My brother was at the Cranston school board meeting last night. He told me he thought the day was really won by a great Irish guy named Dan McCarthy

who  got up early in the comment session and said “I went to Catholic schools, where  I said the rosary every day.  I also said it at home, with my father. In fact, I said it today with a dying friend. So I’m a practicing  Catholic.

“On the other hand, my great grandfather came here because he was not allowed to own the land he farmed, in Ireland.  Because he was a Catholic.  In a prod country.

“Don’t appeal.”

He sat down, and the atmosphere in the room changed. The  appeal nuts were no longer whooping and hollering and, when they did resume, a  lot of the spirit had gone out of them.

He had also contacted the Rhode Island chapter of Progessive Democrats of America in support of their statement (I suspect my brother wrote it, though I haven’t confirmed that):

Rhode IslanChapter of
Progressive Democrats oAmerica

The Rhode Island Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America passed a resolution at its regularly scheduled meeting at the Rochambeau Library on 6 February 2012 against the display of a prayer on the wall of the auditorium of Cranston West High School.

RIPDA took this action in defense of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads in its entirety: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is worth noting that Congress chose in 1791 to open the enumeration of fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all [free] citizens of the new nation with the right to be free of any state-sponsored religion. Most of them were pious church-goers; their brief was in no sense against the exercise of religion. They prohibited rather any intervention whatso­ever, for or against, by their new state in the religious realm. They could not have made their prohibition more absolute; RIPDA is arguing for respecting their manifest intent.

These men had just come through the violence of their own war for independence, but they knew the power of religious conviction to spawn conflicts of an intensity we have yet to outgrow. Europe had been convulsed by religious conflict for centuries: the inten­sity of the conflict can be gauged by their renewal in Sarajevo and Bosnia twenty years ago, but the new Americans remembered equally bloody wars within their parents’ life­times. They were determined not to allow them to begin again. So are we.

My brother is a Montaigne scholar. Montaigne knew a very great deal about Europe’s convulsions under religious conflict.

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    The separation of church and state dates back to Friedrich Barbarossa’s Drang nach Südden and his struggles with Pope Alexander III over primacy in Europe. The post-Roman collapse Europeans had been trying since Charlemagne to re-establish a Christian empire, Roman style, by hadn’t quite got it right. One of the major questions about this empire was who should ultimately be the supreme ruler, the secular emperor who achieved his position through conquest and blood lines, or the Pope? In other words, should ultimate power rest with the church or the state. Should there be a difference between the two? With Barbarossa’s failed attempts to bring Italy under his sway, the two remained separate. The Protestant Reformation led to two centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants, culminating in the big finale of the Thirty Years War, leaving a lot of people in Europe wondering if religion was a good idea or not.

    This was the mindset of the first English settlers in the Americas. The English Civil War, Cromwell’s tyranny, and the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1688 left a deep impression on English colonists. They created a movement called Deism. The Deists’ beliefs were that though they believed, often strongly, in God, they distrusted religions as imperfect human attempts to define and understand God. They looked on the Catholic Church as a bloated, corrupt bureaucracy that wanted power and Earthly wealth. They were committed Protestants who believed that Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church was absolutely necessary but they also saw the resulting Church of England as having become just as corrupt as the Catholics. The lesson they drew from the Anglican experience was that religion mixed with government inevitably led to the defilement of both. This is a source of confusion for many modern American religious extremists who can’t seem to bridge the understanding that the American Founding Fathers being devoted to god (except for some atheists like Ben Franklin) and yet distrusting religion. American Christian fundamentalists love to quote religious citations from the Founding Fathers without knowing the context of these remarks.

    The American Constitution was framed with a strict separation between state and religion. It is not anti-religious but it says that while religion has a place in society, that place cannot be connected with the government. Anyone can practice any religion or lack thereof, but they cannot force anyone else to practice that religion and the government cannot endorse or support any particular religion.

    American religious zealots have a convoluted logic that says they should be able to express their religion in any way they want, including putting symbols on government property, disregarding the Constitution. If they can’t impose their religious views on everyone else then their religious rights are being abridged. Since their religion says they must proselytize, any attempt to stop them from doing so, the Constitution be damned, is against their rights.

    The point about separation of church and state that seems to be missing is that it’s not about majorities, it’s about all of society. Clearly, even if we are a minority, there are those of us who do not want religion imposed on us and especially don’t want government to aid in the imposition. The zealots don’t get it and, what’s worse, don’t want to get it.

  2. crowepps says

    culminating in the big finale of the Thirty Years War, leaving a lot of people in Europe wondering if religion was a good idea or not.

    Leaving the survivors in Europe wondering — the Thirty Years War killed one-third of the population of the Germanies.

  3. says

    Oh, I wish I’d been able to say hello! I was moved by the same testimony. I thought it very effective. Demonstrative of two important principles of persuasion: similarity (people will be more convinced by individuals who share significant similarities with themselves) and counter-intuitive argument (a surprising message or messenger is more effective that an unsurprising one).

    This shows the critical importance of harnessing liberal and progressive religious voices to make the case for secular values to other religious people. They will likely be far more effective at persuading religious America to support secular values than avowed atheists, all other things being equal.

  4. Josh Slocum says

    They will likely be far more effective at persuading religious America to support secular values than avowed atheists, all other things being equal.

    Then I assume you’ll be joining us in the Quiet-No-Speaking Corner for Avowed Atheists™? You wouldn’t want to upset the progress made by liberal religious people at, say, a conservation event an Interfaith Event by being an Avowed Atheist™, I’m sure.

  5. Ysanne says

    @6: I think you misunderstood the point that #4 is making: Secularism and belief in god(a) are not mutually exclusive; in fact, secularism is something that benefits religious people a lot, making it possible for them to exercise their own religion as they like without getting others’ beliefs shoved down their throat.
    Right now, secularism and atheism get bunched up a lot, which is plain wrong. Seeing examples of other believers who support secularism helps religious people to identify with them and understand why secularism is an important constitutional value independently of one’s specific belief or disbelief.

  6. peterh says

    Borrowing from ‘Tis:

    “[R]eligion mixed with government inevitably [leads]to the defilement of both.”

    There’s the nutshell for all cultures and all times.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    ‘Tis Himself, OM @ # 22: The Protestant Reformation led to two centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants, culminating in the big finale of the Thirty Years War…

    From 1517 to 1648 is two centuries on what timeline?

    /nitpickery

  8. Josh Slocum says

    Ysanne, I don’t misunderstand. There’s a bit of back story you probably don’t know. I’m poking fun at James for being pompous and hypocritical.

  9. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    From 1517 to 1648 is two centuries on what timeline?

    I was thinking 16th and 17 Centuries. But you’re right, it wasn’t even a century and a half.

  10. says

    Josh, you are acting like a fool. My point is grounded in good empirical research which doesn’t become less compelling because you happen to dislike it. Nothing I wrote implies the meaning you took from it, and if you were an honest broker you wouldn’t twist the meaning so. But your repeated snide and petty attacks demonstrate that you are nothing of the sort: you are an irrational ideologue with little to add to the discussion.

  11. Aratina Cage says

    I was thinking 16th and 17 Centuries. But you’re right, it wasn’t even a century and a half.

    Don’t be afraid to cite your source, ‘Tis. (Unless you are Vrylakas ;>)

  12. Josh Slocum says

    Josh, you are acting like a fool.

    There, there, your prissiness. Would sir care for some ammonia salts while I prepare the Humorless Fainting Sofa?

  13. Josh Slocum says

    It seems we’re at an impasse, James. We can’t decide if we like each other or hate each other! Think we can sell the whole set-up to the BBC? They do keep shooting Downton Abbey after all. . .

  14. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Bah.

    Pretty damn obvious you like each other, James and Josh.

    (You merely disagree on some pretty basic things)

    Yeah, only my opinion.

    (‘Taint worth much)

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