"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

God and government

I've treated this theme before, but I believe Noah Feldman is really onto something I hadn't thought of. If, as Americans, we want some reasonable accommodation between secularists and believers about the role of religion in public life, we should be constitutional "originalists" and thus revert to a few clear principles of the Framers. Thus:

If we were serious about getting back to the Framers' way of doing things, we would adopt their two principles: no money and no coercion. This compromise would allow plenty of public religious symbolism, but it would also put an end to vouchers for religious schools. God could stay in the Pledge, but the faith-based initiative would be over, and state funds could reach religious charities only if they were separately incorporated to provide secular social services.

The public could logically embrace this modest proposal, and the zealots on both sides should think it over. Secularists want all Americans to feel included as citizens, but right now, many evangelicals feel excluded by the limits on their religious expression. Meanwhile, values evangelicals should recognize that state funding of religion means their own tax dollars are going to support radical religious teachings that they abhor

The Supreme Court's inability, over the last 50 years, to reach some sensible theoretical balance between the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment, suggests that Feldman's moderate originalism is really the only coherent alternative. Not everybody would be happy—they never are—but everybody would have less reason to complain. In our incredibly diverse country, that's the best we can hope for.
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