Religion will always have a role to play in government
It’s not necessarily wise to look to Hollywood, “Casablanca” notwithstanding, for nuggets that capture the modern moment.
But no movie quite nails it like the original “Ghostbusters.”
The crucial scene is where oh-so-important Walter Peck of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, orders the electricity to the vault turned off because he was from the government and he just knew better, thus setting off the chain of events leading to Walter Peck getting marshmallowed.
Freed from the gooey trap of his own making and none the wiser, Walter Peck is slouching back into our lives.
This time Peck is crusading in the name of the Freedom from Religion Foundation of Madison, Wis.
The foundation is spending money in Grand Junction (at least someone is, so some thanks is due) to tell voters not to let religion into the vital business of government.
The Pecks of the Freedom from Religion Foundation are jabbing their oversized proboscises into places where they clearly have no understanding, much less expertise.
As a practical matter, to say nothing of a constitutional one, it’s really not possible to keep religion out of politics.
A certain president, after all, declared himself “a committed Christian” on the campaign trail as a way of communicating his readiness for office to potential voters who also walk among the believers.
Million of voters took that into account when they cast their votes for Barack Obama and millions also took it into account when they voted against him.
It’s not insignificant that voters in Mesa County can, and no doubt did, make similar evaluations when they voted for, or against, Janet Rowland and Craig Meis in both their respective bids for the commission.
Even Michael Moore invokes Christianity and he’s hardly apolitical.
By the standards of our Walter Peck wannabes, Rowland and Meis could take governmental actions motivated by their beliefs — provided they told no one about it.
Michael Moore could be muzzled for daring to criticize government and capitalism on Christian terms as he understands them.
Not exactly the kind of transparency we’d like to expect from government.
Our Walter Peck wannabe thought police from the Freedom from Religion Foundation would deny them the chance to take a candidate’s religion, or lack thereof, into account when deciding how to cast their ballots.
Politicians will find ways to communicate these basic value statements despite our wannabe Walter Pecks.
Our Walter Pecks love to assert Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury, Conn., Baptists, written in 1801, as if it were a part of the Constitution, adopted in 1787.
Were they to bother reading the president’s letter to the Baptists, they would find that Jefferson wrote of the wall of separation between church and state as one intended to corral the state. He echoed the Constitution’s prohibition against Congress making any law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Not least of the reasons for that prohibition was the tendency of the British kings to declare themselves head the English church as well, thus cornering the market on control of their subjects.
The widely read Jefferson borrowed his comparison from the brick-and-mortar trade. He almost certainly would havepreferre to used a reference from botany. He could better have described the “wall” as a semi-permeable membrane that allows liquid to pass in one direction, but not the other.
The process he described is one of political osmosis — religion is perfectly free to act on government, but there is no reverse flow.
That means that people holding one set of beliefs, such as the foundation, cannot use the power of government as a club against those with whom they hold religious grudges, such as those who believe.
In his letter, Jefferson was reassuring the congregation in Danbury that they could look to the Constitution for protection from the sort who would otherwise introduce themselves as “Walter Peck of the Freedom from Baptists Foundation.”