Watching this video made me feel a bit ill. As far as I know Newt Gingrich is a pretty intelligent fellow, so I can't tell if his ideologies simply leave him with a blind spot, or if he is being intentionally dishonest. Either way, there are so many things wrong with what he is saying in this clip that I couldn't address them all. What I want to focus on is his attack on secularism and his attempt at revising our history.
Secularism is not a campaign to eliminate Christianity or any religion. It is a concept that the government and other public institutions should exist separate from, independent of, and indifferent to religions and religious beliefs.
Quite the opposite from this being an un-American idea, this is one of the founding principles of our country. In the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights we have the establishment clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The phrase "Separation of Church and State" was coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to constituents:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Jefferson felt that this separation was important to the national government, but as the entire governing philosophy of the country was more confederate than federalist at the time, he did not feel that the First Amendment necessarily applied to state and local government. Does this mean that it does not apply to state and local governments even to this day?
The Fourteenth Amendment, passed after the Civil War, states that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." The Civil War was our second founding; it was a conflict that defined the future relationships between the states and the federal government as much as it was a conflict over slavery.
Our country decided that the federal government did have power over the states, when the states choose to act in ways that went against our national principles and infringed upon guaranteed liberties and natural rights. It is therefore right and consistent that the state and local governments should also have "a wall of separation between church and state."
We may be a nation of mostly Christians, but we were never intended to be a Christian nation. When negotiating the Treaty of Tripoli with the Barbary pirates, "John Adams and the Senate made clear that the pact was between two sovereign states, not between two religious powers." Article 11 of the treaty, which was ratified by Congress and signed into law, reads:
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, -as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen, —and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."
The discussion is often confused, and I used to be guilty of this myself, by the accusation that "freedom of religion" and "freedom from religion" are two separate and different things. Freedom of religion guarantees that you can believe and worship in any way you choose that does not infringe upon the rights of others. Freedom from religion guarantees that the government will not impose beliefs or worship upon you. How can you have freedom of Religion without freedom from religion?
To put it in another way, think of the religion that you disagree with more than any other. Imagine that they are the cultural majority in America, and that they make the same claim that Christians make now that "we are a _____ nation." They want to have worship in schools and in the public square, led by government officials who are paid by the taxpayers. They want to use their religious symbols to represent all Americans killed defending our country, rather than allowing each individual to be represented by a symbol of their own religion, or having a secular monument that uses no religious symbolism.
Are you okay with that? They tell you that it's fine, because you don't have to participate, you can stand there and quietly wait. But wouldn't you be upset that your tax dollars are paying to sponsor worship that you don't agree with? Wouldn't this government endorsement of another group's religion make you feel like you're considered a second class citizen? That is what it is like to be a non-Christian in Newt Gingrich's and Sarah Palin's America.
Yes, many of the people that first came to the American colonies were deeply religious. They were fleeing nations who had national religions, nations that were founded on one form of Christianity or another and persecuted them for not recognizing the state religion. Our founding Fathers saw Puritans, Presbyterians, and others trying to force their neighbors into converting, and religious skirmishes in the colonies were a small scale repetition of the religious wars of Europe. That is why the Founding Fathers made it very clear that the Church and the State were to be separate and independent entities. It was a historic change from how things had been done in the past.
When someone says that we were founded as a Christian Nation, that the Founding Fathers intended for us to have a Christian government, they are either ignorant of the facts or purposely misleading you.
Our nation was a great experiment in democratic secular governance. Where all men and women can worship how they want, or not at all, and still be equal in the eyes of the government. Where the laws that we live by are based on facts and Enlightenment principles, not on beliefs or faith.
Gingrich is trying to equate secularism, a principle of the tolerance and equality, with authoritative anti-theism: an undemocratic regime of social control that is equivalent in practice to a theocratic state. Our nation is one of many different believers and non-believers. To be truly representative, and held to the principles it was founded on, the government should remain neutral and indifferent to all questions of religion.
Obama hasn't yet made big pushes in the direction of secularism - he hasn't yet been willing to get into tough political fights over Don't Ask Don't Tell, marriage equality, and the National Day of Prayer - but if he does I'll be celebrating that day.
In search of reason,