Rebuilding the Wall of Separation: A Progressive Discussion on Church & State

Bruce Ledewitz recently organized a provocative panel at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh entitled “A New Progressive Vision of Church and State—How I Learned to Accept ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and Stop Losing Elections” (video here). While his proposal is not brand new, it is perhaps new to most progressives who have in recent decades bought into the model of the high wall of separation between religion and secular public life. He is impatient with the place, or really lack of place, accorded religion in American democratic life, especially among self-identified progressives.

Ledewitz is onto something in his intuition that the metaphor of a high wall of separation between religion and secularism is past its prime. Frederick Clarkson, apparently, wants no part of it. He fears that abandoning the wall of separation will inevitably lead to conservative religious forces using government to endorse God, if not the Bible and Christianity too. He concludes that we need to hold on to a model of public space free of religious imagery. But are these the only alternatives? Can we loosen up the presumption that religion does not ever belong within public spaces, and yet remain on guard against government use of religious discourse?

Below, Bruce Ledewitz, panel organizer and Professor of Law at Duquesne University, Linell Cady, co-editor of Religion Dispatches and Professor of Religious Studies at ASU, and Frederick Clarkson, veteran religion writer and co-founder of Talk to Action, debate the implications of a shift in the progressive perspective on the proper relationship between church and state. (You can find participants’ full biographies in upper right corner).


The Netroots Nation panel description:

The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited. Despite growing secularization, a secular progressive majority is still impossible, and a new two-part approach is needed—one that first admits that there is no political wall of separation. Voters must be allowed, without criticism, to propose policies based on religious belief. But, when government speaks and acts, messages must be universal. The burden is on religious believers, therefore, to explain public references like “under God” in universal terms. For example, the word “God” can refer to the ceaseless creativity of the universe and the objective validity of human rights. Promoting and accepting religious images as universal will help heal culture war divisions and promote the formation of a broad-based progressive coalition.

Frederick Clarkson: Thanks for hosting this discussion, Linell. I think these matters are integral to the functioning, the advance, and indeed the survival of Constitutional democracy. But I think that in order to give them the kind of attention they merit in light of the particular challenges of our time, we need to begin at a different place than Bruce proposes.

First, the general ideas of “religion and public life” and “separation of church and state,” while related, are primarily different matters. I think we risk confusion and distortion of the important issues at stake and our ability to discuss them in meaningful ways if we conflate them. So let me begin by trying to sort it out a bit.

I think that those who have bought into and advocate, as you put it, a “separation of religion and secular public life” are relatively few and in any case, of little actual consequence in our national life. I thought that maybe we had dispensed with this argument in the wake of Jim Wallis’ book God’s Politics in which he claimed that “secular fundamentalists” and “the secular left” were a tremendous problem on a par with the religious right. Wallis and his supporters have been repeatedly invited, nay, challenged to supply actual evidence in support of such claims, but none has been forthcoming. Bruce made a similar claim in announcing our panel at Netroots Nation, stating: “The old liberal vision of a total separation of religion from politics has been discredited.” Since there is no such liberal vision, it seems to me that saying it has been discredited is more of an acknowledgement that it never existed in the first place. Let’s resist trying to solve problems said to be associated with a broad phenomenon that no one can document or even describe.

But allow me to briefly expand on a deeper problem Bruce referenced in his report on our panel: This is an internalization of that old-time framing of the religious right itself; and a peculiar adaptation of their claim that liberals are godless communists, or witting or unwitting agents thereof. Rightist commentators like Bill O’Reilly blow this dog whistle all the time—slyly referring to “secular progressives” and “the secular left,” as though progressives were solely secular while conservatives have God on their side.

Linguist George Lakoff has famously observed that we hamstring ourselves in communicating our values if we adopt the framing of the arguments of those who do not share them. So let’s not.

Let’s also consider that there are many non-religious conservatives in public life—notably, many of the followers of such influential thinkers as Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss. Additionally, there are obviously many religious progressives in public life, and there always have been. The false frame breaks down in light of the compelling evidence of facts.

As for the wall of separation of church and state as an authoritative way of discussing the establishment clause of the First Amendment—yes, let’s keep the wall high and strong. As Sandra Day O’Connor put it: “Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

Indeed, but let’s go deeper on this point too.

The First Amendment was a clarification of the first principles inherent in the Constitution itself, notably in Article Six; which is the only place in our founding document where religion is even mentioned. But what a profound mention it is! It introduced the first principles of a moral and Constitutional high ground that have allowed us to advance a more just society, principles that continue to powerfully animate the progressive vision and our best approaches to the challenges of our own time.

Article Six declared that there shall be no religious tests for public office. This meant that for the first time in the history of the world, one’s religious views, or lack thereof, were irrelevant to one’s status as a citizen. Among the first principles inherent in Article Six are religious equality (meant here in the broadest sense to include the non-religious) and religious pluralism—the recognition that our society holds to, values, and protects a variety of views. Therefore, the disentangling of institutional churches and their views from the coercive power and undue influence of the state was one of the central tasks of the new nation. Historian Garry Wills writes that the framers drew on many sources in drafting the Constitution, but they invented only one thing: separation.

The religious right likes to pretend that the framers of the Constitution meant something different than all this—and it is this pretense, and the associated revisionist history of Christian nationalism behind it, that drives much of our contemporary debate on these matters. But the clear and unambiguous first principles of the Constitution were and are the best guarantee of our right to figure it all out for ourselves, and our best defense against the rear guard action being waged by the religious right and its allies in our time.

So, sure, let’s have public religious and non-religious expressions in all of their richness and variety. But let’s also confront and defeat anything that would erode, in fact or appearance, the role of the government as the uncompromised guarantor of the rights of all.

Linell Cady: Fred, I completely agree that we need to keep distinct the difference between the specific issue of church-state relations and the broader question of religion and politics and public life more generally. According to Bruce’s report, the model you advocated for progressives was “a public space without reference to religious imagery.” It sounds to me, then, that we all agree that this strong model of privatizing religion is not compelling. But it is puzzling that you say this vision never existed in the first place. Didn’t it reflect the views of many within, say, the media, or policy circles, or the academy, in 20th-century America? I don’t mean everyone thought this way, but many did, particularly among the elite; and it shaped institutions because of it.

The question for Bruce is why not make room for a more robust presence for religion in public life generally, but remain committed to a strong separationist model when it comes to the relationship of religion and the state? If we move toward your proposal of allowing the government to use religious language if it has important nonreligious meanings, doesn’t the religious particularity inevitably bring with it exclusionary effects too? Aren’t we at a moment when we have to forge ahead with further disentangling of the religion-state interface? Why not abandon prayers at presidential inaugurations?

Bruce Ledewitz: First, let me echo my thanks to Religion Dispatches for hosting the continuation of this dialogue.

As for the place of religion in the public square generally, I cannot accept the bland assertion that secularists have been tolerant of private religious speech on political matters. Candidate Barack Obama in 2006 really did tell religious believers that “democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns” into secular language when debating public issues. Richard Rorty really did call religious arguments in the public square “conversation stoppers” and urge their exclusion. John Rawls really did call religion a comprehensive doctrine at odds with liberal argument (but not only religion). These instances of hostility to private religious speech faded only in the face of political opposition.

And, more to our point here, why should secularists welcome private religious speech into the public square if they resolutely object to government religious speech? After all, the reason for the high wall of separation must be something negative about the public face of religion, that it is divisive or emotional or superstitious. That would be true of private religious speech also. Not only do these hostile attitudes toward religion exist among secularists, they are supported by efforts to reinforce the high wall of separation between church and state. I had thought that the proposal of a totally secular public space was being defended in opposition to my proposal of government use of religious imagery under certain circumstances. Now Frederick’s reference to accepting public religious and non-religious expressions has me a little uncertain of where we differ.

But, let me respond to the question put to me. The answer to the question of whether or not to abandon prayers at presidential inaugurations has two answers: a Constitutional one and a policy one. In terms of the Constitution, the answer is that such prayers are desired by the majority and like any other policy in a democratic country, the desire of the voters controls unless the Constitution specifies otherwise. The Establishment Clause was probably aimed at preventing the establishment of a particular religion of the sort that Americans were familiar with.

In contrast to that disestablishment, which was accomplished at the federal level without much controversy, America did not practice separation in the sense usually meant today. Since America’s public square always contained references to God and other religious images, it can be said with confidence that at least most leading figures did not see the Establishment Clause as forbidding something like the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or prayers at government-sponsored events. That kind of high wall has never enjoyed majority support in any branch of the American government, including Justice O’Connor, who is cited by Frederick for her view of the separation of church and state.

The prohibition of religious tests for public office does not mean that religion was prohibited from public life. It meant what it said: that anyone could run for, and serve, in office. To see its limited scope, consider the ‘no economics’ test that we have informally because of free speech. That is, the government may not bar socialists from running for office. Yet, the government endorses capitalism and the voters may, and do, take economic views of candidates into account in voting.

So it is with religion. In terms of policy, the question is why do I personally favor prayer at presidential Inaugurations? The answer is that I would like to see the following prayer presented on such an occasion: We stand here on a day of national renewal and pride. Let us remember, however, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice. If this country in its pursuit of wealth oppresses its poor or its neighbors, it will fall just as surely as did Babylon. That is what we should think about today.

Now, despite its religious saturation and its old-style preaching rhythm, this prayer would not be unconstitutional no matter how secular the public square must be. But that just shows the emptiness of the secular proposal. For God is often a shorthand expression for sentiments just like these. That is, the prophetic tradition. If there were prayer police judging whether a prayer is too religious for a public occasion, that would inhibit the robust prophetic critique that America and secularism need to hear. Religious language, images, and symbols are important antidotes to materialism, nationalism, and relativism. I don’t consider it an accident that at least one of the new atheists, Christopher Hitchens, supported the war in Iraq and another, Sam Harris, supports torture ([T]here are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like waterboarding may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary.). Granted, religion is not the only such antidote, and has been guilty of supporting these pathologies as well. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of truth in our religious traditions, and I welcome their presence on public occasions as long as their messages are nonreligious as well as sectarian.

Linell Cady: Bruce rightly notes that the strict separationist model is not the original meaning of the First Amendment’s disestablishment clause, and for that reason and his policy rationale, he wants to accommodate religious discourse in government sponsored sites, such as “under God” in the Pledge or prayers at presidential inaugurations. Although I agree with him that the original interpretation was different, I reach a different conclusion about how it should be interpreted now. I think it is important to see that one’s policy rationale will inevitably shape one’s judgment on how the clauses should be interpreted.

As I view American history, and our changing demographics, I welcome the growing separation between government and religion, fully recognizing that it has been a long slow process, not something achieved all at once. When the religion clauses were originally crafted, over 95% of the Euro-American population was Protestant, and over 90% from the Reformed tradition. Not very religiously diverse. Within this shared religio-cultural context, disestablishment was interpreted in terms of nonsectarianism. No single Christian denomination could dominate government. But over the past centuries, the American population has grown far more diverse. For various reasons (including for example anti-Catholic attitudes which helped to foster a greater desire for separation, according to Philip Hamburger in The Separation of Church and State, the efforts of religious minorities, and now the growing ranks of the non-religious) Protestant nonsectarianism is no longer viewed by many as a sufficient way to embody separation.

We are still struggling to work out what this means. But I would argue that the fusion between Christian identity (or its expansion into the Protestant-Catholic-Jewish mainstream) and American identity is still something we need to disentangle. This is necessary to ensure the equal standing of all Americans. But it is also important to break the hold of a chauvinistic nationalism on, for example, American Christianities. I have very little confidence that prayers sanctioned at official government events, such as inaugurations, do anything but lay a sacralizing veneer over the entire proceeding. I don’t think prophetic transformation of public life is going to be fostered by the recitation of a few public pieties. I am very reluctant to move from the religious and political views of individuals, like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, to broader generalizations.

We can hardly assume that atheists were more likely to accept torture or support the war in Iraq. In fact, if I had to make a shot in the dark like this, I would say the reverse. This suggests to me that we should be less concerned about government-sanctioned religious expression (assuming it has a nonreligious meaning) than in the cultivation of more humane and transformative religious visions that can foster the flourishing of life on this planet.

I think it is time for Frederick to weigh in on these questions of Constitutional interpretation and policy.

Frederick Clarkson: Thanks Linell, I do think returning to the historical and Constitutional issues is very much in order. But first a few words on Bruce’s variation on his original thesis, in which he claimed that there exits or existed an “old liberal vision of a total separation of religion and politics.” Again, there is not now, nor has there ever been such a vision. But I am thankful to Bruce for offering in reply, such excellent examples in support of my point, and simultaneously helping to resolve Linell’s puzzlement about this aspect of our disagreement.

Bruce now states that he “cannot accept the bland assertion that secularists have been tolerant of private religious speech on political matters.” Since neither Linell nor I have made this assertion, I am not sure what he is talking about. But no matter. Let’s go right to the conclusion he draws from his examples:

“These instances of hostility to private religious speech,” he writes, “faded only in the face of political opposition.” In other words, some people have expressed views that were so unpopular that they have never been integrated into the value system and lexicon of liberalism. I agree.

Bruce has also surfaced some nearly hidden gems that can help us all navigate the tricky terrain of politics in religiously plural America. “Richard Rorty,” Bruce reports, “really did call religious arguments in the public square ‘conversation stoppers’ and urge their exclusion.” Rorty has a point, albeit sweepingly overstated. Sometimes religious arguments can be conversation stoppers. But sometimes religious arguments can also offer great insights and advance our conversations in useful ways. I have certainly experienced both.

The simple lesson here is just because one has the right to do something does not mean that it is always the right thing to do. As my wise old professor of Medieval Literature once advised me: “consider your audience.”

What we say and how we say it often depends on the people with whom we are speaking. Religious language can be appropriate, but we should not be surprised if sometimes people may disagree. Welcome to America. Should some zealous secularists get a clue? Of course. Should some overbearing religious people give others a break? You betcha. So what else is new?

Bruce further declares, “Candidate Barack Obama in 2006 really did tell religious believers that ‘democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns’ into secular language when debating public issues.” While I think Obama’s statement is very, very far from what Bruce calls “hostility” to religious speech—Obama is correct for the reasons I offer above regarding Rorty, and as a practical matter for effective politics and governance. Our respective religious traditions often inform our political thoughts; and we often draw on religious language to express them. But when we get together with others for the task of debating public policy with an aim towards governance, we need to be able to communicate in some common terms; not only so we can understand each other and communicate with wider publics, but because we do not use religious language in our laws and regulations, which are necessarily secular.

All this brings me back around the matter of history and the Constitution Linell raises.

Firstly, it is important to note as she does, that the principles of the Constitution took a long time to be integrated widely and deeply into our public life. It’s been an uneven process and we are clearly still working on it.

But I refer back to my original point: The First Amendment was a clarification of the underlying first principles of the Constitution. Barring religious tests for public office in Article 6 also obviously meant that there would be no religious test for citizenship. (You can’t be elected to office if you are not a citizen.) Thus the framers were clearly not solely concerned with whether or not we had official federal or state churches, but first that the right of belief resided with individual citizens.

The plumb line of this principle is clear. When Thomas Jefferson first proposed the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1777, he stated that this right of individual conscience must be extended to everyone, including: “the Jew, the Mohametan, and the Hindoo.” Jefferson was not arguing the demographics of majority and minority religions, but first principles. It took time to advance them, even then. James Madison as governor of Virginia managed to push Jefferson’s bill through the legislature in 1786—the year before the drafting the federal Constitution, of which Madison is credited with being the principal author—as well as the principal author of the First Amendment. Virginia had already disestablished the Anglican Church, the day after it joined the revolution in 1776. So there is no mistaking the meaning of formally extending religious liberty to all in the wake of disestablishment and as a famous forerunner to the Constitution itself.

With everyone suddenly equal in the eyes of the law, (at least in theory) this inevitably, albeit slowly, led to the disestablishment of other state churches; as the states had no business favoring one religious group over another. If we focus on the establishment clause or even the notion of separation of church and state without considering the context of the balancing free exercise clause—or the Constitution itself and the relevant ideas and history that led to it—we are missing the forest for the trees. Historians Isaac Kramnick (Cornell) and Frank Lambert (Purdue) have each written important books on the underlying ideas that predate the First Amendment and help us to understand that our conversation on these matters neither begins or ends with the First Amendment.

Again, the idea of separation of church and state and the constellation of related ideas refer to the role and behavior of government, not of individuals. These days, how we navigate matters of religion and religious speech as citizens is not usually a matter of law or the Constitution so much as figuring out how to function in a religiously plural society. How do we know the difference, for example, between fair criticism and religious bigotry? How do we reconcile our diversities in ways that allow us to function together as a reasonably unified society? How do we achieve unity without imposing uniformity?

Bruce is flummoxed by the seeming paradox of the question of whether secularists who oppose religious speech by government should also tolerate religious speech by individuals. He needn’t be.

Non-religious people should oppose government religious speech for exactly the same reasons religious people do. We expect government to be neutral in religious matters and to function as the uncompromised guarantor of our rights as individuals. Although Bruce does not mention it in his report on our panel, ACLU attorney Vic Walczak said that the implementation of Bruce’s proposal could lead to “religious tyranny” and “theocracy”—and I agree. We do not need or want official theology. The idea of government lawyers getting together to redefine God in non-religious terms is the stuff of which a chilling off-Broadway play could be made. Perhaps a great modern anti-totalitarian novel.

As a practical matter, both religious and non-religious people should be tolerant and respectful of the views and expressions of others, if they are not already—but only up to a point. Some people are rude, overbearing, incoherent, and even theocratic. Others are anti-religious bigots. Sometimes we have to deal with difficult people both in person and on larger public stages.

That said, we are regularly beset with sudden, spectacular squalls of hypocrisy and contradictions that run against the grain of our efforts to achieve high degrees of justice and equality. For example, a lot of politicians have a seemingly uncontrollable compulsion to carve platitudinous religious graffiti into our public buildings. (Maybe we need some kind of anti-gang taskforce to study the matter.) I expect that we will have to continue to endure these displays of political depravity and accommodation to the religious right. But I see no need to legitimize any of it via legislation or judicial blessing. As for inaugural prayers: let’s underscore that Barack Obama learned the hard way that while a prayer might not in itself be divisive in a moment of national unity, an ill-considered choice like religious right leader Rick Warren to deliver it can be a disaster.

Navigating this often uneasy sea of powerful principles and extraordinary political paradoxes requires more and different kinds of knowledge and skills than I think many people suppose. There are no legislative or judicial fixes on the horizon. And maybe we don’t need any. But I think that we can navigate by day by knowing where we stand in the bright light of history, and by night via the northern star of the first principles of the Constitution that set us on this journey together. We have come very far, but still have a long way to go.

Linell Cady: Thanks, Frederick.

I want to let Bruce respond to your interpretation of the historical and Constitutional issues. I do find myself still puzzled by your insistence that the liberal vision never existed. It never fully captured the way things are on the ground, but I do think it has had far more influence in trying to create the world in its image than you give it credit for. But it isn’t altogether clear to me what rides on this.

If Frederick is so committed to a strong separationist model, perhaps the question he should address is whether or not there should be a tax exempt status for religions. Would it be more faithful to the original principles, as you interpret them, to eliminate this as well? This follows up on Bruce’s original statement asking how separationist is your separationist vision: how consistently separationist are you willing to be.

I am sympathetic to Bruce’s concern to foster a public philosophy that does not devolve into a narrowly individualist/materialist vision. How do we make room for the resources of religious and secular traditions in fostering a more adequate public ethic? Is making room for government-sanctioned religious discourse (when it has important nonreligious meanings) necessary for this endeavor?

Bruce Ledewitz: Frederick has given us a lot of words attempting to show that religious believers are not held to a double standard in terms of their permitted vocabulary in political argument. I remain unconvinced, in part because I see secular hostility to religious motivation in the public square all the time. In fact, Frederick himself manifests this double standard. Deep environmentalists are never told, as Frederick admonishes religious believers, that because most people do not share their premises, they must consider their audience in order to participate in democratic debate. It is not undemocratic for deep environmentalists to choose their own political vocabulary, but apparently it is undemocratic for believers to do so.

If religious believers think it is God’s will to protect the environment, for example, it would not be undemocratic for believers to try to cobble together a 51% voting majority to do that, even if solely from among other religious believers. Theocracy is rule by clerics. Democracy is rule by majority. Democracy does not depend upon a secular motivation.

Incidentally, Frederick’s defense of President Obama’s call to believers to translate their religious concerns into nonreligious language lends support to my original Constitutional proposal. I called for government and nonbelievers to perform this same operation of translation in reverse: when coming upon religious language like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, to translate it into nonreligious terms. Frederick originally responded that such translation was illegitimate and impossible, because God is God and not the objectivity of values. But now we see that such translation is legitimate and possible for both believers and nonbelievers.

But what Linell wants to know is: what is at stake in this question of secular hostility toward religion? So, let me now put my exchange with Frederick in what is, for me, its proper frame.

I came to secularism late, after a lifetime of study and life in Judaism. It was a tragedy for me to leave Judaism, and I was desperate to retain what I could. The traditional notion of God as a supernatural being was precluded, as was any existence after death and messianism. But there had been Jewish thinkers in the past who had rejected some, even all of these concepts; Mordecai Kaplan for example. (I felt these rejections had not gone all the way. My break had to be more complete.)

But this still left a great deal of the wisdom of Judaism and, by extension, the rest of Our Religions. I thought I could retain prayer and purpose, the inner life and the role of history, in my new secularism. And I came to see that a lot of theology had already begun to come to grips with the secular age; Dietrich Bonheoffer, for example, and even Rudolph Otto’s Idea of the Holy.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I actually looked into secular thought. Secularists, especially younger secularists with little experience of genuine religious life, seemed content with a kind of superficial materialism and relativism. And even that materialism seemed unaware of the descent of matter into quantum indeterminism. The only real commitment I found was opposition to religion. That opposition to religion served to cut secularists off from looking at what serious religious thinking had been looking at.

In this context, the wall of separation between church and state, with its insistence on a public life cleansed of religious imagery, reinforces a divide I would like to see breached. Not for the sake of religion and not for the sake of the Constitutional order, but for the sake of a secularism I see as flat and empty. That is why secular hostility toward religion is important. I want to see a secularism that is wide open to all sources of wisdom, including religious sources.

The situation right now is that the words “under God,” Ten Commandment displays, legislative prayers, and all the rest are Constitutional, but no reason for that can command a majority on the Supreme Court. Justice Antonin Scalia would like the Court to say that these expressions are Constitutional because government may endorse a generalized religion. Some secularists actually like that because they can then fight against it and eventually bar all such religious expression.

I want the Court to say instead that this public religious vocabulary is Constitutional because it is part of a shared tradition of meaning that transcends its particular reference. So, such displays are both religious and more than religious. If the Court were to affirm that proposition, it might at some point invite secularists to take another look, not at religion per se, but at what religion has taught humankind about reality. I want to keep that kind of cultural space open.

Linell Cady: Bruce’s reply makes clear that a lot rides on whether or not you believe, as does Bruce, that an anti-religious secularism has dominated public discourses and institutions or not, as is the case with Frederick. With this starting point, Bruce desires to open up cultural space for greater cross-fertilization between religious and secular traditions to enable the wisdom of the former to infuse what is often the flatness of the latter. I share Bruce’s goal in creating a certain kind of cultural space that leads to a “secularism that is wide open to all sources of wisdom, including religious sources.” But I stop short of wanting the government to be involved in endorsing or sustaining the shared religious traditions of meaning. It seems to me that our diversity has moved too far to easily accommodate those shared religious references. But there are other spaces, such as the academy or the media, where we need to rethink what such a more interactive cross-fertilization of religious and secular traditions means. Frederick, how do you feel about the need to open up a cultural space for this sort of cross-fertilization across religious and secular traditions?

Frederick Clarkson: But let me briefly respond to your earlier query about eliminating tax exemptions for churches: that is not a view held by leading organizational advocates of separation such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Interfaith Alliance, or the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, to name a few. That said, most people in the separationist camp would agree that there is a need for reform of the federal nonprofit tax code, including fairer enforcement.

And I while I can’t respond to everything in Bruce’s volley, I would be remiss not to correct him on my alleged double standard when it comes to public expression. Religion, unlike “deep environmentalism” occupies a distinct, and endlessly controversial place in our history, whereas “deep environment,” whatever its merits, does not. But if “deep environmentalists” came around spouting incomprehensible jargon; or divisive rhetoric that had been in the lexicon of the “deep environmentalist” equivalent of pogroms, inquisitions, religious wars, gay bashing, or the assassination of abortion providers, I would have no problem pointing that out, and I expect that Bruce would join me in either case. Meanwhile, regarding actual public hostility to religious expression: It happens, and I have a very public record of confronting it, particularly its more bigoted forms. But hostility to religious expression is not now, nor has it ever been, a tenet of liberalism; and Bruce has no more evidence than those who have made similar claims in recent years.

Meanwhile, I think that there are lots of ways for religious and nonreligious folks to share useful perspectives. There have been a number of such initiatives in recent years. For example, the Clergy Letter Project annually organizes Evolution Weekend in which sermons are preached and events held in thousands of religious congregations across the country. The National Academy of Sciences came out with a paper a few years ago that underscored the compatibility of faith and science; and the National Center for Science Education has staff theologian to help religious and secular groups figure out how that can be so. These are all part of the ongoing project of figuring out how to get along in a religiously plural society. So I say, by all means, let’s find even more cultural space for such endeavors.

Finally, regarding Bruce’s proposal as restated: I still think he makes the classic antidemocratic error in seeking to commandeer the government, in this case the Supreme Court, to advance his particular religious ideas. I hope he eventually hears what Vic Walczak and I have been trying to tell him: Spiritually inclined atheists are just going have to evangelize non-spiritually inclined atheists without the help of the government.