Should church and state ever meet?
Re "Power and prayer," Editorial, May 2
The obsession with securing the ideal of "separation of church and state" has been carried too far, to the point of risking a serious misinterpretation of what our Founding Fathers meant by this phrase. The issue has been confused to the point where upholding traditional moral or ethical standards in any public forum is seen by some as the establishment of religion.
Many teachers in our schools now hesitate to inform students about key values of the major faiths, such as those implicit in the Ten Commandments and the Torah, which for the most part are universal to civilized humankind and transcend sectarian identity or theism itself. This is the real unfairness, and actual effect, of what is otherwise a legitimate concern.
John N. Heil
The Times writes: "The Constitution is clear on the subject of government taking steps that establish the dominance of one religion, but it does not eliminate the possibility of any and all public religious activity."
The framers intended the legal equality of believers and nonbelievers. The Supreme Court has held that no branch of government can favor religion over nonbelief. This principle remains valid, even if the court has inconsistently applied it.
In September 1789, the Senate twice rejected language that would have only prevented government from favoring one religion over others. Such language was never brought back.
We live in a nation in which government cannot favor religious people, collectively, against non-
believers. Accordingly, government should not sponsor religious activity.
The writer is chairman of the national legal committee for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
I think folks need to lighten up. When it comes to religion and politics, someone will always be offended, no matter what.
I have been an agnostic for about 50 years, since before I knew what it was called. I strongly believe in the separation of church and state, and I vote.
However, if I'm at a function that starts with some kind of a prayer or invocation, I just sit quietly and wait for it to end so we can start getting some work done.
I do not understand why anyone would think "that offends me" necessarily means "you have to stop doing that" — any more than I understand why anyone who says "I believe this" thinks that should mean "you have to believe this too."
Lake Forest, Calif.
Faith and the Supreme Court
Re "For the high court, an atheist," Opinion, May 4
Marc Cooper asserts that religion should be kept "behind closed doors" and "as far away as possible from public policy."
Since it is impossible to divorce one's personal values from public policy positions, what he is really saying is that religious folks should all get behind our closed doors and leave all public policy decisions to the atheists.
Quite a radical take on democracy!
Regarding religion, the 1st Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Most court decisions already skew toward enforcing the former at the expense of the latter.
One can only shudder at the prospect of another Supreme Court jurist with an agenda as prejudicial as Cooper's.
Cooper contradicts himself by suggesting that, in order to bolster the separation of church and state in this country, a nonbeliever be appointed to the Supreme Court to balance out the domination of the court by Catholics and Jews.
To me that sounds an awful lot like the appointment of judges based on a religious — believer versus nonbeliever — criterion. I wouldn't want to open that door.
Give me the old, time-tested liberal versus conservative interpreter of the Constitution any day.
Marija D. Navickas
Cooper had many Thomas Jefferson quotes about religion at his disposal to write about, such as, for example, Jefferson's statement that he had "sworn upon the altar of god eternal, hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Or the remark in Jefferson's first inaugural address that the United States is "enlightened by a benign religion ... acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence which ... proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter."
Jefferson's free-thinking religious beliefs would probably have qualified as heresy under any form of orthodoxy, including atheism. He may even have liked the idea of an atheist Supreme Court justice. But Cooper's attempt to classify him as a fellow nonbeliever, based on a snippet from one letter, is a bit disingenuous.
Two sides of the Catholic Church
Re "Cheap shots at the church," Opinion, May 2
I have never seen a better explanation for the ceaseless attacks on the church by the anti-Catholic media than Charlotte Allen's essay.