Defining secularism.

Author:Sablosky, Roy
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

In "The Politics of Partisan Neutrality" (May), Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio parrot a common misunderstanding about secularist politics. They write: "What the journalists leave out of their accounts is the fact that the nonreligious have also become aggressive actors on the political stage and that they possess and promote, in fact, an overarching religious worldview of their own--one that can fairly be called secularism." Note the use of the singular form of the word "fact," followed by two observations. The first of these observations ("the nonreligious have become aggressive") may be a fact; the second ("an overarching religious view") is an inference, and is completely false.

Pursuing a secularist policy in American politics is not, as Professors Bolce and De Maio want to imply, the same thing as holding a personal, dogmatic, "religious," secular philosophy. The activities are completely different.

All Americans, whatever their personal religious beliefs, can and should support--even "aggressively"--a radically secular vision for the government of the United States. The only way we can be free to hold any religious beliefs that we individually wish to hold is for all activities of the government to be resolutely secular. This is what the Democratic Party stands for: not personal secularism, but government secularism, in accordance with the Constitution. Democrats are not saying, "All you folks out there should be secularists." They are saying, "Our government works best when it is secular."

The religious right, by contrast, is trying to convert its personal religion into public policy. The secularists do not have a similar agenda. Try this analogy. The religious right says, "Thou shalt eat vanilla ice cream." The secularist says, "Eat any flavor of ice cream thou preferest." Then the right accuses the secularist of "aggressively" pushing a "not-vanilla" policy. This is a lie. The policy is not against vanilla, it is against folks dictating to each other which flavor they should prefer.

Secularism is not the position, "Thou shalt not believe in God." It is the constitutional position, "Thou shalt not tell other people what to believe." Secularism is not against religion; it is for freedom. The Constitution says that religious preferences must not be used to set public policy. This implies that individual politicians must be willing to set aside their own beliefs, to consider their own beliefs almost irrelevant when setting policy. The...

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