Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Losing it over religion

This is a Democrat cynically promoting a favorite Republican talking point against the Democratic Party:  Obama: Democrats Must Court Evangelicals by David Espo Washington Post/AP 06/28/06.

This is a Democrat addressing a religion-related policy issue without repeating Republican talking points against the Democratic Party:  Jerry Brown on the Pledge of Allegiance controversy 09/05/04 (Brown's statement is from 2002).

So is this:  Our Endangered Values Interview with Jimmy Carter by Jeff Fleischer Mother Jones 06/02/06.

There's a difference.  We need much less of the former, and much more of the latter.

This article from 2003,  Supreme Court to decide Pledge of Allegiance case by David Whitney Sacramento Bee 10/14/03, recalls a House vote on the Pledge of Allegiance issue which the Christian Right and other Republicans has used to promote the Republican talking point that Obama relied upon:

The House of Representatives approved by a 400-7 margin in March a resolution urging the Supreme Court to reverse the decision because it was "clearly inconsistent" with the views of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The Senate voted 99-0 for a resolution supporting the pledge. Nearly two dozen groups, including the Congress, filed briefs urging a reversal of the 9th Circuit decision.  (my emphasis)

This is about as united as the Democratic Party ever gets on anything, and they came down solidly on the side of the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" and against the court ruling.  Yet Sen. Obama, supposedly one of the great liberal hopes, was there pointing out the Dems alleged failure to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people" and using as a prime example - the mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance.  From the Post/AP article linked above:

Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats onWednesday forfailing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

"It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase `under God,'" he said. "Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats."

But the most obvious way in which he reflected the Republican Party talking point was in his use of their buzzword, "the public square":

At the same time, he said, "Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."

Maybe I'm missing something.  But this phrase "the public square" is something I rarely if ever see used outside the context of Democrats allegedly taking religion out of it.  Maybe it's a translation of the Athenian "marketplace" where Plato had Socrates holding forth, I don't know.

But since when has religion been "out of the public square"?  Unless we define public square to mean only specifics contexts like compulsory prayer time in public schools, it hardly makes any sense.  Thomas Jefferson, who served as President 1801-1809, refused to publicly discuss his religion on the grounds that it was a private matter and not an issue of public policy because the American government had a separation of church and state.  But pretty much every since then, religion and references to God have been very much part of the "public square", if by that we mean the part of national life in which public policies are debated.

And the freedom to advocate, proseltyze and criticize religion is generally wide open in the US, at least since the Civil War.  The main significant abridgement of freedom of religion that come to mind would be violence and  various pressures against religiously-motivated activists who dissented from segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The argument that religion has been excluded from "the public square" is basically just a variation on the long-term fundamentalist complaint that they're being picked on whenever someone disagrees with them on something.

Atrios is on-target with his message to Obama (Just Do It 06/28/06):

If you think it's important to court evangelicals, then court them. If, on the other hand, you think it's important to confirm and embrace the false idea that Democrats are hostile to religion in order to set yourself apart, then continue doing what you're doing. It won't help the Democrats, and it probably won't even help you ...

Now if Obama starts saying "the Democrat Party", we'll know he's morphing into Joe Lieberman.

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