Tolerance and the Church-State Wall
The opinion article by Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R) of Los Angeles/Ventura, "Religion a Threat to, or Foundation of, Liberty?" (Dec. 19) would be amusing if it didn't support many individuals' misapprehensions about religion in progressive politics.
The author argues that "the modern left seeks a state intolerant of religion." Which left? The communist left, of course, was atheistic, but it hardly represents the modern left. If the left has been suspicious of religion, it is because religion has been co-opted by the right. But there is also a left represented by Martin Luther King Jr. and by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom McClintock quotes to bolster his argument. Because the left is often stereotyped as being anti-religious, however, it's worth pointing out that many of us believe that progressive politics is only possible within the framework of meaning that religion or spirituality provides.
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser
Managing editor, TIKKUN magazine
It's difficult to determine whether the essay was a defense of religion's role in achieving and maintaining liberty, or a partisan indictment of some perceived leftist agenda. I think anyone would find it difficult to deny that religion has been and continues to be an important part of American life.
McClintock is only partially correct in his interpretation of Thomas Jefferson's concept of separation of church and state. There is no doubt that it was meant to protect religion from government interference. However, Mr. Jefferson also wrote, "The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and engrafted into the machine of government, have been a formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man."
Jefferson, learning from history, recognized that religions endowed with the powers of state would recreate the same oppressive conditions that colonizers fled so they could worship freely. The separation of church and state, as a two-way street, insures the survival of our founding principles of liberty and equality - including our religious liberties.
Today's attempts to compromise church/ state separation by Christian fundamentalists can only be interpreted as an attempt to interfere with our long-enjoyed freedom to worship as we choose. If successful, they will create oppressive conditions that interfere with our religious liberties.
Attempts to protect our religious liberties granted by the First Amendment cannot be classified as anti-religious or leftist. Rather, the protection of the First Amendment against Christian fundamentalist attack is the result of the continuing need to protect liberties so many others fought and died for.
Perhaps the author should have stopped with Tocqueville's quote, "The Founding Fathers, unlike the French, understood that religious liberty is not a result of self-government. It is a prerequisite."
Fort Worth, Texas
It's odd that a Republican would misrepresent the ideas of Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic party, in order to attack Democrats. For where else does the "modern left" reside, if not in the Democratic party?
Jefferson did not have a "different concept [of church and state separation] than liberals who use his term today." Jefferson meant just what he said. A wall, completely divided. Government on one side, with no interference from religion. And vice versa. In perfect equipoise. A philosophy of mutual respect and noninterference. Jefferson understood in a profound and original way how important this balance is to safeguarding both spheres of human freedom.
And he believed, above all, in the inalienable sanctity of the sovereign individual, whose mental freedom must be vouchsafed from tyranny of any kind. Every individual has the right to sort out issues of faith and existence through his own intellect, heart, and soul, privately and unmenaced.
Associate Professor of Architecture
University of Virginia
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