Thursday, April 30, 2009

Barry Goldwater on Separation of Church and State

These words from Barry Goldwater, founder of modern American conservatism:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.

If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.'

- Barry Goldwater, Congressional Record, September 16, 1981.
Via Andrew Sullivan.


Rick Garner said...

For more on the separation of church and state and what it really means, check out this blog post:

Thomas Paine Jr. said...

Rick, thanks for your comment on my blog. I'm going to post my comment in both places (here, and on my own blog):

The part of this discussion where Americans tend to disagree is what constitutes government impedance of the "free exercise of religion". Clearly Barry Goldwater (the founder of modern American conservatism) clearly believed that individual Americans should be free to pursue their faiths without government interference, but he clearly also thought that demands that legislators make laws based on religious morality were un-American.

Case in point: I am an atheist, but if the ATF shows up to shut down a church for being a church, I'll be the first guy to scream about it. The cases where I, as a pro-Separation conservative, take issue, are where people interpret "no impedance of religion" as "no impedance of religion entering government". If you want to build a Christian monument in a public park or teach Biblical creationism in schools? Not appropriate. To see why, ask yourself if putting a Qu'ran monument on a hill in your town would be okay, or a government mandate that I come into your church and teach evolution on Sundays would be acceptable. Of course not. "Freedom to exercise religion" is an American invention and must be defended, but "freedom to make others tolerate my religion" - which is all too often what people think it means - is not American at all.

Rick Garner said...

Ah, and indeed we're not time-warping to the founding of this country. The Church of England at the time ruled everything in Britain. The church was the law and this is what the Founders wanted to escape from: worship freely, recognized that God created this world ("In God We Trust"), but not have a church dictate how a community would function.