Religious Neutrality by Government

I found this article as a sidebar to an article about Religion and Government in the Feb. 13th issue of the Columbus Dispatch, in the Faith and Values section.

I thought the conclusion of the report mentioned in the article seems a bit strange. --dlb

Religious neutrality called only proper role for government

In 1994, the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA wrote "A Shared Vision: Religious Liberty in the 21st Century."

The document was signed by representatives of dozens of organizations, denominations and religions.

The group found two different views about the proper role of religion in public life.

"One portrays America as a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. . . . The other sees religion and religious groups as having a minimal role in -- perhaps being barred from -- the vital public discourses we carry on as a democracy . It sees faith based involvement in the democratic process as violating the principle of church-state separation."

Neither view, the document concluded, is correct.

The view of America as a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation "suggests that the Founders never meant to separate the institutions of church and state or to prohibit the establishment of religion. Such a view is historically inaccurate and endangers our common welfare because it uses religion to divide rather than unite the American people," the report says.

The other extreme, the exclusion of religion from public life, "regards religious arguments as naive and seeks to embarrass any who profess religious motivation for their public positions on political issues."

"This view denies our country the powerful moral guidance of out religious heritage and discourages many of our brightest and most committed citizens from actively participating in our public life."

The appropriate role, separation of church and state, "requires that government refrain from promoting or inhibiting religion. Neutrality -- by which religion is accommodated but never advocated by the state -- should be the touchstone."

© 1998 The Columbus Dispatch. This sidebar appeared on page 2E of the Feb. 13 edition of the Columbus Dispatch.

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