Eddie Tabash on the Separation of Church and State

Even Christians can support the separation of church and state, okay?


Bill Gnade said...

Dear Mr. Loftus,

Yes, yes, I agree, and this without having listened to Mr. Tabash. But my biggest beef is with those who ONLY focus on the role conservative Christianity plays in pressure politics. Unitarianism is one of the most vocal faiths advocating the separation of Church and State, and yet it is one of the most -- if not THE most -- politically active religious institutions in America, and is so as a liberal political machine. If conservative Christianity cannot pressure the State, then no religion whatsoever should be permitted to pressure the State.

About 12 years ago I was standing in the parish hall at my local Unitarian Church reading a copy of Church & State magazine. One of the feature articles was of a contingent of liberal religious pastors and rabbis presenting to then-President Bill Clinton a letter urging him to defend the wall of separation. There was even a photograph of this noble group. But that no one saw the contradiction and the irony was both hilarious and tragic! Egads, how foolish can we be?! The story remains one the most egregious contradictions I've ever witnessed.

But I must also note that the separation of Church and State can lead to absurdities.


Bill Gnade

GordonBlood said...

Certainly I think there has to be a very clear difference between the seperation but within reason. For example I dont think there anything wrong with public schools having Christmas concerts because, frankly, Christmas is no longer a "Christian" holiday, in the sense that Christmas is celebrated just as passionately by atheists as it is by Christians. So yes, no public school prayer, no ten commandments in the courthouses etc etc. Of course I live in a country (Canada) where this has been standard procedure for a very very long time so I suppose i find certain ideas of intermingling the two unnecessary and even amusingly silly.

Bill its good to see your writings, you bring a great voice to the forum.

Bill Gnade said...


Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to getting to know you -- and everyone else here -- a little better in the days to come.


Bill Gnade

Jon said...

I love Eddie Tabash, but he needs to recognize that there may be a difference between what he likes and what is Constitutional.

For instance, he complains that Pat Robertson says there is no legal justification for the SC striking a state law that banned the use of contraceptives. Hey, I don't like the law either. But that doesn't necessarily mean the federal government has a right to come in and tell a state what to do on this matter.

Tabash simply has a problem with democracy. If the majority of the people in a given state want contraceptives to be banned, that's their right. It's a stupid law, but democracy sometimes results in stupid laws. But it is better to allow democracy and sometimes have stupid laws than to take democracy away. Because when democracy is taken away you not only end up with stupid laws, you sometimes have stupid laws that even the people don't support.

Tabash is appalled that Clarence Thomas says that legally a state can establish a State Church. Hey, I don't like a State Church. But the fact of the matter is when the country was founded states didn't cede their rights to establish their own church. What Clarence Thomas is doing is limiting his own authority. He wouldn't want a state church either. But what he's saying is he doesn't have a right to dictate to a state what their laws should be on the matter.

True conservatives (not the George Bush type) when they come to power don't actually attempt to expand their own power. Clarence Thomas is saying he doesn't have the authority to tell everyone exactly how to live. He's ceding power back to the people.

Skeptics should appreciate this. Liberals want to expand the power of the unelected, unaccountable Supreme Court when they want to impose laws that they can't successfully pass through the democratic process. But does that sound like what you would want if the court was packed with conservatives? Do you like the thought of evangelical Christians imposing laws that would never be passed by the democratic process? Would you accept the excuse that the Constitution is a "living document" as conservatives mandated restrictions on abortion or dictates on gay marriage? Liberals like big government and big federal power when they get Roe v Wade or have their own people in charge. How do they like it with Bush? Maybe if liberals tried to slow the growth of government, maybe Bush wouldn't be able to suspend habeas corpus.

John W. Loftus said...

Jon, I've emailed Eddie for a comment, and I hope he can take a moment to respond, but let me respond in the meantime. You said:

Tabash is appalled that Clarence Thomas says that legally a state can establish a State Church. Hey, I don't like a State Church. But the fact of the matter is when the country was founded states didn't cede their rights to establish their own church. What Clarence Thomas is doing is limiting his own authority. He wouldn't want a state church either. But what he's saying is he doesn't have a right to dictate to a state what their laws should be on the matter.

What Eddie (and I, and many others) are arguing, is for what the original framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights argued. It's a principled stance that has as it's backdrop the oppression of the European state run churches they left America for. It's better when church and state are kept separate. People of faith will argue that it's better for religion, and people like Eddie will argue it's better for secularism. Because of this principled restriction of religion from the state, the majority on either side of the God question cannot have their way. That being said, if we step back in time, the majority had already spoken and adopted this principle in the first place.

But you raise some important issues and I look forward to Eddie's response along with those of others. I see on your Blog you're dealing with abortion issues. Is this what lies in the back of your mind?

Jon said...

Hey John. That's great that you've emailed Eddie. I hope he does reply.

I certainly agree that it is better when church and state are seperated. I'm just not sure that the original framers intended that in the sense that skeptics today would like to believe. I understand that the State of Massachusetts in fact did have a State Church even after the Constitution was ratified. If that's true, then I think that's pretty strong evidence to show that in fact the framers did not intend for the federal government to have the power to say that a state could not have a state church.

You can see from my blog that I am pro-life. I don't take this stance on the first ammendment because I want to see Roe v Wade overturned. I just think that big government intrusion creates problems, and Roe v Wade is just one example.

If Roe v Wade were overturned, all that would do is allow the members of a state to vote and decide what they thought about abortion and what restrictions should be placed on it. Abortion is not controversial in most other countries, and I believe that is because in those countries the people were allowed to vote on the issue. When voting occurs, usually those that lose accept the results. They understand that this is as fair a decision as can be had. But in the U.S. the people were never allowed to have a say. The SC took the decision out of the hands of the people, and pro-lifers just feel like we were ripped off. This is one example of where the SC expanded its power, imposed its will on the people, and the result has been big problems, big controversy, big anger, and wasted time. Had the SC kept to itself and let the people decide, abortion would probably be legal in the vast majority of states, with perhaps some restrictions like you see in Britian (where I don't think abortion is legal after the first trimester, whereas in the U.S. it is legal through 9 months of pregnancy). That's a reasonable position that most Americans would be satisfied with, and we'd have that type of a system had the federal government not come in and dictated things. Big government is just a big pain.

John W. Loftus said...

My friend Eddie emailed me and said this: "I would love to jump in, but I have some work related deadlines. Give me a few days and I will email you something." So when he does I'll post it. Until then I'll wait for him to comment. I heard him do this same talk at a CFI group in Grand Rapids Sometime in the future they will be posting a video of it. While the presentation is the same, the Q & A time was much better because the questions were much better.

Jon said...

Let me add one more comment on something Eddie said, now that I've finished his entire talk.

Eddie is most outraged at Scalia's statements in his decision on Lawrence v Texas, which was a ruling that struck down Texas' prohibition on sodomy. Scalia dissented to the decision.

Scalia apparently wrote that states have the right to prohibit any sex acts they choose. This sounds pretty extreme, until you think about what he's actually saying.

What he's saying is entirely consistent with what Justice Thomas wrote in his companion dissent. He said that this prohibition on sodomy is an "uncommonly silly" law. He said if he were a member of the Texas legislature he would vote to repeal it. But he voted to uphold the ban because the Constitution of the United States does not give him the authority to overturn the will of the people of the state of Texas on this matter.

You want to overturn this law? Work through the democratic process. I will join you. This is a ridiculous law. But we need to work through persuasion, not impose laws dictated by an unelected, unaccountable official. Thomas and Scalia are basically saying that their hands are tied. They don't have the authority, and they don't want to expand their power so as to limit democracy. Would that Bush had the same mindset.

John W. Loftus said...

Jon, Eddie responds here.