This conservative onslaught requires
a bold defense of the secular state—by people of reason.
Although that defense must encompass all branches of government,
today’s battleground is the courtroom, where judges find
themselves under relentless pressure to legitimize religious
dogmas such as the sanctity of the God-given soul (the Terri
Schiavo case, anti-abortion laws, stem cell research), the literal
truth of holy scripture (laws against homosexuality, displays
of the Ten Commandments in courthouses), and the recognition
of God as master of the universe (creationism, prayer in public
schools). The First Amendment, conservatives declare, guarantees
only freedom “of” religion, not freedom “from” religion.
To their credit, secular judges have valiantly resisted the religious
right’s persistent advances. In response, frustrated conservatives
are leveraging their newfound dominance over Congress and the
presidency in a crusade to emasculate the judiciary. Whether
it’s senators limiting filibusters, or Congress threatening
to reorganize the court system, or President Bush decrying “judicial
activism” while nominating compliant federal judges, conservatives
are targeting secular judges as enemies.
No, the “people of faith” are not calling for a Christian
theocracy—yet. For now, they simply want to establish religious
faith on an equal footing with reason as a legitimate method
of governmental decision making. But if they succeed in this,
the eventual emergence of government by clergy is all but assured.
A proper defense of the secular state must penetrate to fundamentals.
It is insufficient, for example, to criticize Christian evangelicals
for imposing their own narrow creed on a diversely religious
citizenry. Such superficial criticism implies that faith-based
governmental action is permissible if representative of all beliefs,
when in fact our Constitution forbids it.
America was established for a secular purpose: the protection
of individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Constitution neither mentions God (except to forbid religious
tests for public office) nor imbues government with any religious
Individual rights can be protected only by a secular state whose
every action is grounded in objective fact and guided by reason,
not blind faith. By way of illustration, consider the importance
of rational methodology in the field of criminal justice.
To justify an arrest in a proper legal system, the police must
have probable cause, and to win a conviction, a prosecutor must
establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, based on objective
evidence. If justice is to prevail, each governmental decision
must be taken without regard to anyone’s religious faith.
Any admixture of religious faith guarantees injustice. In the
Dark Ages, a prosecutor would submerge the defendant’s
arms in boiling water, and if the scalded flesh became infected,
that was taken as a sign of God’s disfavor, mandating a
guilty verdict. Adopting that benighted era’s essential
methodology, today’s conservatives demand that judges accept “God’s
will” as a legitimate basis for punishing homosexuals,
science teachers, stem cell researchers, and a host of others.
This is the collapse of criminal justice, as surely as if Jewish
judges were rejecting testimony from atheists, or Catholic jurors
were relying on scripture to convict Protestants.
Centuries of history demonstrate that faith-based governments
spawn persecution, torture, and endless bloody warfare. Today’s
religionists may insist that this time will be different, but
their evasions cannot eradicate the inherent connection between
faith and force. Since faith entails overriding reason in favor
of emotion, religious disputes are necessarily unresolvable through
rational persuasion, leaving force as the only weapon against
heretics and infidels. No wonder religionists so often lust after
If “people of faith” choose to act irrationally in
their private lives, they are free to do so. But if there is
one institution that must be held rationally accountable for
every single action it takes, it is the agency that can lawfully
use guns, prisons, and lethal injections against legally disarmed
Separating church from state does not guarantee victory for the
rational protection of individual rights—secular irrationality
is possible, indeed commonplace—but such separation is
indispensable nonetheless. This is why issues like abortion,
gay rights, and “Intelligent Design” creationism
merit so much attention.
Once judges begin accepting religious feelings as valid decisional
factors, the secular principle cannot survive, and the disintegration
of society into sectarian strife must soon follow.
People of faith” began this war, and so people of reason
must now end it—by zealously defending the secular state,
and vowing never to allow faith and force to be united under
the American flag.
Thomas A. Bowden is an attorney and a writer for Ayn
Rand Institute (www.AynRand.org) in Irvine, Calif. The Institute
promotes the ideas of Ayn Rand—best-selling author of
Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy