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Keep church and state separate!

This was a point I made on the Democrats-For-Life e-mail list in 2000. I said when it comes to talk about abortion, let's "keep it secular."

Louis Shapiro (Shapiro is a Jewish name, but he's Catholic), a former Republican, disagreed.

He said he and other Christian conservatives don't want to impose their religion on others, but do want religion in the public square.

He complained that because of radical secularism, "...we can't even mention God at a football game."

My friend Greg, raised Catholic, and who first got me interested in religion and politics, reacted by asking in a phone conversation: what would a religious person be doing at a football game in the first place?

I agreed with Greg: wouldn't a religious person be leading a sheltered or cloistered life at temple, monastery, or nunnery? Or off somewhere meditating in the Himalayan mountains?

What would a religious person be doing at a sporting event, an event which serves no higher purpose, only sense gratification?

Dr. Larry Shinn observes:

"...there is a similarity in the Krishna and the Catholic traditions in their stress on formal rituals, the abundant use of iconography, their hierarchical institutional/authority structure, their strong emphasis on the private prayerlife, and their ideals of the monastic life of full time religious service and personal piety."

Ironically, when complaining about not being able to mention God at a football game, Louis Shapiro was referring to a lawsuit which was brought by Mormons and Catholics in 2000 against Protestant bias in prayers being recited before football games.

This kind of bias has happened before. In his 2003 book, Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church and State, journalist Rob Boston writes:

"Catholics did not start arriving on American shores in significant numbers until the late 1830s and 1840s and with the great waves of immigration in the post-Civil War era and early twentieth century.

"The small numbers of Catholics who did choose to live in America could find life difficult. Guaranteed the right to worship by the Constitution, they no longer had to worry about their priests being shackled and thrown into prison or their churches being raided by agents of the state.

"However, many overt forms of prejudice still existed, especially in employment. But the one area where Catholics encountered the greatest frustration was in the public school system...

"Catholic children were not simply required to sit through religious exercises alien to them; they were often forced to take an active role in them.

"Great insensitivity reigned in some parts of the country as the Protestant majority laid down the rules for religious exercises in public schools...

"Things quickly got ugly. Even though the Catholic parents were not requesting that the religious practices be terminated--merely that their children not be required to sit through them--violence erupted...

"During a similar flap over religious exercises in Philadelphia's public schools in 1844...a riot broke out in that city that lasted three days. Violence erupted after the city's Board of Education voted to allow Catholic children to be excused from mandatory religious exercises or use their own version of the Bible.

"Again, all the Catholics were asking for was that their beliefs be respected, not that the Protestant practices be stopped entirely.

"Catholic churches and the homes of Catholic parents were burned; thirteen people were killed.

"In later years violence on a smaller scale broke out in other areas. In 1854 in Ellsworth, Maine, an outraged mob tarred and feathered a missionary priest, John Bapst, after he urged a parishioner to go to court and fight a school board regulation requiring children to read the King James Bible.

"Abuses such as these led to the creation of the Catholic school system in America. Fed up with the overt Protestant flavor of the public schools and desiring a system that would inculcate their own values, American Catholics created one.

"Early conflicts over religion in public schools led to court battles in several states. In many cases, the actions were filed by disgruntled Catholic parents--sometimes backed by Jews--who desired a secular educational system.

"In light of this history, it is remarkable that today some conservative Catholics have joined the movement for a school prayer amendment. How easily some forget their own history!"

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