The government’s definition of “The Golden Rule” – “The one with the gold makes the rules.”
Recently, Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad, issued an official proclamation encouraging all Iowans to participate in a Bible-reading marathon from June 30 – July 3. This marathon would take place at the respective courthouse of each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In both Facebook posts and conversations, I have vehemently and adamantly disagreed with and opposed the governor’s actions.
One person was quite surprised that I, as a member of the clergy, would take such a position. Yes, I am a member of the clergy, but I am also a historical Baptist. And as such, I am adamantly opposed to having any type of entanglement, establishment, promotion, or restriction of one particular faith over another.
As one of my Baptist forebears, John Leland, said in 1790, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
My Baptist forebears were the recipients of persecution and penalty because they were not part of the state-sanctioned church of the day. They fought hard against having this continue under the newly written constitution that would take the place of the Articles of Confederation which was the governing document the first 7+ years (March 1781 – June 1788) of the official existence of this country. John Leland forced a promise from James Madison in Virginia that in exchange for his support, Madison would write and work to have a “Bill of Rights” added to the text of the new constitution, one of which was the Freedom of Religion. And the above quote of Leland shows just exactly what Leland contended that Freedom of Religion to mean.
At the time of the writing and ratification of the new constitution, along with that of the Bill of Rights, it was only the federal government that was to abide by these restrictions and freedoms. Those who put together the text of the new constitution kicked the “state-church” topic to the states, passing the buck to them. And it wasn’t until 1833 that the last official state church (meaning that a particular faith was established via the text of that state’s constitution) was officially abolished by it being removed from that state’s constitution. That state was Massachusetts by the way.
There have been some who have recently argued that the U.S. Constitution still only prohibits Congress from this type of activity and that states are still free to do so. I would agree, except for that little thing called the 14th Amendment (ratified on July 28, 1868) which states that all governments, be it state, county, or municipal, are now required to also abide by the same restrictions that the federal government must.
At the very least, Branstad’s official proclamation has effectively promoted one faith/religion over all others with governmental sanction. And while some may say it was okay for him to do so as long as he would do it for a different faith as well, I say that I would be shocked if he would ever call on all Iowans to participate in a Koran-reading marathon. It smacks of a “separate, but equal” approach and philosophy, which was declared unconstitutional by Supreme Court decisions starting in 1954. “Separate, but equal” has been shown to be a farce, a sham. It is nothing more than a justification of promoting one group and/or establishing one group over another.
The best way to avoid entanglement is for the government to just stay out of the faith/religion area altogether. The only role, as Leland said, that the government should play is after the fact if, AND ONLY IF, it becomes necessary to step in to protect someone who is being abused by another on account of faith/religion or absence thereof.
And it is when government, be it a legislature or one official like a governor, chooses to jump in before the fact and promote, that the government’s version of “The Golden Rule” is not often far behind in some fashion or form.
I can almost hear John Leland screaming from his grave.