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Thompson, Huckabee, and God vs the Constitution

By Wendy Kaminer

        It's foolish to seek logic in appeals to religious faith, especially those made while campaigning, but I can’t help interrogating Fred Thompson’s refrain that our "basic rights come from God and not from any government."  What exactly does this imply – that if Christians are denied the right to proselytize, they should pray for the right to be restored instead of petitioning their government?  When people are fired or not hired on the basis of race, religion, or sex, should they turn to their spiritual leaders for help instead of their lawyers?
   
        You don’t have to think long or hard about this disparagement of political rights to recognize its senselessness.  Even right wing Christian activists who cheer Thompson’s preaching aren’t foolish enough to practice it.  When anti-abortion activists are denied the right to protest outside the entrances of abortion clinics, they sue; they turn to the government, not God, for redress.
   
        Still, Thompson’s illogical slogan isn’t meaningless.  It’s code for what Huckabee stated more or less explicitly to a crowd of supporters in Michigan -- that the Constitution should be amended to reflect Christian notions of Godliness: “I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.”

        Mike Huckabee has stressed his support for constitutional amendments prohibiting abortion and gay marriage, but given his notions of Godly government, there’s no reason to believe that he doesn’t favor granting the state constitutional power to proselytize, (through official school prayer, for example,) or codifying his favorite biblical mandates.  Without becoming unduly alarmed, it’s worth noting that a substantial minority shares Huckabee's yen for theocracy.  32% of respondents to a 2006 Pew Forum survey said that the bible should have more influence on U.S. law than the will of the people.  (60% of white evangelicals would elevate the bible over the people’s will.)  A strong majority of all survey respondents (two-thirds) regarded America as a Christian country.
    
        It’s not all bad news for secularists, considering the slowly increasing visibility and maybe even respectability of non-theism.  And the electoral power of the religious right may have peaked (some consider the Terry Schiavo case to have been its Waterloo;) but it is still a lot more more powerful and maybe a little more popular than what is commonly denigrated as the secular left. 

        According to Pew, while Americans are conflicted about the relationship between religion and government, they tend to be more critical of liberal efforts to divorce religious belief and law than conservative efforts to marry them.  49% of survey respondents agreed that “conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country,” but 69% agreed that “liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of schools and government.”
 
        I suspect this means that while majorities may oppose religious campaigns against stem cell research, or Congressional interference with private end of life decisions, they are more resentful of secular opposition to official expressions of religious belief.  With the Supreme Court on their side, they might start by posting copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and schools; it's unclear where they'd end.

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