Monday, July 11, 2005

A Unique Argument against Secularism

William Raspberry gives over his column in today's Washington Post to uncritical regurgitation of the opinions of Kevin "Seamus" Hasson of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Hasson believes that efforts to enforce secularism in government lead inevitably to “government hostility to publicly expressed religion.” In Hasson’s perspective, government neutrality towards religion equals government hostility towards religion. Thus, when the Court prohibits a Kentucky courthouse from exhibiting framed copies of the Ten Commandments, the Court is seeking to “expunge religion from public life” in Raspberry’s approving summary of Hasson’s views. Neither Hasson nor Raspberry seem to have considered that public life has a lot of room for expressions of religion that are not endorsed by government.

But Hasson and Raspberry have another argument up their sleeve, one you probably haven’t come across before. Hasson prefers to say that Constitution requires that the government must be “temporal,” but that it need not be “secular.” What’s the distinction? Hassan says, “Temporal means the here and now, without reference to the hereafter. Our government was designed to be temporal, but you have only to look at the words and actions of the Founders to understand that they had no interest in the sort of secularity the court now seeks to enforce."

So how does the temporal-secular distinction help us decide what religious expressions the government can make, and which it cannot? You won’t find out in Raspberry’s column, which in a non-sequitur proceeds to endorse the individual right of religious self-expression. But you will find the following extraordinary assertion:

But it's not just in impossibly arcane Supreme Court decisions that "secular"
plays us false, says Hasson. "It gets us in needless trouble internationally as
well. The Arabic word for secular is almehni, meaning godless. So when Muslim
fundamentalists hear us talk about secular government, they think we mean, quite
literally, a godless government. Temporal translates into another Arabic word
entirely, dunyawi, or worldly.

Ah. So let’s alter our interpretation of the Bill of Rights so that when our discourse is translated into Arabic, it will be less offensive to Muslim fundamentalists. That’s a slippery slope we don’t want to start down.