Lucy, I’m home! And I’ve got a little something to tell you.
You might want to sit down.
Your kindergarten teacher, you see, was far from straight with you. Pluto — rather, what your teacher likely told you years ago was a lovably eccentric, ever-persevering “Little Engine That Could”-type smiley face of a world that lay far on the edge of space — is, sadly, not a planet at all.
Not according to the International Astronomical Union, anyway. Pluto, they say, is not worthy of such a title; the friendly orange canine who doubles as companion to America’s favorite talking mouse and Lord of the Underworld is many things, yes, but “planet” is not one of them.
Don’t worry. I took it hard, too.
But before you tramp down to your old elementary school to seek the justice that both you and Mickey deserve, word from the Sunshine State is that you’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Talking to reporters for a Christian weekly, the Florida Baptist Witness, Republican Senate hopeful and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris — yep, that Katherine Harris, who currently holds a seat in the U.S. House — recently opined that the idea of separation of church and state is “a lie we have been told.”
A lie? Pardon me for asking, Ms. Harris, but where did you —
“… And if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected then we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our Founding Fathers intended and that certainly isn’t what God intended.”
Hey! Slow down! Madam Congresswoman, please — let the columnist write the column.
Having a proper dialogue is, after all, a two-way street.
Now, I think, Dear Reader, that the only way to be exactly sure whether or not the Distinguished Gentlewoman got it right would be for us to go directly to both the Founding Fathers and to God Himself. And since that option may be slightly impractical, the writings of the former and the words of those who worship the latter might just have to suffice.
There is, of course, the famous — or infamous, depending on the source — letter in which Thomas Jefferson put on parchment the notion of “a wall of separation between Church and State.”
What is not so well-known, however, is that when Jefferson etched that phrase into history, he was responding to a letter that he himself had received a few months earlier upon becoming President of the United States. Just who sent that letter? Members of the Danbury Baptist Association, a group of Baptist citizens in Connecticut, who had written the new President “to express [their] great satisfaction in [his] appointment to the chief Magistracy in the United States.”
And satisfied they were indeed, for, they said, “though our mode of expression may be less costly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, Sir to believe, that none are more sincere.”
The Baptists told Jefferson that, while there were those in their state and elsewhere who criticized him for his stand in maintaining a secular government, he shouldn’t worry, as “it is not to be wondered at [that] those who seek after power and gain under the pretence of government and Religion should reproach their fellow man — should Reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of Religion, Law and good order because he will not, dare not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.”
The author of the Declaration of Independence, needless to say, ate it up.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God,” Jefferson wrote back, “that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building” — the coup de grâce — “a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Surprised? Don’t be.
It’s not like I can’t see you with your mouth agape, saliva quickly ruining both the crossword puzzle and Mr. Rabkin’s neighboring column at the thought of not simply people of faith, but, of all people, Baptists doing nothing less than applauding and advocating the separation of church and state. Please take all the time you need, however, in reattaching your jaw: this is far from a new development. It was, after all, John Smyth, a key figure in the rise of the Baptist tradition, who told the British government all the way back in 1612 that “the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine.”
The new development, rather, are those people in politics who claim to be taking back the country for America’s faithful when what they are actually doing is rewriting history and redefining traditional American values in the hopes of upping their personal and partisan gain.
What Baptists like your devoted, Stetson-brandishing newspaperman and Americans of faith of all traditions who adhere to the ideals of our Forefathers understand — and what opportunists like Katherine Harris don’t — is that keeping religion and government separate plainly and simply ensures the continued success and sanctity of both.
My favorite liberal put it best in a speech to the Senate in 1981: “Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?”
Were there but more liberals like Barry Goldwater.
Mark Coombs is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at email@example.com . If You Can Keep It appears Thursdays.