Separation And Sept. 11

Rejecting The Rants Of The Demagogues

In the wake of the horrific terrorist attack on America Sept. 11, President George W. Bush and top political leaders from both parties asked the American people to join together in unity, and the American people responded.

People put aside their political and religious differences and vowed to stand together in opposition to terrorism, making it clear that American resolve will not be shaken.

That's what most Americans did. A miniscule number of others took a more unfortunate course -- a course of finger pointing and wild allegations. Leading the pack were two of America's most notorious TV preachers -- Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Discussing the attack on Robertson's "700 Club" program Sept. 13, Falwell and Robertson came to a surprising conclusion. The attack occurred, they said, because America has adopted the separation of church and state, thus expelling God from public life.

God, the two asserted, has protected America for a long time but will no longer do so because we have kicked God out of public schools and government buildings, have legalized abortion, have allowed people to practice nature-centered, Pagan religions and have extended civil rights protections to gays. (See "Backlash To Bigotry," page 10, for more details.)

Facing a storm of criticism, both Falwell and Robertson dug themselves in deeper by putting forth explanations that only made things worse. In a lengthy rumination on his website (patrobertson.com), Robertson criticized America for being "consumed by the pursuit of financial gain...the pursuit of health, wealth, material pleasures and sexuality."

Robertson asserted that the Supreme Court has offended God with its decisions upholding church-state separation. "We have insulted God at the highest level of our government," he wrote. "Then we say, 'Why does this happen?' It is happening because God Almighty is lifting His protection from us."

Falwell echoed those sentiments, telling one reporter that America's "secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord's [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture . . . the result is not good."

Thousands of innocent men, women and children died in the attacks on New York City and Washington. It was not their fault. It was not the Supreme Court's fault. It was not the fault of the ACLU, gay rights groups, feminists or Pagans. The fault rests with the terrorists who devised, planned and carried out this vile deed.

Many religious Americans are probably offended by the Falwell-Robertson view of a God who consigns thousands of innocent people to their deaths in a divine snit over a Supreme Court ruling. Those Americans and all others should also be offended by the TV preachers' equally offensive view toward the separation of church and state.

Over the years, Robertson and Falwell have blamed church-state separation for just about every imaginable ill. These latest ravings, as bizarre as they seem, are just another example of their ongoing crusade against the protective "wall of separation" between religion and government.

Ironically, mounting evidence indicates that the recent attack on America originated in countries that don't have our wall. These are places where political power and the majority faith are inseparable, where extremists scream for holy wars and for crushing "infidels," where religious leaders speak for and sometimes assume the duties of government officials.

The United States will defeat the terrorism that emanates from these dark places. And we will do it because of -- not in spite of -- the separation of church and state.

One thing Falwell and Robertson have never understood is that separation of church and state does not weaken our nation -- it gives us strength. A nation that is secure enough to allow complete religious freedom is mature, confident and ready to take on all challenges.

A nation that realizes that government and religion do not need a mutual dependence severs that tie and in the process strengthens both institutions. In the United State we see the results of that every day. We are the oldest, most stable democracy in the world and a nation of unparalleled religious freedom and diversity.

We have diversity but not disunity. As our first national motto -- E Pluribus Unum -- put it, we are one nation out of many peoples. When it really counts, Americans set aside religious differences and come together. We're seeing that now. We will see more of it in the days and months to come.

Robertson and Falwell would apparently rather run down the nation for its alleged failings instead of joining that unity. Let them ramble on. It became obvious a long time ago that these two have a divisive message that serves America poorly. Both proved that again, as forcefully as they could and with words from their own mouths, on Sept. 13.

As all Americans come together -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, atheists, Hindus and many others -- they will create a chorus of voices that will celebrate what's good about America. And one of the things that is very good about America is the principle that makes that chorus possible in the first place: the separation of church and state.

That chorus will eventually drown out the voices of nay-sayers like Falwell and Robertson. Perhaps someday, if we're very lucky, we can look forward to their voluntary exit from the national stage.

It is long overdue.