December 2018 – Should the Government Be Religiously Neutral?

December 2018 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

Should the Government Be Religiously Neutral?

  Monday, December 17, 2018
  7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
  Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

Is America a Christian nation? A religious nation? A secular nation? Or something else entirely? Do the mottoes “In God We Trust” or “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (A New Order for the Ages) on our money reflect the real national ethos? Do we care if children pray in schools or say a Pledge of Allegiance with the words “under God” as added in 1954? Should we look back to Pilgrim founders or the Enlightenment rationalists of the American Revolution for our true heritage? What is the relationship, if any, between God and America?

What exactly is religiously neutral? Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, Sikhs, etc. are treated the same as Christians? That all religious symbols be removed from the public square to avoid offending atheists, agnostics, and those believers who feel separation of Church and State means something? Should public offices forbid employees from saying Merry Christmas? Should “holiday trees” only be allowed if there is representation for Festivus (The Seinfeld Show’s holiday for the rest of us) and the Giant Spaghetti Monster? Can the desire to avoid offending the secular become discrimination against the religious?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises freedom of religion but forbids the establishment of religion by government. Does no establishment just mean no national church as some argue or no government action favoring one or any religion as others claim? What do we do with Santa Claus who started as the Dutch name for St. Nicholas but who now seems to be running a factory at the North Pole with elf labor and a reindeer transportation system? How Christian is this religious figure who lived in what is now the predominantly Muslim country of Turkey? Is this the fate of religion—to be turned into a fairy tale figure distributing toys to good girls and boys? Is Santa safe now for secular society or is there still something insidiously religious about him?

Ten Commandments monuments are acceptable on the Texas State Capitol grounds, forbidden at the Alabama Supreme Court, and being uprooted from public parks. But the U.S. Supreme Court Building still has Moses on its walls and he is in a mural at the Minnesota Supreme Court. Are the Ten Commandments part of our legal heritage or a step towards theocracy? Do they make fears of Sharia law in the U.S. seem silly? Does the U.S. Supreme Court opening statement of “God bless this honorable Court” make banning prayer in schools appear hypocritical?

What about the indirect benefits religion receives? Church property including some which look like businesses cannot be taxed? Contributions to the religion of one’s choice are tax deductible. The armed services, prisons, and health care organizations have chaplains. There are chapels in hospitals, on college campuses, and military bases. Discrimination laws require religious accommodation from businesses which may mean work breaks for Muslims to pray. Should Congresswomen change the dress code to wear hijabs? Should school cafeterias drop pork from the menu? What is free expression and what is oppression of the rest of us?

On Monday, December 17 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will ask if God and Caesar can co-exist or should stay in separate venues. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will hopefully keep the peace. Christmas is just around the corner and treats are available to all!