June 2001 Church & State | Editorial

A spate of recent incidents underscores the dangers of government usurpation of religious symbols and phrases.

In Ohio, after a federal appeals court upheld the use of the phrase "With God, All Things Are Possible" as the state motto, a staffer at the Family Research Council told a reporter the words are merely a "very innocuous phrase."

In Harlan County, Ky., public education officials, seeking to protect an in-school chapel, argued that crosses on pews in the room are really just the letter T.

In the nation's capital, TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has advised the U.S. Supreme Court that a Ten Commandments display in front of municipal buildings in Elkhart, Ind., should be deemed constitutional because the Decalogue is merely "a text which has become part of Western secular culture."

It's ironic to see the Religious Right, which constantly claims that religion isn't taken seriously these days, rush to proclaim that its sacred symbols and phrases aren't really religious after all in order to win approval from judges and other government officials.

All of this only underscores yet another danger of President George W. Bush's "faith-based initiative." The rush to shake a few dollars from the state treasury or win government support for religious projects has an inevitable secularizing effect that cheapens religion.

If, one day, courts buy into the Religious Right's argument that religion isn't really religion, some faith groups might indeed win a few table scraps from the state. But in the long run, they will lose something much more valuable their very souls.