October 2006 Church & State | Editorial

Why All Americans Should Sign The Petition

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has some alarming views about religion and government.

In a recent interview with the Florida Baptist Witness, Harris called church-state separation “a lie” and went on to opine, “If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Chris­tians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.”

Failure to elect the right type of Christians, she said, will result in “a nation of secular laws” and that is “not what our Founding Fathers intended and certainly isn’t what God intended.”

It is difficult to know where to begin responding to such incoherence. Perhaps the best response isn’t a direct reply at all. It’s to simply redouble our defense of church-state separation and celebrate the value of a government that protects freedom of conscience.

One important way to do that is to sign the First Freedom First petition. This new project, sponsored by Ameri­cans United and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, seeks to rally Americans in support of key principles related to the separation of church and state. You can sign the First Freedom First petition and learn more about the project at www.firstfreedomfirst.org. (If you don’t have Web access, write to Americans United for an information packet.)

There is cause for grave concern. A recent poll by The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 69 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “Liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of the schools and the government.”

Slowly but surely, the Religious Right’s attacks on church-state separation are gaining traction. Couple this with the disappointingly low level of knowledge many Americans have about the Bill of Rights, and the stage is set for disaster.

The underlying theme of the First Freedom First campaign is that our laws must be based on commonly shared constitutional values, not religious dogma favored by certain groups. This may be news to Harris, but our Constitution is a secular document. It guarantees religious freedom for all but does not elevate one faith over another or state that the United States is intended in any way to be an officially religious nation.

The First Freedom First project probably won’t persuade Harris, the TV preachers or their followers. That’s not the point. The point is to educate Americans from all walks of life and rally them in support of core freedoms – the right to worship or not, academic integrity, sound science, support for all families and others – and to show that these ideas are in no way “fringe” positions. They are, in fact, mainstream.

We hope you’ll join the campaign. Add your voice today.