Wednesday July 7, 2010 | Separation of Church and State

July 6, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Coming Up | 20 Comments

Last week, a billboard in Charlotte erected by a statewide atheist group was vandalized. The sign originally read “One Nation Indivisible,” and someone recently spray painted “Under God” on the sign. We’ll use this incident as a jumping off point into the often controversial topic of religion, the constitution and the separation of Church and State. Join a panel of Political Scientists, Constitution and Religion professors to explore the roots of the debate.
Dr. Anne Blue Wills
Assoc. Professor of Religion at Davidson College
Dr. John Szmer Asst. Professor of Political Science at UNC Charlotte
Dr. Scott Huffmon
Assoc. Professor of Political Science and Director of the Social & Behavioral Research Lab at Winthrop University

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  1. Can your guests explain how Blue Laws function in our society. Why should non-sunday-sabbath observers be disallowed to purchase goods in certain goods on Sundays?

    BTW-Great street sign graphic to spotlight the show topic. I bet there is a Starbucks on that corner.

  2. I just wanted to comment about the fact that we are a protestant nation but our supreme court is entirely made up of catholic and Jewish members. It’s not very representative of America. I’d love a discussion.

  3. In South Carolina, a Confederate battle flag is prominently displayed on statehouse grounds, free to anyone’s interpretation: from inspiring emblem of tradition to resentful defiance of the notion of civil rights. Take the highway to Charlotte from Charleston, and you’ll pass a billboard that features sinister eyes behind a Jihadist facemask, a simple message inviting you to a website that will reveal details of the nefarious Islamic agenda in America. Both the flag and the billboard are confrontational and offensive. An overtly atheist message planted near an evangelical Christian Mecca seems designed less to rally or unite than to scoff at a subset of Southern culture, and is equally offensive. Given that simple decency is easily dispensed with, it’s only natural that someone of a similar level of conviction and absence of tolerance would feel impelled to post a reply. In this conflict, is either extreme worth a reasonable person’s empathy?

    • Tom: The billboard was neither overtly atheist (it could have said “There is no scientific evidence for God”) nor designed to scoff at Christians (it could have said “Even Jesus Hates Christians”) but instead, it promotes a message of unity – that we are one nation of people, indivisible. It is a far cry from the hatred and evil that many Christians think atheists are the embodiment of.

      • You’re right: “overt” was a poor choice of word. But, the message certainly wasn’t subtle for anyone who’s tuned in to the news. Most people get it, and to have it positioned in a place where visitors to The Billy Graham Library might notice it and be offended by it is confrontational. For many, the First Amemndment provides a suitable rationale for the right to offend others, just like The Second could imply the right to carry a pistol in public(not that either act would be socially constructive.) Exercising one’s rights without regard to the fallout is morally irresponsible. So is the billboard. So is the spray-painted editing.

      • Tom: The message is that it is possible to be patriotic without being a believer. Atheists aren’t trying to ban all religion, we want our country to be united/indivisible *in spite* of religious differences. Christianity may be a prominent part of Southern culture, but it’s obviously not exclusively Christian. There are many people of other faiths and of no faith who live in the southern states. By saying that this kind of message of unity is offensive and morally irresponsible is telling us that you don’t believe the non-Christians in the state have equal worth.

  4. I turned on my radio to WFAE and heard Dr. Wills’s comments, and for a moment, I thought I had turned on the Rush Limbaugh show.

    I agree with your guests’ assertions that religion and politics are inextricably linked. But should they be? Why do we have to be a nation under god? The intent of the billboard was to argue that we CAN be patriotic without being religious. Indeed, we MUST. And yes, we expect our elected leaders to be guided by moral principles, but morality is a completely separate concept from religious belief.

    • That’s why she’s a professor at Davidson and not at a research 1 school.

  5. I am a firm believer of separation of church and state as a protection to believers whose faith are not dominant. All of my ancestors – Protestants from England and Catholics from Ireland – came here to escape the tyranny of religious oppression.

  6. I can tell you who wrote “Under God” on the billboard. I can also tell you who believes that there should be no separation of church and state: the Christian right (the guests are too politically correct to say this). These people are Puritans in the purist sense because they know what’s best for them, and they also know what’s best for you, and they want the state to impose their will. Count me among the Christians who believe that there should be a very strong wall between church and state, who believe that “under God” should be stricken from the pledge, and who is often disgusted at the disdain for people who are atheist and agnostic.

  7. I am still confussed why it matters that the billboard was placed on BGParkway?
    Can no one have another thought on that road? Non believers handle money everyday with God all over it.

  8. When considering the separation of church and state, one cannot deny the role of Baptist, such as John Leland and Isaac Backus, in lobbying Constitution framers like James Madison. Also, during his brief stint as a Baptist, Roger Williams founded the only totally religiously free colony, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation. All other colonies favored one religion or preference, i.e. Pennsylvania (only monotheists), Maryland (Catholics), Viriginia (Episcopalians), but in Rhode Island, people were free to worship or not worship if they so chose.

  9. Fascinating conversation…. wish I could have made it to a phone.

    As a Baptist minister I find this one of the very most difficult concepts/issues to talk about with folks. So many people simply cannot separate their religious views from their understandings of politics… Baptists, historically, have stood ADAMANTLY for separation, which is ironic, given today’s climate — you mentioned teh picture of Huckaby standing before an American flag and a stained glass window. This is a picture that historic Baptists would not tolerate. Read Roger Williams… George W. Truett… and others.

    I have no concern for the so-called “secularization” of the state. In fact, I think the Church would benefit from such secularizing, becuase the Church would have to learn to be the church without the support of the government.

    Great conversation.

    Russ Dean

  10. I am a lifelong Charlottean, 40 yrs old, and have lost count how many times im-e been told I’m going to hell. My earliest recolection was when I was 10. Meeting anyone over age 50 means one of the first 3 questions I’m asked iis “what church do you go to.” When I answer none, I’m badgered about my beleif system, eternal damnation and that “christ died for my sins.” I still don’t understand that notion.

    I’ve had to replace my “no bible thumperrs” sticker twice because it was vandalized by door to door recruiters (jehovah’s witnesses and mormon’s.)

    I long for a more secular society. Any religion that requires you to recruit more followers is a cult in my estimation. Keep it to yourself! I should have freedom FROM religion, too.

  11. […] on local NPR affiliate WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” radio show, and its related blog, this […]

  12. Man’s quest to understand his world split into two groups: men of reason (scientist) and men of superstition (Religion) After millenniums of abuse and persecution from the majority superstitious, men of reason are gaining in their following. As knowledge and understanding continue their upward spiral, religions are intellectually backed into smaller and smaller corners. Ultimately, if there is a place for religion at all, it is in the same league as amusement and entertainment but certainly not in affairs of state.

    Jerry Slayton

  13. I would like to ask, since the billboard was the catalyst for the discussion, why no one from the NC Secular Assn. or Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics was invited to participate. I am surprised and somewhat displeased at WFAE for not choosing to include a representative viewpoint from their side. Should we consider that perhaps WFAE is pandering ever so measuredly to their religious right demographic. I certainly hope not. After listening to the entire program on replay, I definitely smell the stinch of godly bias from Chris and his guests.

    Religion (a belief in fairy tales) is the greatest impediment to the advancement of civilization in the history of mankind.

    John Adams once said that this would be a much better world were there no religion in it!! I could not agree more.

    To scoff at Thomas Paine is to scoff at America’s very foundation as a secular society. Paine said:

    Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel. [Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason]

    As a long time devotee to WFAE, I am quite disturbed by this lack of fairness to such an important subject and would like to hear WFAE’s reasoning behind it’s blatant bias on this issue. This sounds more like the 700 club.

  14. good luck tonight! what an opportunity for elevating the dialog w/ facts and context.

    i’m a life-long Christian who is grateful for freedom of speech & the separation of Church and State.

    i followed the link over from the Friendly Atheist’s blog. -also grateful for the opportunities the internet & social media provide for us. Its so much easier to listen to and communicate our values (often shared across party, religious & ethnic lines) and connect with one another.

    PS: i just replayed your podcast (again!) with Mitchell Gold regarding his work dismantling religious based bigotry against the GLBT community. Bravo!!

  15. additionally, i second Robert’s request for including a representative from an atheist/secular organization!

  16. Let me contextualize this argument by saying that it is state vandalism to name a thoroughfare Billy Graham Parkway, especially when we already had North Graham Street. Even for most Christians Billy G. is not a figure to be admired, but a money grubbing political suck-up as bad as Jim Bakker. He is old, but who cares! He can have a library because the repressive elite and the ignorant fund his ignorance and human rights opposition. As his “ministry” fades away without funding and with only backward and hateful heirs the street name will become an embarrassment to Charlotte.

    I was reflecting today here in Geneva that the best evidence that there is no afterlife is the damaged consciousness of the majority of humanity. It is the asymmetry of power and wealth most Christainity endorses that has caused such a tragedy; that we collectively would not be fit for a Heaven even if such existed. Weep for lost hearts and minds. Hate will not make you superior.

    I would insist that the “athiest sign” be on or near the football stadium extorted from the community, not in the BGP ghetto.

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