Separation Anxiety: First Amendment at Risk

The following words were selected by Baltimore Ethical Society Leader Hugh Taft-Morales to open our consideration of “Separation Anxiety: the First Amendment at Risk.

Hear some Presidential words:

“We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” (From proponent of Unitarian philosophy Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Virginia Baptists, the second instance of his use of the term “Wall of separation,” written to Danbury Baptists earlier.)

Another President:

“We in the United States, above all, must remember that . . . we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” (In 1984, Ronald Reagan.)

Let’s listen to the Supreme Court:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor)

And from our own Maryland General Assembly:

The issue of church-state separation was framed perfectly during an Annapolis hearing on proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. Republican State Senator Nancy Jacobs said, “As I read biblical principles, marriage is intended, ordained and started by God—that is my belief. . . . For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principles.” State Senator Jamie Raskin replied: “People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. They don’t put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

And then there is George Carlin who said:

“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.”


In the Order of Service, the following quotation was published for our consideration:

“[The Founders] knew that to put God in the constitution
was to put [humanity] out.
They knew that the recognition of a Deity
would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots
as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought.
They knew the terrible history of the church too well
to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God
the sacred rights of [humanity].
They intended that all should have the right to worship
or not to worship, that our laws
should make no distinction on account of creed.
They intended to found and frame a government
for [humanity] and for [humanity] alone.
They wished to preserve the individuality of all
to prevent the few from governing the many
and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

(Robert Ingersoll)

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