WASHINGTON — The separation of church and state in American public life is essential to ensure that U.S. citizens retain their civil liberties and that the nation retains its exceptionalism in the world, a group of experts told a forum Tuesday at the National Press Club.
As the 2012 election season heats up, the experts voiced concern over the view held by some that the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, allows religion to be mixed with governance, which they said is incorrect. They said that American exceptionalism stems in no small part from religious liberty.
John Ragosta, author of "Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped to Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty," said that if the U.S. was categorically a Christian nation, then it would not have gotten the support that it has from people of other religious faiths. While Americans are more religious than the people of any other developed country, he said, religion must remain separate from secular government in the United States.
Jamie Raskin, director of the Law and Government Program at American University's School of Law and also a Maryland state senator, noted that the Constitution allows people to follow whichever religion they desire, but that government should make its decisions based on logic and science.
"One must be neutral and not be classified as Christian, Muslim or Jew," he said. He noted that it may be accurate to label America a Christian nation in a demographic sense, but such a definition extended to constitutional law would destroy secular traditions developed over 200 years.
John Kinney, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaverdam, Va., said that people today are using God to push their political and social agendas.
"When we are dragging religion into politics, then we are not searching for truth, but we do it to support our agenda in order to preserve our position, so the necessity for separation of church and state is essential" he said.
(Mussadaq is a reporter at The Express Tribune Islamabad, and Panhwer is a reporter/editor at Associated Press of Pakistan Hyderabad, Pakistan. They are reporting for The McClatchy Washington Bureau in partnership with the International Center for Journalists. The program is funded by the U.S. State Department.)
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