This is a small but important point. The christian lobby always uses this argument to say that religion should have a role in public debate and policy. (What they really mean is that their religion should have a privileged position.) I don't think this is in any way consistent with the history of the amendment.Queequeg wrote: ↑Tue Jul 28, 2020 9:52 pm Its interpreted to mean that no church could be the official church of the US government. It doesn't mean people can't bring their religious or spiritual background to inform their participation in civil society. I don't think there was any consensus to remove religion from public life in America.
The origins of this were Federalist 9, where Hamilton raised the issue of factions forming in politics and undermining the union, and Federalist 10, where Madison responded by arguing that a large and diverse republic made it harder for a majoritarian faction to form. Interestingly he was most concerned about those without property forming a majority to redistribute wealth away from the rich - he doesn't consider the problem of the rich co-opting the poor, which seems in retrospect a little naive.
Federalist 10 was published in 1787. In 1788 Madison was standing for election in Virginia against opponents of the constitution. He was lobbied very aggressively by the Baptists - a major voting bloc there - who were concerned that the union would adopt an official religion that would then persecute them. Madison had previously been opposed to the idea of a bill of rights, because he didn't like the idea of enumerated rights - he feared it would lead to non-enumerated rights being disregarded. Subsequent supreme court jurisprudence showed that he was exactly right on that. But anyway, he agreed with the Baptists for the reasons he had outlined in Federalist 10, they supported him in the election, and in 1791 the first amendment was passed, with the first part of that being the establishment clause.
So the origin of this was the protection of minorities from oppression. And that protection, as envisaged by its writers, was guaranteed by the diversity of opinion and diversity of groups represented in public life. So far so good. But did the founders envisage a specific role for religion in public debate? There is absolutely no evidence of that at all. The federalist papers might make reference to religion and god, and we know that a number of the framers were deeply religious people, but the debate was all in terms of how society should function, not what god thought they should do. The idea of a religious group mobilizing sufficient support to impose its views of morality on people not in that group is exactly the concern that Hamilton and Madison address in Federalist 9 and 10, that would be repugnant to them, and they saw the safeguard against that coming from there being no one organization that could amass support of that kind due to the diversity of classes, religions, opinions etc. in the republic.
To return to the modern-day form of the argument. What christians today aim to do, under the banner of having religion in public discourse, is exactly what the framers did *not* want to see. They want to legitimize majoritarian politics. They want to say - we're in the majority, we think you shouldn't eat certain things, dress a certain way, etc. so you need to obey us. They even helpfully described themselves as the "Moral Majority" in case we didn't get the message. The plea for religion to have a role in politics is a trojan horse. It's usually dressed up in 'oppressed' terms, e.g., 'why do you want to prevent us from practicing our religion? Surely it should not be excluded from public life?'
How *did* the framers envisage religion's role in public life? It's pretty clear that they saw it playing two roles. First, it informs the ideas that you bring to the legislature, but those ideas need to stand up because they're good ideas, not because some flying spaghetti monster told you them in a dream. The role of religion and god, as they saw it, was in the background, influencing their personal views on issues, which they then debated in public on rational grounds. Second, when you went home and closed the doors you practiced your religion as a personal thing, in whatever groups you desired, free from the influence or coercion of other groups or of the state. So we should not be saying: the government or citizens should do or avoid doing certain things because we, as Buddhists, know from the Dharma that it would be good. We should be putting forward good ideas because they're good ideas, and not basing our arguments in the Dharma.