I’m reading Divided by God, by Noah Feldman. I just started it, so this post isn’t really a review or discussion about his book, but he did make me think about a few things right from the get-go. He’s trying to come up with a compromise between people (like me) who would have no overtly religious symbols or devices in governement, and those would like to see religion throughout government.
From reading a bit about the book, I gather that his compromise is more or less to allow religious symbols (the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, Christmas trees on city property), but not allow big stuff, like state-run religious education. Again, I’m just now reading the introduction, so I may have him wrong, but it’s what I’m thinking about.
I think it’s literally harmful to allow the Ten Commandments to hang in a courtroom. And I think it’s literally harmful to allow Christmas trees in a public elementary school. But I do think that I’d be willing to allow those kinds of things in order to keep the bigger things religion-free. Like, allow the tree to avoid a fight about whether they’ll actually teach the Bible as literal truth.
What I worry about is the short memories. Specifically, I mean that in the separation debates of the future, I’m worried that the “more religion” side will say, “but why argue that we’re not a religious people? Just look, we have Christmas trees in schools! We have the Ten Commandments in courtrooms! America is Christian, and there’s no point arguing otherwise, so of course the government should pay for religious school.”
I worry about this because I already hear it about “In God We Trust” and “Pledge allegiance under God.” Rather than be happy that God has snuck in there (rather recently, in fact), they point to those things and use them to deny the claim that American government should be free of religion.
So I’m not sure that this compromise will work very well. But I’d be willing.