Friday, August 19, 2011

Authoritarian or Libertarian? Ron Paul on Church/State Separation, Secularism

Authoritarian or Libertarian? Ron Paul on Church and State

Reprinted from

Paul is frequently portrayed as a "sensible" conservative and staunch libertarian, thus making him increasingly attractive as a presidential candidate. He's being strongly promoted to libertarians, conservatives fed up with Bush and the Christian Right, and Democrats dissatisfied with the current crop of Democratic candidates. At the same time, though, Ron Paul demonstrates the limits of wedding libertarianism with social and political conservatism. They simply don't mesh well.

Ron Paul's consistent anti-war position has made him popular, but how many people also understand his rejection of secularism and church/state separation? How many realize that his "states' rights" rhetoric is a mask concealing a desire to use the government to promote "traditional marriage" and criminalize abortion? Ron Paul is only a "libertarian" where and when it's convenient. Much of the rest of the time, he's not merely a social conservative but a religious conservative promoting an agenda very close to that of Christian Nationalists.

If Ron Paul were a serious contender for the presidency, he'd be a significant threat to American secularism and liberty. Fortunately, he seems to have about as much chance of getting elected as I do — but this doesn’t mean that his candidacy won't influence people for the worse. In particular, I'm concerned about people learning to accept anti-secularism while making excuses for him and their support of him. The first and most important step in preventing that is to examine his ideas now and explain not only how wrong they are, but also why they represent such a threat.

According to Ron Paul himself (via Brent Rasmussen)

Through perverse court decisions and years of cultural indoctrination, the elitist, secular Left has managed to convince many in our nation that religion must be driven from public view. The justification is always that someone, somewhere, might possibly be offended or feel uncomfortable living in the midst of a largely Christian society, so all must yield to the fragile sensibilities of the few.

It should be noted right at the beginning that Ron Paul consistently decries "secularism" and "secularists," though he more often uses the label "secular Left." This, perhaps more than many of his arguments, makes it clear where stands: squarely and unambiguously against a secular government, secular laws, and a secular America. This helps put him in the same camp as the extremist Christian Right.

The second thing to note is that there isn't a single word in the above that's true. Ron Paul is employing a falsehood which has been very popular with theocrats of the Christian Right who seek to deceive voters about what secularism is and what the separation of church & state is all about. Ron Paul has either been duped by those deceivers, or he knows better yet is actively participating in the deception.

No one has launched any court cases seeking to drive religion "from public view." There have been no organized efforts to prevent people from promoting religion in public, from having religious images on their front lawns, or engaging in religious evangelism in the community. What's actually been happening is that people have tried to stop the "public," which is to say public funds and institutions, from promoting, supporting, or endorsing the religion of just some of the citizens. Usually those offering dishonest claims about this rely upon ambiguity in the word "public" (in public view vs. publicly funded), but Ron Paul doesn't even do this — his is an unambiguously false claim.

A true libertarian would support efforts to stop the government from funding and supporting one religion out of many. Libertarians believe in less government combined with private action, which is exactly what the "secular Left" is seeking to achieve in the context of religion. Libertarians believe that the scope of government action should be limited to only that which the Constitution authorizes — and when it comes to religion, the government is not authorized to doanything.

Ron Paul is not a libertarian when it comes to his own personal religious beliefs — he seems to believe that in a "largely Christian society," the government magically acquires the authority to promote and endorse Christianity. Of course, this means endorsing and promoting one particular version of Christianity out of all the possibilities. Ron Paul doesn't seem to mind this — or perhaps he supports it in the hopes that his form of Christianity will be the one favored?

Church & State in the Constitution

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion. The establishment clause of the First Amendment was simply intended to forbid the creation of an official state church like the Church of England, not to drive religion out of public life.

It is true that the Founding Fathers were strongly influenced by their religious beliefs, but Ron Paul makes two mistakes here. First, that fact does nothing to support this conclusion: being influenced by religion doesn't mean that one opposes church/state separation. Second, the religious beliefs of those men were not always consistent with the traditionalist Christianity of conservatives today. Thomas Jefferson, for example, denied the divinity of Jesus and that the miracle stories in the New Testament were true.

Many of the founders would be regarded as heretics according to traditional standards and that's why they supported removing from the government any authority over religious matters. It's bad enough when religious leaders have the power to harm those who dissent; it was deemed unacceptable for the state to have such power as well. Religion was conceived of as a private matter and not something which the state or any public institution to get involved with in any manner.

Ron Paul likes to make a big deal about having read the Constitution as part of an effort to create a contrast between himself and other politicians, but for someone who has read the Constitution he's incredibly ignorant of it's contents. The Constitution doesn't mention "God" at all — the closest it comes is the dating convention "in the year of our Lord." The Declaration of Independence also doesn't mention "God" in the sense of the Christian god — all references are standard deistic references to the Deistic god. The Declaration of Independence is a product of Deism, naturalism, and rationalism. It is not a Christian document.

Ron Paul is wrong when he claims that the Establishment Clause was only meant to prevent the creation of an official state church, but he's doing a good job at parroting the talking points of Christian Right extremists like James Dobson and Pat Robertson. I'm surprised that they haven't anointed him as their own chosen candidate, given that his opposition to secular liberty is every bit as strong and twisted as theirs.

Church Authority vs. Government Authority

The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government. This is the real reason the collectivist Left hates religion: Churches as institutions compete with the state for the people’s allegiance, and many devout people put their faith in God before their faith in the state. Knowing this, the secularists wage an ongoing war against religion, chipping away bit by bit at our nation’s Christian heritage.

Here Ron Paul's hostility to secular liberty is made unambiguous: he envisages and prefers a society where the government is weak but churches are strong. Has there ever been such a society that wasn't filled with intolerance, repression, and violence? If churches had more authority over the lives of citizens, there would be less liberty for women, less liberty for racial minorities, less liberty for gays, and of course less liberty for atheists.

It is arguable that the power and scope of the government creates alternatives and opportunities which make it easier for people to escape the power and influence of churches. Government welfare allows people to avoid relying on church hand-outs. Public schools allow people to avoid relying on church schools and church indoctrination. Civil marriage allows people to avoid having to marry in a church. Government social services of all sorts allow people to avoid being put under the thumb of priests and ministers in order to survive.

Opposing government provision of such services is, at least, consistent with libertarianism but libertarians take this position based on the principle that they are outside the scope of proper government authority. Agree or disagree with that, it's not Ron Paul's position: he opposes the government provision of such services because they prevent the power and authority of churches from superseding that of the government. Ron Paul thus appears to be using the "libertarian" label as a mask for his religious and authoritarian agenda: shrink the size of government so churches can step in and assume control.

To be fair, this isn't necessarily an easy issue for genuine libertarians who are also staunch secularists and supporters of church/state separation. If expanded government services and authority ensures reduced religious authority, thus ensuring the growth of secularism in society, then such libertarians are faced with a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, they would prefer to see government authority reduced; on the other, they don't want to see the authority, power, and influence of churches to fill all the vacuum left behind. Given how strong churches and religious organizations already are, it's difficult to imagine, though, that completely secular alternatives would compete very well.

Ron Paul Rated by Conservative Groups

Let's look at how various conservative and Christian Right groups have rated Ron Paul:

Family Research Council, 2005: 75%

John Birch Society, Summer '06, Spring '05, Fall '04, Summer '03: 100%

John Birch Society, Spring 2004: 88%

Concerned Women for America, 2005-2006: 62%

Eagle Forum, 2005: 71%

American Conservative Union, 2005: 76%

Christian Coalition, 2004: 76%

National Right to Life Committee, 2005-2006: 56%

Then there are these ratings:

Secular Coalition for America, 2006: 20%

Planned Parenthood, 2006: 20%

American Civil Liberties Union, 2005-2006: 55%

NAACP, 2005: 52%

Human Rights Campaign, 2003-2004: 25%

The ratings here for the ACLU and NAACP aren't too bad, but over all this does not paint a pretty picture. No one who can get 100% from the John Birch Society and 75% from the Family Research Council, but only 20% from the Secular Coalition for America, is a much of a friend of personal liberty.

For a "libertarian," Ron Paul is quite a moralist:

His family was pious and Lutheran; two of his brothers became ministers. Paul’s five children were baptized in the Episcopal church, but he now attends a Baptist one. He doesn’t travel alone with women and once dressed down an aide for using the expression “red-light district” in front of a female colleague.

Source: The New York Times

Ron Paul Defending Christian Privilege

Ron Paul has consistently opposed separating church & state and supported government actions in defense of Christian privilege. For example, he condemned the 9th Circuit Court ruling that the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional:

The judges who made this unfortunate ruling simply do not understand the First amendment," Paul stated. "It does not bar religious expression in public settings or anywhere else. In fact, it expressly prohibits federal interference in the free expression of religion. Far from mandating strict secularism in schools, it instead bars the federal government from prohibiting the Pledge of Allegiance, school prayer, or any other religious expression. The politicians and judges pushing the removal of religion from public life are violating the First amendment, not upholding it."

"The tired assertion of a separation of church and state has no historical or constitutional basis," Paul continued. "Neither the language of the Constitution itself nor the legislative history reveals any mention of such separation. In fact, the authors of the First amendment- Fisher Ames and Elbridge Gerry- and the rest of the founders routinely referred to "Almighty God" in our founding documents. It is only in the last 50 years that the federal courts have perverted the meaning of the amendment and sought to unlawfully restrict religious expression. We cannot continue to permit our Constitution and our rich religious institutions to be degraded by profound misinterpretations of the Bill of Rights."

On June 12, 2002, Ron Paul promised to introduce legislation forbidding federal courts from taking cases where people allege their religious freedom was violated by government agencies. Why would a "libertarian" object to people suing the government for infringing on their rights? This became the First Amendment Restoration Act and Ron Paul insisted that federal courts should have no jurisdiction over protecting Americans' religious liberties.

In a perverse twist of logic and morality, Ron Paul argued that it would enhance religious freedom if the federal courts could no longer rule in defense of religious freedom. Moreover, he insisted that people's personal religious liberty would be enhanced by ensuring that government agencies would have the authority to promote, endorse, sponsor, and encourage particular religions, religious opinions, and religious beliefs. Ron Paul consistently advanced this position by voting to keep "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, by voting in support of government-sponsored Ten Commandments monuments, and co-sponsoring a constitutional amendmentpromoting school prayer.

Ron Paul supports a religious over a secular society on a number of other levels as well. He opposes Roe v. Wade and believes that it should be overturned. His preference would be forabortion to be criminalized and, contrary to most libertarians he doesn't not treat this as a states' rights matter. He would impose the ban at the federal level if necessary. Ron Paul also opposes states' rights when it comes to same-sex marriage: rather than let them work it out for themselves, he would use the power of the federal government to restrict gay marriage and prevent gay couples from being treated equally.

Ron Paul thus opposes protecting the liberty of women and the liberty of gays when they would use that liberty in a manner contrary to his personal religious beliefs. This is consistent with his support of using government funds and power to promote his religious beliefs over and above the religious beliefs of any other citizens. The libertarians supporting Ron Paul have either been duped into supporting an authoritarian, or are actually like Ron Paul in that they are really more authoritarian than they let on.

Most atheist sites and conversations on the internet tend very strongly towards liberalism or libertarianism — and there are a number of good cultural and political reasons for this. Nevertheless, politically, socially, and culturally conservative atheists do exist. Their numbers may not be huge, but they are out there and they often feel alienated from online atheist communities due to some of the political assumptions regularly made. Finally, though, someone may be trying to represent their viewpoint: The Atheist Conservative.

According to a Press Release:

"Political conservatism is typically associated with religion and the evangelical religious right. However," Becker explained, "one does not need Jesus to lead one toward a conservative viewpoint. In fact, a case could be made that the irrationality of religion is completely at odds with the ultra-rationality of conservative politics.

"Liberal atheist writers may be the most discussed in op-ed columns, but we believe there are millions of atheists who are politically conservative and who need a platform to share their opinions and air their views. The aim of is to give these people a voice and a community."

The Atheist Conservative appears to have been founded and is run by Jillian Becker:

Jillian Becker serves on the Council of the Freedom Association, a British conservative think-tank and campaign group most concerned at present with bringing Britain out of the European Union.

During the Thatcher years she served on a multi-party committee advising the British Parliament on measures to combat international terrorism, and was consulted by the embassies of several countries plagued by indigenous terrorist organizations. In 1985 she co-founded the Institute for the Study of Terrorism (IST) with former British Defence Minister Lord Chalfont, where she was Executive Director from 1985-1990.

Not all posts on The Atheist Conservative are signed by Jillian Becker, but there is no indication of who else might be writing there. What sort of information can be expected from The Atheist Conservative? Although it's only been around since early June, there are enough pieces to get a feeling for the quality we can expect — and I don't think I'll get my hopes up too high. Right near the top, we have this about Keith Ellison's talk before a group of atheists:

Keith Ellison, Muslim Congressman, told a bunch of lefty atheists that under Islam they would be perfectly free to remain atheist without any bad consequences. Either Mr Ellison is ignorant of his own religion, which prescribes that non-believers must either convert to Islam or be put to death, or else he was exercising takiyya, permission to lie in the interests of Islam.

There is just one problem: I can't find where Ellison says what is attributed to him here. As I quoted him back when the event happened, he said:

You'll always find this Muslim standing up for your right to be atheists all you want.

That's very different from what the anonymous post attributes to him. Why doesn't The Atheist Conservative provide a direct, specific quote — especially since they are suggesting that he may be lying? This post sounds a lot more like the Christian bigots at Free Republic which I quoted at the time than like a freethinking atheist. It also sounds suspiciously like someone posting about something they think they remember having read a while ago but didn't care enough to go back to double-check the facts.

The rest of the front page is similarly thin except for an apologetic for Ann Coulter where criticism of her defense of religion is not applied equally to her politics. Apparently the same jejune tactics and reasoning that qualifies as "clarity of thought" when used in the context of political liberalism is not longer so clear or reasonable when used on the context of religion and science. There is no explanation of why this is so or how her ideological opposition to evolution, liberalism, and atheism can be disentangled.

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