Separation of Church and State 101

Issues, People, and Arguments
What is the separation of church and state? What does it mean for religion, religious organizations and the government? Does it really mean anything for people personally, or is it only a function of large groups? What does it mean to be a separationist, accommodationist, or non-preferentialist?

What is the Separation of Church and State?
Misunderstood and Maligned
From Austin Cline What is the separation of church and state? That is a very good question — the separation of church and state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today’s political, legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully misinformed. The separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon — their reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional principles in American history. Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a simplified phrase. What is the separation of church and state? That is a very good question — the separation of church and state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today’s political, legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully misinformed. The separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon — their reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional principles in American history. Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a simplified phrase. There is, after all, no single “church.” There are many religious organizations in the United States taking different names — church, synagogue, temple, Kingdom Hall and more. There are also many corporate bodies that do not adopt such religious titles but which are nevertheless controlled by religious organizations — for example, Catholic hospitals. Also, there is no single “state.” Instead, there are multiple levels of government at the federal, state, regional and local level. There is also a great variety of government organizations — commissions, departments, agencies and more. These can all have different levels of involvement and different relationships with the aforementioned religious organizations. This is important because it underscores the fact that, in the “separation of church and state,” we cannot be talking about a single, literal church and a single, literal state. Those terms are metaphors, meant to point to something larger. The “church” should be construed as any organized religious body with its doctrines/dogmas and “state” should be construed as any governmental body, any government-run organization or any government-sponsored event.

Thus, a more accurate phrase than “separation of church and state” might be something like “separation of organized religion and civil authority,” because religious and civil authorities are not and should not be invested in the same people or organizations. In practice, this means that civil authority cannot dictate to or control organized religious bodies. The state cannot tell religious bodies what to preach, how to preach or when to preach. Civil authority must exercise a “hands off” approach, neither helping nor hindering religion. Separation of church and state is a two-way street. It isn’t just about restricting what the government can do with religion, but also what religious bodies can do with the government. Religious groups cannot dictate to or control the government. They cannot cause the government to adopt their particular doctrines as policy for everyone, they cannot cause the government to restrict other groups, etc. The biggest threat to religious freedom is not the government — or at least, not the government acting alone. We very rarely have a situation where secular government officials act to repress any particular religion or religion in general. More common are private religious organizations acting through the government by having their own doctrines and beliefs codified into law or policy. Thus, the separation of church and state ensures that private citizens, when acting in the role of some government official, cannot have any aspect of their private religious beliefs imposed upon others. School teachers cannot promote their religion to other people’s children. Local officials cannot require certain religious beliefs on the part of government employees. Government leaders cannot make members of other religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular religious beliefs. This requires moral self-restraint on government officials, and even to a degree on private citizens — a selfrestraint which is necessary for a religiously pluralistic society to survive without descending into religious civil war. It ensures that the government remains the government of all citizens, not the government of one denomination or one religious tradition. It ensures that political divisions not be drawn along religious lines, with Protestants battling Catholics or Christians battling Muslims for “their share” of the public purse. The separation of church and state a key constitutional liberty which protects the American public from tyranny. It protects all people from the religious tyranny of any one religious group or tradition and it protects all people from a government intent on tyrannizing some or any religious groups. []

THE PLAYERS: Separationists and the Separation of Church and State
Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline As a general rule, separationists are those who support the separation between church and state. The level of support will vary, however. The strictest of separationists advocate separation in every way and on every level. They deny that the federal government has absolutely any power over religion whatsoever, and as a consequence, they argue that the government should not have any involvement with religious organizations whatsoever. Other separationists do not go quite as far. Although they may also argue that the government should not have any positive or negative power over religion, they do not conclude that the government also should not have any power over religious organizations. On the contrary, they may argue that governmental

separation from religion requires some involvement with the regulation of religious groups — for example, preventing fraud and ensuring that they follow civil laws. Generally speaking, the separationist attitude is what dominated court rulings during the last half of the 20th century. Whatever the actual case in question, separationists interpret the First Amendment broadly, believing that it prevents the government from having any authority to either help or hinder religion in any manner — this includes not just specific religious groups and denominations, but also religion generally. That is a key issue which distinguishes separationists from other people in the debate over the separation of church and state. Separationists, then, will oppose any attempt by the government to provide funds or aid to religious groups or schools “without preference” — that is to say, to all groups equally, which favors religion over irreligion. Some specific cases which separationists oppose: Government funding for religious schools Government organizations encouraging, discouraging or organizing prayers of any sort in places like schools or town council meetings Government funding for religious displays (creche, menorah, Ten Commandments) Government preference for specific religious holidays Separationists are frequently accused of religious bigotry or, at the very least, of advocating hostility toward religion. This charge is based upon the premise that a lack of government endorsement of religion generally or of religious groups specifically creates a “hostile atmosphere.” This hostility, in turn, is itself a violation of the separation of church and state. The paradoxical conclusion is that true separation can only be achieved once strict separation is abandoned and government support of religion is permitted. It is also commonly assumed that separationists are all secularists and non-religious people, opposed to Christians on the other side of the debate over the separation of church and state. This is not actually true — there are many Christians who support separation (even the strictest form of separation) and there are nonChristians who are opposed to separation in various ways.

Nonpreferentialists and the Separation of Church and State
Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline In the debate about the separation of church and state, the perspective known as nonpreferentialism is best understood as a subset of accomodationism. Like accommodationists, the non-preferentialists also oppose the recent legal trend which has emphasized stricter separation, and advocate instead a closer relationship between religious groups and the government. Where nonpreferentialists differ from accommodationists, however, is that nonpreferentialists oppose any government “accommodation” which might tend to favor one religion or religious group over any other. They believe that the Constitution permits the government to support religion generally over non-religion and to encourage religion over non-religion, but not in a manner which would be discriminatory. Thus, nonpreferentialists support government encouragement of prayers in public schools, but not if the prayers are sectarian in any manner. The government can only encourage prayers in principle, not in detail. Non-preferentialism also encourages government funding for religious schools — but only if all religious schools are supported equally. Nonpreferentialists also support the use of the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto and “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance because, according to them, these are such general expressions that they exclude no religion.

In this manner, nonpreferentialists agree with the argument made by separationists that the government must be “neutral” with regards to religion — but they modify it by saying that it means that the government must aid religion neutrally and can be partisan when it comes to the difference between religion and irreligion. In practice, this means a “benevolent” neutrality which involves supporting religion whenever religious groups request. Nonpreferentialism has gained ground in legal circles over the last twenty years and it has been endorsed by a number of judges across the country, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist. In his dissenting opinion in the 1985 school prayer case Wallace v. Jaffree, he wrote that “Nothing in the Establishment Clause requires government to be strictly neutral between religion and irreligion.” Not all judges, however, have been swayed by the non-preferentialist position. In the Lee v. Weisman decision of 1991, Justice Souter wrote: In many contexts, including this one, nonpreferentialism requires some distinction between sectarian religious practices and those that would be, by some measure, ecumenical enough to pass Establishment Clause muster. Simply by requiring the enquiry, nonpreferentialists invite the courts to engage in comparative theology. I can hardly imagine a subject less amenable to the competence of the federal judiciary, or more deliberately to be avoided where possible. Souter's comments here fit in with the idea that separating church and state means, at its heart, separating religious from secular authority. Government bureaucrats, elected politicians, and judges simply don't have the authority to intrude on religious matters — in part because being part of the government does not confer competency on religion, theology, etc.

Accommodationists and Separation of Church and State
Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline The accommodationist approach to the separation of church and state opposes the separationist approach which has been dominant in the courts. According to accommodationists, the First Amendment should be read much more narrowly than it has been in recent years. Some go so far as to argue that the First Amendment prohibits the government from doing nothing other than creating a National Church — everything else is permitted. Such accommodationists will also tend to argue that, when it comes to religious matters (just as with other issues), “majority rule” should be the guiding principle. Thus, if the majority in a local community wants to have particular sectarian prayers in schools or during town council meetings, then that should be permitted. Most accommodationists, however, do not go quite so far. As the name implies, the main principle upon which accommodationists base their position is the idea that the government should “accommodate” religious needs and the desires of religious institutions whenever possible. When it comes to the separation of church and state, there should not be quite so much separation and a bit more interaction. Generally speaking, accommodationists favor: Government funding for religious schools Government organized and encouraged prayers (even sectarian) in public schools Government funded religious displays (Ten Commandments, creches) Government preference for particular religious holidays

Accomodationism was more common in the United States before the Civil War. During that time, there was much less separation of church and state because government at all levels took an active role in supporting, or at least endorsing, religion — specifically, Protestant Christianity. Such support was assumed as a given and was rarely, if ever, questioned by religious minorities. This began to change after the Civil War, when many groups tried to make the government endorsement of Protestant Christianity more explicit and extensive. This galvanized religious minorities, in particular Jews and Catholics, to become more assertive in their demand for religious equality. Around the end of the 19th century, the public assumption of the validity of accomodationism began to erode as Jewish leaders advocated an end to Bible readings in public schools, the elimination of Sunday closing laws, and the repeal of laws designed to enforce Christian morality.

Theocrats and the Separation of Church and State
Who Are the Theocrats? What Do They Want?
From Austin Cline The most extreme position opposed to separationism in all of its forms is held by those who can be called “theocrats,” these are people who wish to create a theocratic government in the United States. To state it plainly, the theocrats consider even the most conservative Christians in the Religious Right to not be “godly” enough. Sometimes arguing that a theocracy was intended for the United States from the very beginning, theocrats believe that any sort of compromise would be invalid. The theocracy they want would, of course, be entirely Christian in nature. Theocrats oppose the “neutrality” among various religious groups which is advocated by non-preferentialists, and they even oppose the more extreme views held by some “accommodationists” which would allow for local communities to impose some particular religion on minorities (because in some communities, the majority might be non-Christian). Despite their extremism, however, theocrats have a lot of support from the rest of the Religious Right for many of their basic principles. For example, their arguments that the United States is a “Christian Nation” is echoed by many who would not otherwise admit to wanting to replace American democracy with a more repressive system. One way of understanding this phenomenon is to consider the label “Christian Nationalism” (also sometimes referred to as "Christianism," an analogue to the label "Islamism"). For Christian Nationalists, America is God’s chosen country which he has blessed beyond all others for our faith and belief in him. American leaders are directly empowered by God to do his work here on earth. Anyone who opposes the work of American leaders must, therefore, also be opposing the will of God. This makes them simultaneously blasphemers and traitors. As should be evident, such an ideology conflates America and Christianity to a great extent — a Christian Nationalist is quite unable to differentiate between American Patriotism and Chrisitan Dogma. They portray America as ever being under attack by enemies — whether enemies of the body politic or enemies of God (rhetoric usually starts out by describing someone as belonging to one of those two categories, but by the end they become a member of the other as well). Christian Nationalism owes a great deal to Christian Reconstructionism — and, in fact, can probably be regarded as a form of Reconstructionism. They share with Reconstructionists the idea that American laws should be modeled on biblical laws. The primary difference seems to be that whereas Reconstructionists emphasize in their writings the Bible and biblical laws, Christian Nationalists give equal weight to American patriotism and the Bible. Reconstructionists might actually argue that the Christian Nationalists are making idols out patriotic symbols like the American flag, but in the end the goals of both groups are largely [??]

Corporations, Churches, and Free Speech
Understanding the Role of Individuals
From Austin Cline Should corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, or is their status a “fictional” people such that they can be more tightly regulated? A recent Supreme Court decision suggests that the stanards should and will be different — but what are the implications for churches and other religious groups? California Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in her decision in the case: When a corporation, to maintain and increase its sales and profits, makes public statements defending labor practices and working conditions at factories where its products are made, those public statements are commercial speech that may be regulated to prevent consumer deception. Corporations are not human beings — they are fictional persons, creations of the law for legal and pragmatic purposes. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of the California court’s decision, finding that First Amendment protections for free speech do not apply to corporations like Nike in the same way that they apply to real human beings. A corporate executive can certainly say whatever she likes when acting as an individual, but when conducting the business of her company and acting as an instrument for company policy, different standards apply. To a large extent, that seems to be a very reasonable position. Commerical speech does appear to be different from other speech and if such a distinction is valid, the only way to maintain it is to make a distinction between those engaging in the speech: private individuals or for-profit businesses seeking commerce. But what about organizations which aren’t for-profit businesses seeking commerce? Take for example the Roman Catholic Church: does a sermon made by a priest qualify as individual speech covered by the First Amendment, or is it commercial speech that can be more tightly regulated? As another example, consider an official statement issued by a bishop — which category does that fall into? Most people, I think, would be inclined to categorize such acts as free speech that is protected by the First Amendment, but what makes them different from a press release issued by an executive of Nike or Coca Cola? Well, the former do invovle a religious organization and religion does receive special protection by the First Amendment, so perhaps we should consider a different example. What about a non-religious non-profit corporation, like the United Way or the Boy Scouts? If they issue a press release about their organizational policies, is that free speech which is protected by the First Amendment? Once again, this sounds perfectly reasonable — and even if the press release is less than truthful and contains little more than propaganda, it would still be protected. But why? It seems that the issue here is the expression of a “point of view” — an opinion which may or may not be true, but which we certainly believe. When we express an opinion in an effort to get someone to buy a car, we are doing something slightly different from when we express an opinion in an effort to get someone to “buy” our ideas on religion or politics. This is a very subtle distinction, however, and it may not always be easy to maintain in practice. After all, religious organizations and non-religious non-profit groups do solicit money, either as donations or in exchange for goods and services. Why should they get privileges unavailable to Coca Cola or General Motors? Nike’s statements may or may not have been truthful; they may or may not have been propaganda. Why is “commercial propaganda” held to different standards than “religious propaganda” or “political propaganda”?

Granted, commercial propaganda is designed to help a corporation sell products and secure a profit, but is lying in pursuit of that worse than lying in pursuit of political office? Corporations that lie are fined and sued; politicians who lie simply put a spin on things and end up getting elected. Perhaps we are looking at his incorrectly. If we find that this inconsistency is unacceptable, perhaps the solution is not to grant commercial speech the same protections as other forms of speech; maybe it would be better to hold the other forms of speech to the same standards as commercial speech? This is ethically dubious because it would surely weaken important free speech principles. It is pragmatically problematic because with commercial speech it is often possible to identify clear damages from fraud which would not be easy to find when it comes to religious or political speech. Different standards is probably the best way to go, even if justifying them is difficult. We should understand at least why it would be too problematic to hold all of them to the exact same standards and what the implications are for each. Sometimes, sound ethical reasoning requires not being shackled to consistency above all else — while it is an important principle, it can’t necessarily be the one that overrides all others.


James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance
Index of Documents
There is a lot of disagreement and debate in America over the meaning and value of the separation of church and state. Some hold it to be inviolate while others deny that it does or should exist. In the arguments over Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation," however, the concerns of James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, tend to be lost. Presented here, along with some introductory background material, is Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance - his most decisive and important explanation of his feelings on religious freedom. His Remonstrance is particularly relevant in today's generally pro-voucher climate, because it was aimed precisely at the collecting of taxes for the purposes of underwriting teachers of "Christian education." Madison, as shall be seen, was against even one cent being collected for such purposes. Memorial and Remonstrance: Background James Madison believed firmly that, under the Constitution, 'there is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion' and that 'this subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The Government has no jurisdiction over it. . . .' This is the most concise and the most articulate statement of the views of the First Amendment's author concerning what is 'an establishment of religion.' Here most of all we can see that he had in mind much more than simply creating national churches, something which some ideologies of the Religious Right would have us believe.

James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance
Background and Introduction
There is a lot of disagreement and debate in America over the meaning and value of the separation of church and state. Some hold it to be inviolate while others deny that it does or should exist. In the arguments over Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation," however, the concerns of James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, tend to be lost. Presented here, along with some introductory background material, is Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance - his most decisive and important explanation of his feelings on religious freedom. His Remonstrance is particularly relevant in today's generally pro-voucher climate, because it was aimed

precisely at the collecting of taxes for the purposes of underwriting teachers of "Christian education." Madison, as shall be seen, was against even one cent being collected for such purposes.

James Madison was born March 16, 1751, the first of ten children born to a slave-owning family in Orange County, Virginia. In a remarkable coincidence, Montpelier - the family estate on which he was raised - was only about 30 miles (a day's travel at the time) from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate. Zachary Taylor, Madison's much younger second cousin, was also born in Orange County, but his family moved west while he was still an infant. Taylor later became a hero of the War with Mexico and the twelfth President of the United States. James Madison had a long history of working for religious freedom and tolerance. Along with George Mason, he wrote the religious clause in Virginia's Declaration of Rights of 1776. These two changed it from a mere statement of the principle of tolerance to the first official legislative pronouncement that freedom of conscience and religion are inherent rights of the individual. At this same time he also worked to have the Declaration of Independence condemn the existing Virginia establishment alongside the other injustices which the colonies suffered, but the forces supporting religious establishment were too powerful. Later, as a member of the General Assembly in 1779, he labored to push through Jefferson's historic Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom; and after Jefferson left for diplomatic duties in Europe in 1784, Madison became the bill's prime sponsor. Enactment failed every year it was introduced, from June 1779 until it was finally adopted in January, 1786. During this time his efforts to secure religious freedom continued in other ways, one of the most prominent being his battles with Patrick Henry. The climax of these efforts in general and the differences between Madison and Henry in particular came in the struggle of 1784-1785 over the Assessment Bill. This bill of Henry's was nothing more nor less than a tax for the support of religion. At first, it singled out a particular sect for preference and so incurred both hostility and opposition from various religious groups; later it was broadened to include all Christian sects, with the result that some ended their opposition - at least temporarily. In its final form, the bill allowed each taxpayer to designate which church should receive his share of the tax. In the absence of such a choice, the legislature was authorized to apply it "pious uses." Henry's speeches supporting this bill have been lost, but Madison's notes from legislative sessions give evidence as to what he must have said. Henry apparently felt that the measure was necessary to forestall an alleged decay of civility, morality and piety in the state, and he described a bleak future if the measure failed. It is surely no coincidence that these are the same reasons used today by people seeking government support for religious organizations. Madison never wavered in his opposition to this measure, fighting against it both when it was aimed at helping just one sect as well as when it was aimed at helping all. Because support for the bill was very strong, Madison and his followers moved to have a vote deferred; and before the Assembly reconvened, he had written and distributed his historic Memorial and Remonstrance . First, however, he managed to have Henry elected governor, where he could no longer work in support of his bill. This is Madison's most exhaustive explanation of what he considered religious liberty to be. It is a general attack upon all forms of 'establishment' of religion - not just those which are selective, but also those which are general and 'nondiscriminatory.' This is also the most concise and the most articulate statement of the views of the First Amendment's author concerning what is 'an establishment of religion.' Here most of all we can see that he had in mind much more than simply creating national churches, something which some ideologies of the Religious Right would have us believe.

Helping to create a storm of popular protest, the Remonstrance played a key role in killing the Assessment Bill . Support for the bill varied among different religious groups. Quakers and Mennonites were immediately skeptical, which is not surprising since Virginia had recently considered a special tax on them because they were exempt from serving in the militia. Presbyterian ministers and leaders initially supported the bill, but the laity came out strongly against it, especially after the publication of the Remonstrance. Baptists came out immediately against the bill, stating clearly their support for a full separation of church and state. Of course, Madison's was not the only effort to kill the bill: there was also a popular uprising against it, with numerous petitions and over 10,000 signatures submitted to the legislature before the vote. Some were based on religious principles while others were explicit in their secularism, even going so far as to reject the idea that religion is at all necessary for public morality. With the defeat of the measure, the way was cleared for the passage of Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. Madison promptly drove it through in January of 1786, seven years after it was first introduced. This dual victory substantially ended the fight over establishments, settling the issue against them. It was in the very next year that Madison became a member of the Constitutional Convention, working to secure religious liberty for the entire nation. Madison believed firmly that, under the Constitution, 'there is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion' and that 'this subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The Government has no jurisdiction over it. . . .' Despite this, he promised that he would work to see a Bill of Rights added to the Constitution - one which would specifically guarantee religious freedom. Virginia and other states ratified the Constitution partially on the strength of such promises. It is worth noting that at no point is he more unrelenting than in his opposition to state support or aid to religion by taxation. Not even 'three pence' contribution was thus to be exacted from any citizen for such a purpose. Madison and his compatriots made no exceptions or abridgments to the complete separation they created. Their objection was not to small tithes (taxes to go to churches) - instead, it was to any tithes whatsoever: "If it were lawful to impose a small tax for religion the admission would pave the way for oppressive levies." Not the amount but 'the principle of assessment' itself was wrong. For Madison, his struggle was as much to prevent 'the interference of law in religion' as to restrain religious intervention in political matters. He recognized that these were two sides of the same coin. Thus, it should be clear that the battles and debates over religious liberty in Virginia are vital to understanding the nature of our tradition of religious freedom. Madison's life and ideas are a unifying force through both, and it is through his words that we can learn more about what why religious liberty was important at the time - and also why it is important today. Even as early as 1878, in Reynolds v. Virginia, the Supreme Court had recognized the importance of this piece to understanding the First Amendment. Numerous Court decisions have since cited it, used it, and even quoted it in its entirety. In this field the authors of our freedom would not tolerate 'the first experiment on our liberties' or 'wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents.' Why should we? For more information on James Madison's religious beliefs and struggle for religious liberties in the United States, read James Madison on Religious Liberty, edited by Robert S. Alley. This is an extensive collection of essays on many facets of Madison's ideas and political work. Memorial and Remonstrance: Text Full text of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, written in response to Patrick Henry's Assessment Bill, a bill designed to collect taxes on behalf of Christian churches.

Assessment Bill: Text Full text of Patrick Henry's Memorial and Remonstrance, designed to collect taxes on behalf of Christian churches in order to forestall an alleged decay of civility, morality and piety in the state of Virginia. Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom: Text Full text of Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, enacted in Virginia largely due to the efforts of James Madison in 1786 while Jefferson was attending to diplomatic duties in Europe.

THE ISSUES: Secular vs Religious
Where Should the Line Be Drawn?
From Austin Cline Where should we draw the line between “religious” and “secular?” How can a religious symbol or ritual become secular? These might appear to be odd questions, but their importance is slowly and silently growing. We cannot afford to ignore them — our answers will have a profound impact on the course of our society and the nature of church/state separation in America. There are at least three current issues, two of which are very new, that will test our society’s ability to distinguish between what is religious and what is secular — and the dilemma facing us is at least as trying for theists as it is for atheists. The first involves the Ten Commandments — a set of ten laws allegedly given to Moses by Yahweh on Mount Sinai and revered not simply as exceptional moral rules, but also as one of the most important instances of direct communication from God to humanity by both Jews and Christians. Are these Ten Commandments religious or secular in nature? Traditionally, Christians and Jews have regarded them as self-evidently religious. They were supposedly handed down by God. They are included in holy scriptures. They are treated as direct commands for human actions. As God’s commands, they are beyond question or reproach. The first four involve the duties of humans towards God, rather than towards each other. The very first declares that “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Does any of this sound secular? Well, to some people, it apparently does. There are numerous efforts around the country by active members of the religious right to have our government display those Ten Commandments officially in government buildings and on government property. One of the most immediate is taking place in Haywood County, North Carolina where those commandments are carved into the wall of one courtroom of their courthouse. Our courts haven’t always been sympathetic to this misguided effort, but some certainly have — especially when it comes to the argument that those commandments could represent “secular” ideas. Evidently, some believe that they can be used as part of a “secular” display representing the development of legal codes in Western Civilization. Granted that the Ten Commandments played a role in said development, should we then immediately disregard the fact that they also currently play an active role in the religiosity of a significant percentage of American citizens? Isn’t it worth considering that these efforts don’t really have anything to do with erecting genuinely secular displays about “legal history” for the edification of students or the public? Isn’t worth considering the possibility that all of this is a ruse to insert a particular religious ideology into our government, such that our government effectively endorses the religion of a particular segment of society?

So what do we do? A very good question — but I view any such efforts coming from conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist circles with a great deal of suspicion. Justified suspicion, I think. Such people have rarely displayed an interest in the secular education of American citizens, preferring instead to focus on their religious indoctrination. Can those commandments be considered secular in any sense of the word? I really doubt it. I am thinking of the first four, and in particular the very first commandment — there is nothing secular about them. In the case of the Haywood County courthouse, Haywood County brought in an expert who has testified that, since the wording of the commandments does not exactly match what is found in the Bible, then they are not the commandment of “any known religion.” According to this expert, Dr. Walter Harrelson (former dean of divinity at the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt), since they are a “popular rendition,” then they have already been “secularized” and “Americanized.” Even the very first commandment, which “might at first blush” seem to be religious in nature, really only means “Do not have more than a single ultimate allegiance.” I don’t buy any of that. It’s little more than a lame, transparent rationalization for pushing Judeo-Christian rules in a government building. American citizens will not view their display on a court house wall as a “secular” representation of the history of Western legal codes or as an “Americanized,” nonreligious moral framework for a secular society. The commandments will properly be viewed as the display of the religious code of one part of the American public — and Americans who do not follow that religious code will justifiably feel excluded. Should our government realistically tell citizens that they have second-class status because they do not obey an officially endorsed religious code?

Secular vs Religious
Secularizing Christmas: Where Should the Line Be Drawn?
From Austin Cline One interesting issue in the debate over where the line between the secular and the religious involves the Christmas holiday. Many Americans look forward to getting a day off on December 25, a day which has traditionally (and almost certainly erroneously) been celebrated as the birth day of Christ. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, really — except possibly the fact that it is a holiday which is legally recognized/mandated by our government. It appears as though our government is officially endorsing a holy day of one particular religion and that would be unacceptable. Privileging one religion cannot survive even superficial scrutiny under the principle of church/state separation. There is one recourse for those who wish to maintain the status quo: declare Christmas to be a secular holiday. If Christmas is a religious rather than a secular holiday, our government should treat it like holidays in every other religion. Christians may not like the idea of not automatically having Christmas off from work, being faced with the prospect of actually having to use one of their own vacation or personal days in order to be home with their families, but that this is exactly the situation which has always faced the members of other religions. The state has traditionally privileged Christians at the expense of other religions — and since that has persisted for so long, many Christians now expect it as their right. A similar situation has existed with other cases of Christianity losing its special, officially sanctioned status: school prayer, bible reading in school, etc. What if our courts declare Christmas to be a secular and not religious holiday? If Christmas is declared a secular holiday, to whom will that be binding? To society? the courts? Christians? I have seen signs at Christmas declaring “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” — these people won’t agree that Christmas is

secular, and if they don’t, why should anyone else? Why not let them have it as their holiday? Why should the rest of society co-opt it and decide that it is no longer religious? Reality isn't quite so simple, though. Christmas has been celebrated for so long and in such an official capacity in America that it is now common for non-Christians to celebrate it. Thus, we have to admit that Christmas has secular significance alongside its religious significance. If it can be treated as both secular and religious, can our court system arbitrarily declare that it is secular, thus effectively excluding those who think it is religious? Evangelical Christians have complained — usually without justification — that our secular society has become anti-Christian. In this instance, if Christmas were declared to be “secular,” they might actually have a point. Christmas as a secular holiday would put one more nail in the coffin of the pretentious and presumptuous assertion that America is a Christian nation, based upon Christian values and celebrating a Christian life. Most have begun to realize that this is the case, but many refuse to face facts and hope instead to keep America in a perpetual state of 1950s idealism. If Christmas is declared a religious holiday, then fundamentalists lose because their holiday will be treated just like any other religious holiday. If Christmas is declared a secular holiday, then fundamentalists lose again because our courts will grant recognition to the fact that American society has moved beyond our history of Protestant Christian domination to a more multicultural and multireligious society where holidays which are celebrated on a national level are secular in nature. A final, but not minor, example of this trend may be the progenitor of it all: religious displays on government property during the Christmas holidays. Such displays have been common in American history, but only because America has traditionally been dominated by American Protestants who would never have challenged government support of their religious beliefs. There have been increasing efforts to justify religious symbols by including them with secular symbols — thus “secularizing” the entire display. But does anyone really buy that? Does anyone believe that a crèche, depicting the manger setting with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, suddenly becomes “secular” because a statue of Frosty the Snowman stands nearby? Many Christians find that idea ludicrous, but it is part and parcel of the increasing effort to justify religious expression as “actually” being secular in nature. Are they so desperate to have the government support their religion they are willing to castrate their beliefs, eliminating their religious essence? Instead, they should stand up and proudly declare that their symbols are profoundly religious. They should also stand up and accept the consequences of the religious nature of their symbols: that the government of everyone cannot provide support or privilege to the religion or religious symbols of some.

Public Truths vs. Private Truths
The Politics of Public Religion
From Austin Cline To what extent is it legitimate to use religion as a basis for political decisions on public policy? Many people believe that such a use of religion ultimately results in violations of the separation of church state, and thus other people’s religious liberty. Many religious believers, however, argue that it is wrong to exclude religion from public debates and that such a policy effectively constitutes discrimination against religion and religious believers. Who is right? In a way, both perspectives are “right” — it would be a mistake to assume that only one is valid and that the other must be wrong. Nevertheless, it must also be pointed out that former position is ultimately stronger. So long as it is not taken too far, it is the position which must serve as guiding principle. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but perhaps the most fundamental and important is the fact that there is no one single religious perspective on the world or on questions of public policy.

No matter what issue you might consider, even the existence of gods, there are a variety of religious positions on it. What this means, then, is that it simply isn’t possible for the government to “take the religious perspective” into consideration — there is no one “religious perspective.” The government also can’t take every religious perspective into consideration because there are simply too many for that. For the government to adopt any particular religious position as a basis for laws or policies, though, would mean treating the religious beliefs in question as true — or at least as more true than the religious beliefs that have been excluded. All other religious beliefs that have something to say on the matter are treated as if they were false, or at the very least as worthy of less consideration. This is a genuine example of religious discrimination which cannot be tolerated in a democratic, tolerant society. To understand how this might be so, we can look at any number of examples from the headlines today: capital punishment, abortion, cloning, war, etc. What is the “religious position” on such issues? There are some especially vocal religious perspectives involved, but in no case is there a single religious perspective that we can consult. If those vocal religious views obtain a prominent role in the shaping of public policy when it comes to something as contentious as abortion, other religious views must be ignored — and that isn’t fair. But why isn’t this the case any time the government adopts one basis for laws rather than other? The difference is that religion is based on what might be called “private truths” — ideas, beliefs, and “truths” that rely upon divine revelation. Such “truths” are a personal, private conviction which cannot claimed as creating obligations for others. Non-religious arguments, however, can be based upon what might be called “public truths” — ideas, beliefs, and “truths” that rely upon public arguments and publicly accessible perspectives available to everyone, regardless of their religion. When public policy is based upon such public truths, then everyone is a part of the debate; but when private truths are used, then a great many people who do not recognize that particular divine revelation are automatically excluded.

Richard John Neuhaus on Public vs. Private Truths
Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative Christian, explained the nature of public and private truths when he wrote: The religious new right . . . wants to enter the political arena making claims on the basis of private truths. The integrity of politics itself requires that such a proposal be resisted. Public decisions must be made by arguments that are public in character. ... Fundamentalist morality, which is derived from beliefs that cannot be submitted to examination by public reason, is essentially a private morality. If enough people who share that morality are mobilized, it can score victories in the public arena. But every such victory is a setback in the search for a public ethic. ... A public argument is transubjective. It is not derived from sources of revelation or dispositions that are essentially private and arbitrary. An example of a private truth would be the idea that murder is wrong because God commands it. This may be a true statement — but it has no normative force in terms of public policy because even those who believe it cannot reasonably expect the public assent of their fellow citizens who have not experienced this revelation, who do not share a religion which teaches it, and who are unwilling or unable to accept such religious teachings on faith. An example of a public truth would be the idea that murder is wrong because it causes suffering in other human beings. Even if such an argument were wrong, it would be “public” because no one has to experience a personal revelation from a god in order to understand or believe it. It is “publicly accessible” in that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the terms, inferences, and conclusions can be comprehended, critiqued, and accepted by anyone at all.

Of particular importance is the fact that the idea that murder causes suffering can actually be demonstrated (or, at least in theory, refuted) empirically. This is a major difference from either the existence of a god or the idea that a god actually wants us to do anything. Does this mean that people shouldn’t personally believe that murder is wrong because God commands it? No, this isn’t an argument about what individuals should themselves believe. Rather, this is an argument about what grounds may be legitimately used to coerce other citizens to avoid certain behaviors and engage in other behaviors. In a theocracy, it would be expected to base public policy and public laws on religious doctrines and divine revelation — that is, after all, what makes a political system theocratic. If a theocracy is what someone wants a nation to be, then they should by all means advocate that position openly and be forthright with their goals. In a liberal democracy, however, where freedom generally and freedom of conscience in particular are valued, neither religious doctrines nor divine revelation are legitimate sources of public policy. It is, after all, public policy that we are talking about — and in such a context, only public arguments are legitimate. Whatever private reasons a person might have for following a certain course of action, they cannot expect others to necessarily share those reasons unless they are publicly accessible. Most of the time, this means that the arguments will be secular rather than religious — pure appeals to religious tradition or divine laws must be rejected. Sometimes religious arguments may be employed, but in such a case “religious” will be descriptive more of the origin of the position rather than the structure of the argument itself. Thus, a person might believe for religious reasons that every human being has an essential dignity and, from that, argue that abortion or capital punishment is wrong. Such an argument could be legitimate because it doesn’t necessarily matter (for the terms of public discourse) why each human has an essential dignity or even why a particular person believes it — what matter is how well the premise can be sustained and what conclusions might be derived from it outside of purely private revelation. We might then be able to make a case for the idea that insofar as a religious position can serve as a basis for public policy, that may only happen if the position does not require a particular theological support structure. Believers may not personally choose to disentangle their theological beliefs from their arguments — and there is nothing wrong with that when it comes to what they believe privately. Yet if such disentanglement is possible for the purpose of public policy debates, then their arguments may be legitimate.

Religion's Place in the Public Square
Does The Separation Of Church And State Violate Religious Freedom?
From Austin Cline Quite often, debates about the appropriate relationship between religion and government involved the appropriate place of religion in the so-called “Public Square.” This public square might be meant literally, as in a public location open to all citizens, or it might be meant metaphorically, referencing the public spaces, events, and occasions where we all come together. Sadly, those who favor greater intermingling of religion and government fail to understand the nature of the public square. A good example can be found in a recent article by Alan Sears for the Baptist Press News: America was founded on the pursuit of religious liberty, including the liberty to acknowledge God and to pray in the public square. ... Those principles demand a place for religious expression in the

public square. Unfortunately, radical advocates have long been trying to rewrite the Constitution by making the First Amendment say something it doesn’t. What Sears fails to understand — or, worse, simply fails to mention — is that there is absolutely no effort to prevent individuals from acknowledging God and praying in the public square, literally or metaphorically. Anyone can walk into any public square or public area and start to pray (just don’t interefere with what others are doing). Individual Americans have a great deal of freedom of religious expression in the public square. There is nothing to lament. What is restricted is the ability of the government to acknowledge God and to “pray” in the public square. This is not an infringement of our First Amendment liberties because the First Amendment does not give the government any freedoms — it gives us freedoms against government power. Indeed, the fact that the government can’t pick some particular religion to express, some particlar god to acknowledge, or some particular god to pray to is precisely why we have those religious freedoms. Does Sears not understand this, or is he engaging in a snow job to confuse his readers? A free and just society recognizes that freedom of speech and religion applies to public religious expression as well as to private. Either Sears is deliberately being ambiguous about the public/private distinction, or he just doesn’t understand what he is talking about. One public/private distinction is between what we as individuals do in the privacy of our own homes, away from the view of others, and what we do out in plain view of everyone. It is true that free and just society must protect free expression in both cases. There is, however, another public/private distinction — the one that is really at issue: private, as in what individuals do (whether in their homes or in the street) and public, as in what the government does (public funds, public housing, etc.). A free society must protect the religious expression of the former (individual citizens) but not the latter. The government has no “right to free speech”. Which does Sears mean? Does he even know? Or is he being deliberately ambiguous, making it look like he is saying the former (which everyone will agree to) when he really means the latter (which is actually the point being debated when it comes to things like government-funded displays of the Ten Commandments)? I think that as the president of an organization that is supposed to be dedicated to relgious liberty, he has a responsibility to his readers to be clear about such things, don’t you? The First Amendment plainly forbids the creation of a national denomination, because that would be an “establishment of religion.” It says nothing about the so-called “separation of church and state.” This is a tired old argument often used by those who think that religious liberty in America only applies to Christians and, therefore, governmental promotion of “generic, ecumenical Christianity” (whatever that is) is entirely appropriate so long as no single Christian denomination is singled out for special treatment. True, the Constitution doesn’t mention the “separation of church and state,” but it also doesn’t mention a “right to a fair trial” either. Those principles are interpreted from the words that are there. Why? Because the rights that are granted don’t make sense otherwise. A right to a speedy trial and a jury of one’s peers would be meaningless if the government could make it unfair in some other way. A right to “freedom of religion” would be meaningless for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims if the government legislated doctrines and principles of some “generic Christianity.” The separation of church and state preserves the independence of religion from government control and the government from religious control — something which serves the interests of both.

Naked Public Square
Does The Separation Of Church And State Violate Religious Freedom?

From Austin Cline One common complaint raised about the way strict separationists read the First Amendment is that it leaves the public square “naked,” by which it is meant that the public square is now “bare” of religious speech. This, in turn, is believed to foster and encourage public hostility towards religion, something which is actually forbidden by the First Amendment. This view has been widely popularized by Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and regular critic of the separation of church and state. The problem is that this complaint is based upon false premises. The fact of the matter is, religious speech has not been excluded from the American public square; quite the contrary, religious speech is very common and very public throughout the country. Religious groups enjoy the exact same freedom (no less, but sometimes more) as every other organization when it comes explaining and promoting their perspectives to the public. Religious groups also exert a great deal of influence at all levels of American government and society. The real problem is that traditionally, Christians and Christian groups occupied a position of privilege which was not accorded to any other religious tradition in America. Today, however, more and more of that privilege is being lost, and even if they are not able to consciously articulate it, many Christians are acutely aware of that loss and aren’t happy about it. Unfortunately for them, there also isn’t anything which they can do about it, at least so long as they remain committed a free nation. Attorney Ronald A. Lindsay put it thus: What is going on here is whining: whining by individuals and groups who have been deprived of the truly privileged position they once enjoyed. For most of this country’s history, theism, in particular Christianity, has enjoyed favor. Those who are thirty-five years or older (somewhat younger if one grew up in the South) will have no trouble remembering the evidence of this privileged position. Organized prayers were a matter of routine in public schools. ...Textbooks extolled the virtues of religion. The symbols of ...Christmas and Easter were displayed on public property at public expense. The courts have put an end to some, but certainly not all, of this collaboration between church and state. In doing so, the courts have upset many who assumed that this was the proper way of doing things, the American way of doing things, and who did not see anything coercive, let alone unconstitutional, about such practices. Not unnaturally, they have interpreted the courts’ actions as an attack on religion, when in reality they were simply an attempt to put an end to the privileged position that religion enjoyed. The loss of this privilege for Christianity is not unlike the trauma experienced by Americans when whites lost their privileged status — but it is a necessary trauma if society is going to grow, mature, and become truer to the principles upon which it was founded. Many Christians are aware of this and are quite willing to work with other religious traditions in order to help create a more positive society, but quite a few continue to object and agitate for a return to the time when they had a higher status, when others were expected to accommodate Christian desires. Unfortunately, they fail to see the great values which lies in having a “naked public square” — at least, when “naked” refers to a lack of government sponsored displays supporting religion and religious beliefs. Many believers see religion as something which unites, but at best it only unites people with the same beliefs — and the more people examine their beliefs, the more they find to disagree about. In the end, religion does quite a lot to divide and separate people; this is a primary reason why religion was removed from the authority of our government. So long as the government does not involve itself with religious matters, it is harder for the public to become politically divided on religious questions. As conservative columnist Paul Greenberg has written: An empty public square is a useful thing. It allows us to stay apart together. Start filling it up with granite monuments and counter-monuments, and our attentions are diverted, our loyalties split. Our public spaces become like a Roman pantheon full of competing gods. And we turn on one another, sneaking our favorite symbol into the forum under cover of night and daring them to remove it. What ought to elevate and unite us divides us and reduces faith to a rhetorical contest.

Demeaning Religion
Which Demeans Religion: Strict Separation Of Church And State, Or Accommodation?
From Austin Cline One of the common arguments raised by those who object to the limitations placed upon how the government accommodates religious beliefs is that such limitations are an expression of hostility. A good example would be the case of Sechler v. State College Area School District, where David Warren Saxe argued that a lack of explicitly and overtly Christian symbols and content at a "Winter Holiday" program amounted to government hostility towards religion. Normally, such arguments are aimed at secularists and nonbelievers, but this masks the fact that there is another, equally important issue at hand: the search for secular justifications for religious displays leads to the secularization of religious symbols and content. This, in turn, is seen as demeaning to religion, which is at least as bad. Curiously, by resorting to secular arguments, accommodations who are unhappy with a strict separation of church and state are actually aiding the mass secularization of society. Christmas has become secularized. Easter has become secularized. Good Friday is becoming secularized. They argue that the Ten Commandments is sufficiently secular to withstand court challenges. Do they really want nativity scenes to become secularized? What's next, a secular crucifix? Could accommodationists really be so desperate to have the government acknowledge and support their religious beliefs they are willing to castrate those beliefs, eliminating their fundamentally religious nature? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to stand up proudly declare that their symbols are profoundly religious? They should also stand up like adults and accept the consequences of the religious nature of their symbols: that the government of everyone cannot provide support or privilege to the religion or religious symbols of a few. An interesting perspective was offered by the National Council of Churches following the Supreme Court's decision in Lynch v. Donnelly. In this case, the Court ruled that a nativity scene with a creche was permitted so long as it was accompanied by more secular symbols, like a plastic Santa Claus and reindeer (thus the origin of the "plastic reindeer rule"). The NCC complained that this ruling put Christ "on the same level as Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" — and they were right. In the related case of County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, an amicus brief from the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. argued that "government acceptance of a creche on public property ...secularizes and degrades a sacred symbol of Christianity." People should heed these words from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District: It is not only the nonbeliever who fears the injection of sectarian doctrines and controversies into the civil polity, but in as high degree it is the devout believer who fears the secularization of a creed which becomes too deeply involved with and dependent upon the government. It has rightly been said of the history of the Establishment Clause that "our tradition of civil liberty rests not only on the secularism of a Thomas Jefferson but also on the fervent sectarianism ...of a Roger Williams. The Christian Right often tries to portray legal conflicts over the separation of church and state to be a conflict between atheists and religious believers, but that really isn't true. The fact of the matter is that these legal battles are all-too-often conflicts between far-right Christians and coalitions of atheists, members of other religions, and members of other Christian groups.

Baths for Baptisms: Bribing Soldiers in the Desert

From Austin Cline,Your Guide to Agnosticism / Atheism.

Army Chaplain Abuses Authority
As reported in the Miami Herald, an Army chaplain in Iraq has used a supply of clean water to bribe soldiers into being baptized. Josh Llano of Houston, a self-described ''Southern Baptist evangelist,'' will allow soldiers to use some of his 500-gallons of pristine water - but at a price. They must attend one of his hour-and-a-half sermons in his dirt-floor tent and then receive a baptism which itself involves an hour of quoting from the Bible. Every day he seeks out potential converts: truck drivers, tank drivers, computer specialists, fighting soldiers in combat zones, and combat support soldiers who keep soldiers supplied. According to Llano, ''You have to be aggressive to help people find themselves in God." If portable showers are installed, he has a back-up plan: ''There is no fruit out here, and I have a stash of raisins, juice boxes and fruit rolls to pull out." Llano's goal, then, is to get as many soldiers converted, even if just superficially, to his brand of Southern Baptist Protestantism. He'll offer them needed water, he'll offer them needed food, and he'll bribe them with whatever else he thinks they might need badly enough to consider changing their religion. He's not seeking to convince them with rational arguments about his religious beliefs and he's not trying to inspire in them a change of heart when it comes to religious feelings. All he is doing, in reality, is paying people to listen to him preach and to be baptized - except that he is paying with water instead of money. The question all of this raises is: are the actions are Army chaplain Josh Llano wrong? This simple question contains several more complicated questions: Are his actions an unethical abuse of authority and power? Are his actions a violation of the separation of church and state? Finally, do his actions contradict the principles of Christian ethics and Christian charity? I think that the answer to all three is a resounding "yes".

Bribing Soldiers for Baptisms is Unconstitutional
There are serious legal problems involved when a military chaplain forces soldiers to listen to sermons and receive baptisms if they want to take a simple bath. For one thing, if the water was provided by the military, and I can't imagine how Llano would have managed to get it out there on his own, then it effectively belongs to the military. That means that one member of the military is providing other members of the military with military provisions upon the condition of accepting his religion and participating in his religious ceremonies. That is both horribly unethical and obviously a violation of the separation of church and state. Imagine a Muslim supply officer not allowing soldiers to receive spare ammunition unless they kneel down and pray while facing Mecca. Imagine a Jewish cook refusing to feed Marines unless they prove that they are circumcised - and recieve a circumcision if they haven't already. Those situations are perhaps more obviously wrong because of the critical need for food and ammunition; water for bathing obviously isn't deemed as critical by the military so it might not seem quite as wrong at first. Nevertheless, it surely is also wrong when it comes to water simply because that water isn't private property - it isn't like a solider selling spare cigarettes to other soldiers. The government cannot allow one of its representatives condition receipt of government property upon profession of religious dogma and participation in religious ceremonies. Another legal issue involves the fact that Army chaplain Josh Llano doesn't appear to be doing his job. He is there to provide spiritual and religious services for the soldiers in the area. Although there are arguments against the existence of military chaplains generally, the counter-arguments presume a more limited role like that just described. Essentially, chaplains are only there to aid soldiers because the government forces the soldiers to be there - to not provide for their religious needs would effectively violate the separation of church and state.

Such do not presume, however, that the military is paying the chaplains so that they can actively and aggressively proselytize. Imagine if that were to become common: we'd have Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and Wiccan chaplains all competing with each other over the souls and allegiance of American soldiers and sailors. Even those chaplains not normally inclined to make new converts would be under pressure to ensure that they wouldn't lose anyone to the underhanded evangelization efforts of the others. Then other religions would exert even more pressure upon the government to pay for their own chaplains again, either because they see good prospects with a captive military audience, because they don't want to lose members to the efforts of others, or a combination of both. The government, then, would be funding and even encouraging increased tension among religious groups and taxpayers would be footing the bill.

Bribing Soldiers for Baptisms is Immoral & Unchristian
There are some basic moral and religious questions of whether religious leaders are doing something wrong when they are bribing people by offering something they really need in exchange for a superficial acceptance of the offered religious dogmas. On a purely ethical level, the chaplain is abusing his position, abusing his resources, and taking advantage of those in need. If Llano really thought that he was there to help the soldiers, then he wouldn't be so anxious to condition that help on their agreeing with him and joining his religious perspective. That's not altruism, that's rank selfishness. It may also be judged as 'selfish' to proselytize in this manner to soldiers who are under tremendous psychological and emotional pressure due to the horrors of warfare. Someone there to ostensibly help shouldn't be acting to increase the pressures they are experiencing. There is also a serious conflict between Llano's actions and the the Christian principles one would normally think he is there to represent and encourage. Supposedly, the Christian message is to help those in need, not to use their needs as a means to enlist them in your particular religious group. One of the reasons why the separation of church and state exists is because religion is so often abused in just this manner - and it wouldn't be nearly such an egregious abuse if it weren't for the existence of a government context. These soldiers are not receiving baptisms from Llano so much out a deep-felt need for spiritual sustenance as they are out of a need to just get the dust off. In effect, then, they are false baptisms (except for those who, presumably, do experience a change of heart during the process - perhaps there are a few, but it is doubtful that this includes all) - the soldiers are lying to Llano and Llano is lying to himself about what he is really accomplishing. That is not the only reason that this is arguably a perversion of the rite of baptism for it to be used in this manner, both by Llano and by those whom he has bribed. Theologically, baptism is meant to symbolize a person's Union with Christ and reception of the Holy Spirit which links the recipient in a sacramental bond with all other believers. That is why baptism must be undertaken by a person who is motivated by strong faith and strong religious desire. These baptisms, however, are nothing more than the reception of a clean bath by a person who has become very tried of the dirt. I suspect that the chaplain imagines himself a model representative of what it means to be a Christian and a religious leader. He probably even uses all of those faux-conversions in order to bolster that self-image. In reality, however, he is a model representative of what is often wrong with religion and why religion and government are better off the further they are separated.