Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Novak and Meacham on public religious expression

A Pew transcript.


Most of our ideas about law and liberty have religious roots. They are not wholly religious, but they are crucially so. It’s ahistorical to argue differently. But the most important thing as we go forward, in a country that is 80 percent Christian and where only 10 percent of people are willing to acknowledge they are atheists, is for the religious to actually pay attention to what the religion teaches. This is a radical concept in some circles. I think as a believer who is very much part of a majority – I’m a white Southern male, Episcopalian – except for the Episcopalian part, I’m not often a minority. My job is to be deferential, to acknowledge the centrality of liberty – not of toleration. Tolerance presupposes the idea that a majority is granting a minority a right to do something. Implicit in that is the ability to yank it back. Liberty comes from God or from the social contract, if you view it from a secular perspective. It is therefore universal and inviolate. Tolerance is conditional, and that’s something else; it’s a dangerous thing, I think.

The job of this 80 percent is to concede the point whenever it needs to be conceded. You can put a crèche in a churchyard. You can put a crèche in your front yard. You can put a crèche in your house. Put the reindeer on the cross, whatever it is you want to do. One has to be confident enough in one’s faith to figure it’s a pretty poor God who needs shopping malls and courthouse lawns to support his cause. If he’s God, he’s got it taken care of. I don’t think he needs Santa, the menorah, and the crèche.


God may not need crèches in malls and in courthouses, but human beings do.

More entertaining than illuminating, but still good reading.

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