Senator Chuck Schumer: Extreme Secularist? – by George J. Marlin
When insisting Cardinal Egan’s name remain in the Congressional Resolution saluting the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of New York, Senator Charles Schumer stated “I know [Egan] and I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s done a very, very good job in New York.”
Since Senator Schumer has been an extreme proponent of “separation of church and state,” his defense of a Roman Catholic prelate in the halls of Congress was a pleasant surprise.
But reading this week the Senator’s book Positively American dashed any hope that Schumer experienced a Damascus road conversion on the subject of religion in the public square.
There is more to his book than liberal bromides. There’s some quackery, too.
The Senator contends that the backbone of the GOP is a group of activists he pejoratively labels “theocrats.” He reiterates arguments he employed on the Senate floor during the June 2006 debates about the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act:
[Theocrats] are the narrow band of the faithful who want to take their faith and impose it on government. And that, in a word, is un-American. It is directly at odds with our Constitution. Government involving itself in personal faith is exactly why many of the founding fathers put down their plows and picked up their muskets to fight.
The Founders fought against faith? History tells a rather different story.
Indeed, if ever a group of people assumed that one’s religious beliefs were the basis of civic virtue, it was our nation’s Founders. As Robert Middlekauff, one of America’s leading Revolutionary War historians has written:
Almost all Americans—from Calvinists in New England searching Scripture for the Will of God to the Rationalists in Virginia studying the divine mechanics in nature—agreed all things fell within the providential design. . . . The order that began with the divine and expressed itself in the lives of a people embraced their government.
Americans justified their separation from British rule by appealing to the natural law—that is, God’s moral law—which prefigures and supersedes civil law.
In Thomas Jefferson’s view, the American Revolution did not break lawful ties to a sovereign realm so much as it reclaimed transcendent liberties from an illegitimate and corrupt monarchy. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson even speculated on what disbelief in natural law might mean for America’s future. “Can the liberties of a nation be secure,” he asked, “when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
Other founders agreed: Alexander Hamilton wrote that “no tribunal, no codes, no system can repeal or impair the law of God, for by his eternal laws it is inherent in the nature of things.” George Mason, author of the Declaration of Rights (1787) declared that the “laws of nature are the laws of God; Whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth.”
“Our Constitution,” wrote John Adams, “was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
And George Washington urged the nation to remember that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
History provides ample evidence to contradict Senator Schumer’s assertion. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that the Founders picked up their muskets precisely because they were champions of a role for religion in political life. For them the American credo was rooted in natural law—in the belief that there is a higher standard by which all man-made rules must be measured.
Besides, when Senator Schumer attempts to impose his beliefs on the rest of us, which he does every time he casts a vote in the Senate—to fund abortions, to raise taxes, or to go to war—we must assume he is acting on his own belief in the righteousness of those positions, and isn’t he, by his own standard, therefore being un-American? What difference does it make if the source of the beliefs being imposed is religious or secular?
Senator Schumer has stated in Judiciary Committee hearings that he reveres certain time-tested Supreme Court decisions that he considers “super precedents.” Well, here’s one “super” precedent he might heed—from Zorach v. Clauson (1952)—in which Justice William O. Douglas, writing for the majority, proclaimed:
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being … [And] we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weigh against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.
Surely the Founders would concur.