Religion in the Public Square
When Church and State Are Anything but Separate

Belief is not simply a quaint feature of the human condition but a complex operating system that holds the key to understanding the Middle East.

Published on: August 8, 2017
Shalom Lipner (@ShalomLipner) is a nonresident senior fellow of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 1990 to 2016, he served seven consecutive premiers at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
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  • Jeff Goodson

    With all due respect, Eisenhower wasn’t President in 1966. Lyndon Johnson was. Eisenhower left office in January 1961, turning over the White House to JFK.

    • Daniel Kennelly

      Thanks for spotting that. Fixed. July 30, 1956: the 61st anniversary.

      • D4x

        Adding the ever-controversial “God-talk in the public square”:

        “In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy’s* daughter objected to this alteration. Today it reads:

        “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

        * “The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). It was originally published in The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892. Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.”

  • D4x

    The Founders lived during the era of absolute monarchy, where not-Catholic heads of state were also the head of that state’s church (England, Russia); or Catholic monarchs were nominally still obeisant to the Pope. The original Ten Commandments, Exodus 20, were foundational to the rule of law in the new form of government in the new United States of America.

    Mr. Lipner displays his own “bemused, superficial understanding of religious customs” with his own misreading of the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, when he writes: “For guardians of the U.S. Constitution, “Thou shalt preserve the separation between church and state” is the 11th commandment.”

    U.S. Constitution – Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    • Boritz

      “Congress shall make no law”

      Those beautiful, beautiful words.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The problem with “In God we Trust” is that it means anything and nothing at the same time. For a supposed “Christian nation” (a descriptive term often claimed for America) , a better motto would have been “In Jesus We Trust”. But I guess y’all know the chances of that were zero in Eisenhower’s time or in any time. So, we find ourselves “trusting” equally in God as defined by Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Muslims—–as well as in definitions cooked up ad hoc at barber shops, bars, ball fields and anything Hollywood can produce. “The man upstairs” without elaboration, for instance, is often considered a nice uncontroversial depiction.

    • ——————————

      It should be ‘in God we trust’, since he/it is the reason we are here. Jesus was just a prophet. Why should he take precedence over God?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Since I don’t know from what faith tradition you would be coming to call Jesus “just a prophet”, I’ll not mount a big argument to that—–except to say that your articulated position is precisely that of Islam. It also regards Jesus as a prophet, only a prophet and not quite as important a prophet as Mohammad, their “final” prophet.

        • ——————————

          It’s also the position of Judaism.

          As I have said in my comments on this blog, and even some comments to you in the past…I do not believe in religion, I only believe in God.

          Religion is a highly troubled, man-made concept, not worthy of God….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, without the influences of religion to define God, you are defining your own. That’s okay, but it is the very reason why a motto to trust in something subject to being made up differently by each person is a weird motto.

          • ——————————

            But those “influences” are made by others…and thousands of years ago at that…and I think they got a bit carried away.
            I don’t have a problem with basic influence, or someone being able to articulate and teach a basic concept of God. What I have a problem with is what a religion is. It is a vast set of rules and regulations pitted against the other religions, created by humans. Basic belief in God and good behavior can be taught, but without all the dogma….

            And however one believes in a God, it doesn’t matter when written as ‘in God we trust’. It is just a reminder to believe and trust his/it’s way.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Sorry, but for me a “basic concept of God” doesn’t work and is more hindrance than helpful. When it comes to religion, for me, it’s Jesus and the fix he provided for the rest of it——or nothing at all.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Thanks to TAI for publishing on this subject—-evenly with a badly-mixed metaphor:

    “For guardians of the U.S. Constitution, “Thou shalt preserve the separation between church and state” is the 11th commandment. It ensures that no single religious tradition is given preference over all others, providing for all citizens to be treated equally before the law. America’s fidelity to this principle, however inspired, may have stunted its ability to fully fathom world events.”

    Actual guardians of the U.S. Constitution are not bound by ten commandments in the first place and therefore do not have an eleventh coming AFTER anything else whatsoever. Seriously, contemplated enforcement of seven of the famous ten commandments is (so far) completely unconstitutional in this country. (Go look up the ten at Exodus 20. There you will discover that stealing, murder and lying with false witness in court are the only overlaps from this source to actual enforceable statutes in this country. And those three are prohibited not as a matter of God, but as a matter of protecting victims from random mistreatment.)

    TAI is correct, however to be reminding us how disastrous religion in government can be. Aside from what we should have always known about religious influence in such places as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel—–we now seem to be blind to the fact that religion has elected Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey and Trumpism in America. Our “fidelity” here to not having the whole society jerked around by religionists has not recently been in more jeopardy than at this moment. For those who think that might be a “good” thing, we might want to take a good look at Putin and Erdogan before we celebrate our latest blunder.

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