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Yes, we still need Neuhaus

Prof. Randy Boyagoda is right: at this time of ignorance and confused thinking in America not only religion about religion but the also about the basis of human rights, we need the thought of the late Richard John Neuhaus more than ever.

I remember once hearing Fr. Neuhaus lecture at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He pointed out that the most religious nation in the world is India, while the least religious is Sweden. America, Neuhaus said, "is a nation of Indians governed by Swedes- and the Indians are getting restless."

Despite all signs to the contrary, we remain a very religious people. We are also a religiously very confused people- and, to a degree unique in our history, a religiously ignorant people. Ross Douthat's Bad Religion is a superb recent book which explores that reality in depth. I wish that more people would read it.

As it is, the reality described by Neuhaus's The Naked Public Square- remains. We're a nation which continues to misunderstand and misapply our own constitutional and historical experience of a religion we have itself ceased to understand.

The public square cannot remain naked. Sectarian religion as such cannot be favored by the government, but the religious are entitled to our voice- and the Founders assumed that they would have it. Discrimination against religion is as much a violation of the First Amendment as favoritism toward it. The idea in the realm of sectarian belief is governmental neutrality.

We Christians and other religious Americans are not only entitled to our say, but the Founders counted on our having it. And history has vindicated them. We need to remind our nation that the abolition of slavery and child labor, the Civil Rights movement, and a host of other reform movements in our history have sprung precisely from religion- and that it is no sin against the First Amendment to advocate secular political reform from religious motives. In fact, to silence the voice of religion not only ignores the fact that religiously-motivated ethical and social reform can be argued from secular grounds, too- and that to deprive the public square of the imput of religion is to cut ourselves off from probably the greatest wellspring of social reform in our history, and from contact with the something very close to the heart soul of this nation and its people.


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