Next to the First Amendment, then-President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 has perhaps come to represent the most popular understanding of religious freedom in the collective mind of America. Because of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor, some would like the letter to pass back into the shadow of obscurity under which it rested prior to the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision. Others rejoice that the letter provides the lens through which religion itself is defined and applied in contemporary America.
Jefferson’s famous metaphor is important, but it is a star drawing into its orbit the comet of our short attention span.
In the recent U.S. Supreme Court hearings on whether states have a constitutional right to ban (or refuse to recognize) same-sex marriages, the conservative justices seemed to be preoccupied with the definition of marriage. As Chief Justice Roberts stated, in response to advocate Mary Bonauto, “Every definition that I looked up prior to about a dozen years ago, defined marriage as a unity between a man and a woman as husband and wife. Obviously, if you succeed, that core definition will no longer be operable.”
Whereas this and similar comments made during the hearing are perhaps true on their surface—marriage in the past has not been defined as a relationship between same-sex couples—such comments are misleading, suggesting that the definition of marriage has been unchanged “for millennia,” or disingenuous.
At the risk of going all Get Religion over nothing: it’s a little weird to read articles about Ben Carson’s vegetarianism that fail to mention that the presidential candidate is a member of a church that promotes vegetarianism.
Religious leaders of the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation have urged President Obama to use the purchasing power of the federal government to change the firearms industry. Noting that the federal government is the nation’s top gun buyer, they say it can pressure gun manufacturers to sell only to dealers that sell guns responsibly. The government can also press gun makers on gun safety technology. Smart guns should be manufactured that can be fired only by authorized users. Manufacturers who refuse to cooperate should be denied government contracts (New York Times, July 17).