A pulpit is not a podium
September 30, 2022
Through the course of American history and two centuries of developing constitutional law, two great principles have emerged, both of which have become increasingly ignored by many good and patriotic Americans.
The first of these principles was hammered out after much heated debate at the constitutional convention in the formative years of our nationhood by our founders, most if not all of whom were members of various Christian denominations. That principle is the doctrine of “separation of church and state”.
This principle separating religious activity, including prayer, from public activity means in layman’s terms that no person in our country should ever be placed in a position of choosing between his religious convictions and participation in a public event or activity; nor to be compelled to participate in another person’s religious practice against his or her will.
The first settlers to our shores came here to escape religious oppression and were motivated to ensure that the mistakes of the previous centuries in Europe would not be carried over in the public policies of the New World.
The second great principle which emerged from colonial America and which was brought into political and legal reality, as a result of the American Civil War, was the concept that in America there can be only one class of citizenship. The U.S. constitution, eloquent in its simplicity, states, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States … are citizens of the United States …”
These two concepts of separation of Church and State and single class citizenship are so firmly established and ordained by the American people in our country that few of us pay any attention to them.
When the absence of these two principles combine with general insensitivity, participants in public events, who share diverse minority religious beliefs or no religious beliefs, feel disenfranchised from their fellow Americans. Furthermore, ignoring these two principles has led to oppressive laws, such as the historical Sunday blue laws, and Prohibition (alcohol) which has not only restricted American freedom, but was a catalyst for increased criminal activity as well as a loss of respect for law generally.
American society has grown and prospered because Americans have embraced pluralism and respect for each other’s culture, religion and ethnic differences. Unfortunately, we have regressed into intolerance and disrespect for one another’s opinion that may differ from our own opinion and view on public and private issues.
The problem is notable when public events include sectarian religious prayers to which many in the audience who differ in their respective manner of prayer feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Some may even be resentful and feel compelled to join in sectarian prayer so as not to stand out in the crowd. This defeats the pluralism on which our country was founded, leads to division instead of unity and endangers all our freedoms.
The decision by SCOTUS to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision is another example of where religious influence prevailed over both sound public policy and more importantly, the freedom of American woman to be “secure in their person,” as contained in the 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
When religion is used to impose religious beliefs on the public, it can also be used to prohibit religious freedom as well, such as attempts to restrict the Jewish ceremonial ritual of circumcision and to ban the Jewish and Muslim laws of animal slaughter.
When religious beliefs invade discussion at public events, and notably, at political events, and public policy is infiltrated by religious beliefs, democratic values and freedom are compromised.
In the next few weeks as we enter the final period of heightened political activity, there will be sharp differences expressed among the American electorate. We should be reminded that if respect for pluralism is disregarded and hatred replaces respect, the perfection of our union will be heading in the wrong direction.
Choose wisely and remember, in America a pulpit is not and should never become a podium!
If you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner.
Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first vice president and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.