Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barack Obama, Rick Warren, and Invocations at Presidential Inaugurations

We've all been bombarded by the controversy over Barack Obama's unfortunate choice of pastor Rick Warren to give "the invocation" as part of the presidential inauguration ceremony. We needn't review the details of that controversy here.

A question the so-called mainstream media has utterly failed to raise is why in a secular government, constitutionally separated from religion, an "invocation" is allowed to be part of the inaugural festivities at all. While that same constitution guarantees freedom of religion for individual citizens
(and by inference, freedom from religion for those who do not subscribe to ancient myth), whether or not serving in public office, conflating personal religous beliefs with official governmental functions, be it the inauguration of a new president, the opening and/or closing of governmental proceedings such as congress, or whatever, stands as an abject violation of the principle of separation of church and state; an endorsement of religion in general, and an at least tacit endorsement of the specific religious denomination of the participants, by official sanction.

By focusing on the controversial nature of the particular selection of the pastor, the mainstream press has once again missed the point and failed in its duty to keep the politicians in line. Even the chatter on much of the atheist blogosphere seems to miss the point but for a few of the comments.

Wake up, people. Notwithstanding protestations to the contrary by the christian "right", the United States of America is not a christian nation; it is a pluralistic society, populated with believers of every major religion and many minor ones, and with believers in reality as well. The atheist community's apparent willingness to accept the notion that some sort of religious invocation is a regular part of a presidential inauguration is disturbing. Granted, not every battle can be fought at once, but if we're going to concern ourselves with this issue at all, we should take it on as the affront it is to the separation of church and state, regardless of the particular pastor involved and his archaic social positions.