wall Russell Baker, writing in TomPaine.com , illustrates how dangerous it is to have a president or prime minister who is not up on the lessons of history or the principles of democracy. One of these is the principle of separation of church and state. Baker, listing some important questions for journalists and the press corps to ask Bush about his “faith based initiatives”, saves the most important ’til last:

Can you explain, in your own words, the concept of separation of church and state? Are you for eliminating that?

It would, of course, be kind of unfair to spring this question on Bush without giving him the chance to prepare, him not being exactly renowned for speaking articulately, or for that matter coherently or accurately, off the cuff. And since he probably doesn’t know the principle anyway, and in the interest of public service and higher education, I thought I’d provide some answers for him, in cue-card format in sound-bite length, so that both Bush and CNN can digest them. Insert drawls and smirks at your discretion. Here we go:

  1. For millennia, democratic countries around the world have struggled to ensure that, even in countries with a dominant religion, religious beliefs and organizations are not able to override democratic constitutional principles and practices. Specifically, that means
    1. government and public institutions such as schools must not promote one religion over another
    2. government and schools must not promote a religious life over a secular life (one unconnected with any religion), or a secular life over a religious life
    3. excessive entanglements between government or public institutions, and religion or religious organizations must be avoided
    4. government and public institutions must not coerce, or enacts laws that coerce, citizens to support or participate in any religion or religious activity
    5. government and public institutions must not interfere with private free exercise of religion, provided that exercise does not interfere with the rights of others
    6. government policies and actions, at home and abroad, must not discriminate on the basis of people’s and nations’ religious beliefs, provided those beliefs are themselves not discriminatory and do not violate recognized human rights
  2. This principle is embedded in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and rulings of the American judiciary have supported the above interpretation of it.
  3. This principle has served our country well since its establishment, and countries that do not have similar principles entrenched in their laws and constitutions have proven to be fragile, intolerant, riven by internal civil strife, and sometimes even ungovernable
  4. I fully support this principle and will in future ensure that faith-based initiatives, the meddling by governments in classroom activities and curricula, discrimination against international family planning activities in foreign aid programs, and preferential access to all levels of government by certain religions and religious figures, will be immediately curtailed (oh, well, we can always dream about this last one; education takes time)

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