When most people talk about the “separation of church and state,” the idea is to protect the state from the church. People work hard to keep “Intelligent Design” out of the public schools, believing that public life is already too religious. This may be true, but Steven Goldberg argues in the book Bleached Faith, that it’s religion that needs protection from the influence of public life.
“It is a sign of weakness—an admission that religion needs artificial life support—to push religious symbols into the smothering embrace of government,” Goldberg writes in the introduction to his book. Intelligent design in the classroom, over-sized menorahs in public buildings, and the Ten Commandments—dubbed by Goldberg as the “Nike Swoosh of religion”—in the courts don’t strengthen faith. Forcing religious imagery into public life actually cheapens religion and spirituality.
“The strength of real religion in America today is not undercut by the limits on government-supported religion in public settings,” Goldberg argues. Though many groups continue to test those limits. Writing for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Rob Boston breaks down “a laundry list” of organizations with clear religious motives that are receiving big money from the federal government. Teen Challenge, for example, is a drug prevention program that works by “applying biblical principles and establishing a chemical free lifestyle.” The organization was recently granted $587,514 in federal money, in part to work inside of public schools.
Many in the religious community, however, understand that politics and religion don’t mix well. In a recent survey by the National Association of Evangelicals, the vast majority of evangelical leaders came out unequivocally opposed to using their churches to endorse candidates. One university president put the issue in stark terms saying, “the pulpit is not the place for electioneering.”