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The Separation of Church and State: an American Revolutionary Tradition

Terrie Albano

The suspected origin of the catastrophic terrorist attacks on NY and Washington is a grouping of extreme Islamic fundamentalists. Much has been written about their goals and why they hate America.

While talking to a friend in NYC, a mom who volunteered at St. Vincent's Hospital the day of the attacks, she said, "What did we do to these people to make them hate us so much? Please tell us so we can apologize. I like our freedoms here. I work hard for what I have."

This mom's sentiment is typical. She is an open-minded, progressive person. She's a working class New Yorker who went to the Million Mom's March against gun-violence. She's an African American woman who also knows the limitations of our freedoms. It made me think about the nature of freedom. It made me think about the freedoms that people fought and died for in wartime and in peacetime's social struggles.

In our class divided society there are two sides to freedom. I'm thinking about the hundreds of years of struggle for historic democratic and human rights. I'm talking about the abolitionists and the soldiers of the North who fought and died to end slavery. Or the "Greatest Generation," who fought and died to end fascism and in union organizing drives.

Those who took unpopular stands in the early days of internment of the Japanese and against McCarthyism. Those who carried the flag in the civil rights movements of the South as the police hosed them and set attack dogs on them.

The women and men of all races, nationalities and religions who took stands for immigrant rights, women's rights, the right to vote and gay and lesbian rights.

The American revolutionaries who founded U.S. democracy built upon the fight against the British monarchy and for religious freedom. They established a concept of a government with the separation of church and state at it's center.

The cornerstone of the American revolution is still a cornerstone for democratic society, which came out of the fires of struggle against religious persecution, so common-place in 18th century Europe.

This revolutionary content of freedom is the opposite of the rhetoric and the actions of Bush and the ultra right. They push even in this time of crisis for measures that will turn back freedoms won over decades. The content of their freedom is to silence dissent and strike fear in those who want to stand for a peaceful and just solution to the threat terrorism places before all humanity.

The content of their freedom is the freedom to oppress and exploit for private profit, the enemy of the people's struggles for freedom. The freedom's in our country come from the fires of class and social struggles. Freedoms that working class people, communists, progressives and the left have to fight to continue from attack by the ultra right of all persuasions.

Our own ultra right or the Zionist or Islamic ultra right -- the ultra right worldwide -- have a commonality. Staunch anti-communism is one such tie that binds. Their merger of church (mosque or temple) and state is another. The Islamic extremists merge their interpretation of Islamic law with the state. It is their rationale for the oppression of women, the outlawing of trade unions, denial of democratic and minority rights. They impose a religious justification for their reign of terror.

Their hatred for America is many-sided. They may hate American imperialist control of their land and resources, but it's not because they are revolutionary. They hate it because they want to control it for the dictatorship of their Islamic states.

The overwhelming majority of the world's people - including the majority of Muslims - oppose this fanatical interpretation of religion. But we can't have illusions that the Bush administration's anti-terrorist policies are based on defending democracy. Their corporate interests have intersected with the ultra-right Islamic billionaire interests of bin Laden on the front of "fighting communism" in the 1980s. Now their interests clash. Yet their anti-people programs are still the ties that bind them together.

The ultra right push their own agenda -- make workers suffer, continue racial, gender, minority and religious oppression and get rid of separation of church and state. Look at the Christian Coalition and its influence in the Bush administration on abortion or vouchers.

Some may say that being against terrorism is taking the side of the Ultra right -- or if you oppose war and imperialism you are sympathizing with Islamic extremists. Working class and oppressed people of the world have their own agenda, too, and that's the side to take: peace, democracy, equality and economic justice.

Published:
  2002-08-20

Categories:
  Church and State, Evolution

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