8/5/14

Mississippi Rep. Palazzo Rejects Church-State Separation

English: Official portrait of Steven Palazzo
Official portrait of Steven Palazzo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Among the ways in which we atheists, humanists, skeptics, and secular individuals need to change Mississippi, one of the most obvious might be strengthening the separation of church and state. We deserve nothing less than a truly secular government (i.e., a government that remains neutral on matters of religion). It is bad enough that we are surrounded by the evangelical fundamentalist Christianity that pervades our culture; we cannot permit our government to promote it.

The gap between the situation we desire and where we are currently was recently illustrated in dramatic fashion by Rep. Steven Palazzo's (R-MS) poor decision to send a Christian bible to every member of Congress along with a letter in which he suggested it would "help guide you in your decision-making."

Perhaps this was little more than pandering. Rep. Palazzo likely knew that the media would pay attention, spreading news of his poor judgment to his Southern Baptist constituents. He certainly knew that many of them would be thrilled with this action. Bending - or even breaking - laws to expand one's political power is not exactly new. In some ways, it may even be better than the alternative explanation.

This alternative seems to be that Rep. Palazzo genuinely believes that our elected officials should be using his bible to govern us. He's either thoroughly ignorant about our Constitution, or he simply rejects the parts of it he cannot reconcile with his fundamentalist Christian beliefs. This strikes me as a far less desirable alternative than mere pandering.

Has Rep. Palazzo ever bothered to read his bible? Does he understand that it can be (and has been) used to justify practically anything someone wants to do? This is no valid guide for much of anything. It is interpreted as justifying one's preconceived desires.

What happens when someone seeks advice by "meditating on God's Word" as Rep. Palazzo suggests to those who are supposed to be representing us in Congress? The individual does what he or she wants to do and feels that some sort of divine inspiration is attached to it, clouding his or her judgment, making compromise less likely, and fueling a potentially dangerous sense of self-righteousness.

What You Can Do

Rep. Palazzo needs to hear from the Mississippians he is supposed to represent that "holy" texts have no place in the decision-making process of elected officials in a secular democracy. Talking Points Memo quoted Rev. Barry W. Lynn (Americans United for Separation of Church and State) as follows:
"When a politician calls for using the Bible as the basis for public policy, what he or she is really saying is, 'Let's use the Bible as I interpret it as the basis for public policy,'" Lynn said in response to Palazzo's letter. "When it comes to religion, our nation is pluralistic and diverse. Rather than look to the Bible or any other religious book to craft our nation's public policy, we would do well to examine another source instead, one that was actually created to guide governance. It's called the Constitution."
Rep. Palazzo's actions are unacceptable, and he needs to hear it from as many Mississippians as possible. If you'd like to contact Rep. Palazzo and explain why this is problematic, you can do so here. If you do contact him, please be civil.

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