Over at National Review, Kathryn Lopez interviews Steven Waldman, who is an editor at BeliefNet.com, and who just wrote a new book: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America. In it, he carefully examines the way in which the Founders envisioned faith playing out in America, and the way in which people on both sides of the political divide have perverted their views. Waldman, in the interview, sounds like a cheerful, knowledgeable pragmatist, so I can imagine that the book is interesting to read. I especially like his “choose your battles” philosophy, which sounds like an attitude the Founders would espouse:
Lopez: You write, “a Christian who is not allowed to run a Bible study group on public school property is still allowed to worship in church, at home, in the car, on the street, at a rock concert, plugged into an iPod, or surfing on the Internet.” So should we tell the kid with the Bible study group to suck it up?
Waldman: I tend to think holding a Bible Study in a school is Constitutional but I’m not sure it’s an important battle for religious people to fight. The key is that the Bible study group actually happens. So if having it on school property is really the only way it’s going to occur, then they should fight it. If it’s easy enough to hold it somewhere else, they should do that. My concern is that we focus so much on getting religion into the public square that we start to think that the public square is essential to our spiritual lives. It’s not.
Where I tend to come down on the gray area cases is that some of them are Constitutionally permissible — but unwise. Just because something is allowed doesn’t make it a good idea. If religion can happen without government’s involvement, that’s preferable.
To be honest, some of my point here is simply that we should have a sense of perspective. If the Founders were here and heard about someone not being allowed to have a Bible study on public school property, I think some would side with ACLU (I’m guessing Madison and Jefferson) and some would side with the kid (probably Washington and Adams). But mostly they’d say: wow, you folks have way more religious freedom than we did, and way more than we thought you would. Congratulations! Perhaps we should just have a once-a-year holiday where we put our lawsuits aside and celebrate the great success of religious freedom. We can go back to suing each other the next day.