Religion, a friend of mine joked, is being treated today the same way homosexuality once was: As long as it is practiced only among consenting adults behind closed doors, it is tolerated.

I thought of this irreverent quip while watching NBC’S news coverage of the Supreme Court decision striking down Louisiana’s “creation science” law. The counsel who represented Louisiana argued that the legislature was merely seeking to assure equal discussion of equally valid theories regarding the origins of man; academic freedom demanded no less. Anchor Tom Brokaw appeared frustrated. Finally he growled, “But weren’t many sponsors of this bill religious people—doing this for religious reasons?”

For Brokaw, apparently a person with religious motivations has no business injecting those into public debate; it seems religious convictions might contaminate public policy.

This shocking attitude is held not just by the American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way, but by a lot of otherwise sensible people who have been conditioned into believing that public debate should be free of any religious influence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has encouraged this mindset. In 1971’s Lemon v. Curtzman, the Court applied a threefold test of constitutionality: first, a law’s primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion; second, it must not result in excessive entanglement of government with religion. Fair enough so far. But the third tenet holds that a law must be adopted with a “secular intent”—and that is where difficulties arise.

It was on this third point, in fact, that the Louisiana law was struck down. The law’s drafters expressly stated a secular purpose—balanced academic teaching—but that expressed purpose was held by the Court ...

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