Monday, May 17, 2010

A Secular Constitution That's Religiously Exclusivistic

On his May 11 radio program, Albert Mohler discussed a controversy involving a university in Texas that had "in the Year of Our Lord" printed on its diplomas. Some Muslim students objected that the phrase was an endorsement of Christianity. The same phrase appears in the United States Constitution. For years, I had been told, by secularists, that the phrase doesn't have any religious significance. It's religiously neutral. The Constitution is a secular document.

Here's part of a recent article on the controversy in Texas:

“A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” said Sidra Qureshi, president of Trinity Diversity Connection. “By having the phrase ‘In the Year of Our Lord,' it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.”

Qureshi, who is Muslim, has led the charge to tweak the wording, winning support from student government and a campus commencement committee. Trustees are expected to consider the students' request at a May board meeting....

“I honestly feel like nobody actually noticed it before,” Medina said. “Now that it has been brought up, the institution is trying to find its own identity. Are we or are we not a religious institution?”...

“I never had the experience that Trinity was a closeted Christian institution,” Medina said.

Apparently, Qureshi, Medina, and the others who agree with them also object to the Constitution. Maybe they "honestly feel like nobody actually noticed it before" in the Constitution. Is the Constitution a "closeted Christian document"? They should take this issue up with the secularists who have been arguing that the phrase isn't religious.

There's some merit to the secularist argument. The Constitution isn't as explicitly Christian or as explicitly religious a document as it could conceivably be. Some modern critics of secularism would have written the Constitution differently if they had been in the place of the founders of the nation. I would have. The document isn't as explicitly Christian as I'd like it to be.

But there's a large gray area between a document that's secular and one that's as explicitly Christian as some people would like it to be. The Constitution isn't secular. It isn't religiously neutral or godless in its language or underlying principles, for example. And the Constitution isn't the only source relevant to the founders' intent. The Declaration of Independence is relevant, for example, as are the actions of the founders after enacting the Constitution, such as opening sessions of government with prayer and advocating explicitly religious concepts in government documents. And what's explicit isn't all that matters. We implicitly acknowledge God in ways we often don't recognize, even when we're claiming to be secular. But even if we define "secular" as it's often defined today, as I did earlier in this post for the sake of argument, the Constitution shouldn't even be considered secular in that sense. The students at Trinity University who objected to the wording of their diplomas were right in that regard.

1 comment:

  1. If this bothers them, then why did these Muslim students enroll in a university called Trinity?