Former Republican Senator John Danforth spoke out on separation of church and state and against the Republican use of wedge issues at the Log Cabin Republicans National Dinner on April 29. Here’s a portion of his speech:
And you know the wedge issues. Abortion is one. That’s an issue that’s been with us a long time and even though I think it’s very unlikely that the Supreme Court is going to overrule Roe v. Wade – I happen to be pro life myself – but it remains a wedge issue, which is the focus of just a lot of people in politics.
Stem cell research. That is the one wedge issue that is still a live one. Because if stem cell research is criminalized a lot of people with very terrible diseases like Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Parkinson’s and cancer are not going to be cured. That is the one – stem cell research – that is the one issue that has some at least meaning in itself but it’s a wedge issue.
The Terri Schiavo case. This awful situation of keeping this poor soul going on a feeding tube, or at least trying to, with the massive involvement of Republican politicians to try to do this even though the Florida courts had repeatedly said she was in a persistent vegetative state and that she had expressed, this is what the courts found, the desire not to be hooked up in this situation but the politicians entered into the fray and that was a wedge issue of its time.
The displays of religion – Ten Commandments and so on – in courthouses, it can’t have much of a religious content to it and yet it’s become this huge divisive issue in America.
And then one that you are very much involved with and an issue that is scheduled to come up for a vote in June in the United States Senate and that is the Federal Marriage Amendment. Now I’m not an historian. Some historian should really look at all of the proposals that have been put forth throughout the history of our country for possible Constitutional amendments. Maybe at some point in time there was one that was sillier than this one, but I don’t know of one.
And once before the Constitution was amended to try to deal with matters of human behavior, that was prohibition, that was such a flop that that was repealed 13 years later.
It is a concept which is contrary to basic Republican principles. As I understand, the basic concept of the Republican Party is to interpret the Constitution narrowly, not expansively, so that legislatures and especially state legislatures can work out over a period of time the social issues in our country. And not to have these evolving issues fixed and concrete in the Constitution of the United States, taken out of the hands of legislatures and turned over to the federal courts. So this amendment is contrary to what I understand to be a basic tenet of our party.
And then it’s said that this is necessary to protect marriage. Whose marriage is this going to protect? How conceivably could it protect any marriage in the United States?
Now these various issues, the wedge issues, have been pushed forward in the name of religion. It turns out that a very divisive force in American life today, if not the most divisive force, is religion.
Kevin Philips in his new book American Theocracy writes that for the first time in our history that we have a religious party in the United States. We have escaped that in the past. Religion has become a divisive force in America, and some would say, well maybe that’s as it should be. But the meaning of the word religion, the very definition of the word, it comes from the same root as the word ligament, that which binds us together not that which dives us apart.
And I believe that it is important for all Americans – and I am sure that three-quarters of the American people would agree with this if they were really faced with the issue – we must make it clear in our country that we truly believe in the separation of church and state. It is an essential principle.