By Robert A. Vella
Phil Robertson, the star of A&E’s reality show Duck Dynasty, was surprised to be invited to speak at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “I guess the GOP may be more desperate than I thought to call somebody like me,” he said. Such speculation from the controversial performer would seem apropos considering his publicly-stated views on homosexuality, race, and other social issues.
But, Robertson’s bigotry wasn’t the focus of his speech on Thursday. Instead, he concentrated on his Christian faith and emphasized the need to put his perception of “God” at the forefront of American governance. From WJTV in Jackson, Mississippi:
“We threw God out of the schools and the courthouse,” he said. “Separation of church and state. I’m telling you right here what the founding fathers said. Does it sound like separating God Almighty from the United States of America? No way that’s a lie. By removing the bible from school you will be wasting time and money punishing criminals and there’s going to be an explosion of crime.”
Robertson’s ignorance can be casually dismissed as the subjective passion of religious belief. However, his message resonates with the Tea Party and that makes it a hot-button political issue for the Republican Party.
For the record, America’s founding fathers formed a secular nation in the U.S. Constitution with the First Amendment‘s establishment clause:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
In conjunction with the free exercise clause, the founding fathers gave Americans both the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion. These precepts were designed in response to centuries of religious persecution which many colonists and immigrants had escaped from by coming to America. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were two of the strongest advocates for secular government, to whom the copiously bearded and camouflaged Robertson completely misrepresented in his speech. Furthermore, a government based on religion is also antithetical to the founding of America because it is innately theocratic and authoritarian – the opposite of democracy and the idea of “we the people.”
No man’s religion is superior. No man’s god stands above others. True morality does not come from arbitrary doctrine, but from the altruistic deeds between human beings. Phil Robertson may be well-intentioned, but he is terribly mistaken. And, in the long-run, the GOP has much to lose by giving him this platform.