By Robert A. Vella
Now that the slim conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step towards dismantling Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between Church and State with its Hobby Lobby ruling, and with the Tea Party trumpeting that decision on Fox News and elsewhere, it’s an appropriate time to revisit the views on this concept by that simulacrum of right-wing virtue – Ronald Reagan.
From the Jewish Virtual Library in a Speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream on October 26, 1984 (emphasis added):
Now, perhaps that message should again be impressed on those who question why we went on a peacekeeping mission to Lebanon. Indeed, anyone who remembers the lesson of the Holocaust must understand that we have a fundamental moral obligation to assure: never again.
To help preserve that lesson for future generations, I’m satisfied that our General Services Administration has approved the use of the old Customs House by the New York City Holocaust Memorial Commission as a means of commemorating the Holocaust. And it will be a museum of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. It will serve to remind our children and our children’s children the tragic consequences of bigotry and intolerance.
We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.
At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral. And government should not make it more difficult for Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other believing people to practice their faith. And that’s why, when the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down a statute — and you may not have heard about this; it was a statute protecting employees who observed the Sabbath. Well, our administration is now urging the United States Supreme Court to overturn the Connecticut Court decision. This is what I mean by freedom of religion, and that’s what we feel the Constitution intends.
And there’s something else. The ideals of our country leave no room whatsoever for intolerance, for anti-Semitism, or for bigotry of any kind — none. In Dallas, we acted on this conviction. We passed a resolution concerning anti-Semitism and disassociating the Republic[an] Party from all people and groups who practice bigotry in any form. But in San Francisco this year, the Democratic Party couldn’t find the moral courage or leadership to pass a similar resolution. And, forgive me, but I think they owe you an explanation. [Applause]
Compare Reagan’s words with those spoken today by the Tea Party, and you’ll see no relation whatsoever. Right-wing extremists have hijacked the Republican Party and are violating its most fundamental qualities in their delusional, sociopathic pursuit of cultural purity. Even worse, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court – whom we entrust with protecting our Constitution – are enabling them.