Mitch Fox/The Hoya Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, addresses students Wednesday in Healy Hall.

Rob Boston, the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, addressed approximately 30 students Wednesday evening in a speech titled “Why the Religious Right Is Right About Separation of Church and State.”

Boston discussed the wide gap in interpretation of the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” as well as the future of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of this clause.

“The separation between church and state concept is under attack in the U.S.,” Boston said.

Relying on the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Madison, Boston explained how he believed the amendment must be interpreted as a strict separation between religion and government, contrasting these views with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, two prominent leaders of the religious right.

“Today what we’re seeing in this country is the gradual erosion of the wall of separation that Jefferson and adison so carefully built,” Boston said. “Jefferson saw that real religious liberty meant accepting all religions. Now contrast that with what Pat Robertson had to say; his vision of state endorsed orthodoxy, unity of the religion and government and all parts of the state drunk off the powers of religious persecution.”

Boston said that the difference between the nation’s founding fathers and the religious right could not be greater. “There’s not much of a choice there, really. Perhaps that why Jefferson is remembered today fondly as a genius and architect of religious freedom and Pat Robertson is considered a dangerous extremist,” he said.

Despite the ideological disparities, Boston warned of the influence of religious radicals. “Extremists can still have influence and extremists can still have power,” Boston said. “On most days, I really do believe Pat Robertson and many preachers of his ilk who plague our airways are a rather strange people with odd beliefs, but that has not stopped any of them from raising up political armies and taking control of the Republican Party and at least half of the states.”

Boston warned against the undue influence of extremism and fundamentalist theology in American public policy.

“Remember, extremist movements, whether they are religious, political or geo-political, exist in a continuum – some are much more dangerous than others. Only a handful advocate violence, like the bombing of abortion clinics and that sort of thing, and these groups concern me, but the real threat is posed more by the religious organizations like Robertson’s Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council or other [like-minded groups],” he said. Boston said that after 15 years of researching the constitutional issues behind church and state, it was “astounding that these types of groups even exist.”

He said that the benefits of a wall of separation between church and state have contributed to the strength of religious diversity in America. “Church state separation has given the United States the most diverse and vibrant religious community in the world,” Boston said.

Boston also addressed the influence of the religious right in politics. After reading a letter by Jefferson that questioned the existence of God, Boston questioned if anyone who expressed such religious feelings could win an election.

“It’s sad to reflect today that any politician who’d dare write a letter like that, it’d be the end of his career,” Boston said. “Can you imagine if someone questioned the boldness and the existence of God? If Jefferson ran for public office today, he could not be elected dog catcher.”

Boston criticized the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of school vouchers, maintaining that vouchers, in giving tax dollars to religious schools, violated the anti-establishment clause.

“Last year[‘s] . ruling . is disastrous and could have far reaching implications for religious freedom in this country. For over 200 years our country has operated so that . no tax funds go towards religion or religious schools,” Boston said. “But the Supreme Court is reversing [that], and by a narrow five to four majority, the government is allowing funding for religious primary and secondary schools under certain conditions.”

Boston said that proposals such as President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives would only make the situation worse. “The administration believes that religion can give you hope and that government can’t,” Boston said. “The government can give you hope; this administration chooses not too.”

Boston, who also serves as assistant editor for Americans United’s monthly magazine Church & State, is the author of Close Encounters with the Religious Right: Journeys into the Twilight Zone of Religion and Politics (2000), The Most Dangerous an in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition (1996) and Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church & State (1993). GU Skeptics sponsored the event.

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