Thursday, February 19, 2009

Religion in government

Rewriting the Bible to eliminate miracles, hanging of Quakers in Massachusetts, regular burning of Pope's effigy. Here is an interesting Fresh Air interview with Steven Waldman about religion in America at the time of the writing of the US Constitution. He also talks about the Establishment Clause - and how initially it was not applicable to individual states. It took the 14th amendment after the Civil War to change that. All new to me.

By the way, there is also a fight in Pakistan over the interpretation of the views of its Founding Father (only 1). The main dispute is over Jinnah's speech on Aug 11, 1947 - his opening address to the new state of Pakistan. While Pakistan was partitioned on the basis of religion, in the speech he went for a separation of religion and state. This is what he had to say about religion and state:
We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.

Ooh...this last sentence has increasingly become more contentious - especially since the successful Islamization attempts by Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980's. Those on the left never let go of an opportunity to mention it, and those on the right want simply to forget it. Of course, it is also a nice reminder at a time of the Talibanization of Pakistan's northern areas - such as Swat.