‘Secular’ is not a dirty word

Updated
 
'Secular' is not a dirty word
'Secular' is not a dirty word
Associated Press

Campaigning in Michigan yesterday, Mitt Romney used a line of attack against President Obama that I don’t recall hearing from him before.

Mitt Romney attacked President Obama’s “secular agenda” during a town hall in which he drew contrasts between himself and GOP rival Rick Santorum and defended his stance on conservative social issues for voters still making up their minds before next week’s primary.

“You expect the president of the United States to be sensitive to that freedom and protect it and, unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda, they have fought against religion,” Romney said….

The Obama campaign pushed back, equating Romney’s comments with Rick Santorum’s “phony theology” tack from a few days ago.

That’s fine, as campaign responses go, but the reaction overlooks an arguably more important problem: since when is there something wrong with a “secular agenda”?

Putting aside the “they have fought against religion” nonsense – if the Romney campaign has any evidence to back this up, they’ve hidden it well – the notion of using the word “secular” as an attack is, at a minimum, unsettling. “Secular” is not a dirty word; in our country, it can’t be.

To be sure, among developed Western nations, the United States tends to be one of the most religious. But that doesn’t change the fact that this was founded as a secular nation – our entire system of government, built around secular institutions, is based on a secular Constitution, which makes no reference to God or any faith tradition, and which guarantees a separation of church and state. Indeed, I’d argue that religious life has flourished in this country precisely because the government stays out of it.

Every president, by the nature of his or her official duties, is supposed to have a “secular agenda.” What’s the alternative? Indeed, if Obama has a secular agenda, and Romney finds this worthy of criticism, exactly what kind of agenda should voters expect of a Romney administration?

There are some countries that intermix God and government – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind – but they’re generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

'Secular' is not a dirty word

Updated