"The Framers of the Constitution . . . forbade the Congress to make any law "respecting" the establishment of religion, thus leaving the states free to do so (as several of them did); and they explicitly forbade the Congress to abridge "the free exercise" of religion, thus giving actual religious observance a rhetorical emphasis that fully accords with the special concern we know they had for religion. It takes a special ingenuity to wring out of this a governmental indifference to religion, let alone an aggressive secularism. Yet there are those who insist that the First Amendment actually proscribes governmental partiality not only to any single religion, but to religion as such; so that tax exemption for churches is now thought to be unconstitutional. It is startling to consider that a clause clearly protecting religion can be construed as requiring that it be denied a status routinely granted to educational and charitable enterprises, which have no overt constitutional protection. Far from equalizing unbelief, secularism has succeeded in virtually establishing it.
"A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction, expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus, and not to get uppity about it.
"What the secularists are increasingly demanding, in their disingenuous way, is that religious people, when they act politically, act only on secularist grounds. They are trying to equate acting on religion with establishing religion. And—I repeat—the consequence of such logic is really to establish secularism. It is in fact, to force the religious to internalize the major premise of secularism: that religion has no proper bearing on public affairs." (Human Life Review, Summer 1978, pp. 51–52, 60–61)
Neal A. Maxwell writes:
"It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play--especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them. It is the secular bureaucrat's burden, you see.
"Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?
"If we let come into being a secular church shorn of traditional and divine values, where shall we go for inspiration in the crises of tomorrow? Can we appeal to the rightness of a specific regulation to sustain us in our hours of need?" ("Meeting the Challenges of Today," speech given at BYU on 10 October 1978.)
Now, I'm still not one for public prayer in elementary school because I feel like children are too young and impressionable, and at that stage, religion should be taught at home and in the church. But prayers in Congress, in the White House, in Universities I feel are not at all inappropriate. Those prayers do not establish a state religion. Neither do Christmas decorations in public buildings. I would actually love to see decorations and exhibits for Ramadan, Hanukkah, and Diwali in public buildings.
The Daily Show said something coy about how Christmas is the only national holiday that is also a religious holiday; so Christians can go home and celebrate Jesus' birth, and everyone else can ponder "the true meaning of separation of church and state." Well, as already noted, that separation is not a constitutionally or legally mandated separation. Second, I don't think having Christmas as a national holiday establishes Christianity as a state religion. It's a practical issue more than anything. The vast majority of Americans would want Christmas off whether they were Christians or atheists. It's just as much a cultural as a religious thing in America. Rather than denying millions of government employees time off for Christmas, it makes much more sense to just make it a national holiday.
The paranoia and superstition that seeks to remove religion from the public discourse frankly amazes me. I echo Sobran's disbelief that a document so clearly written to protect religion is now being used to drag religion into public contempt.