The background for this is the "National Day of Prayer" scheduled for May 6th that was just ruled to be unconstitutional by a federal judge in Wisconsin.
There have been a number of voices that have objected from this...religious and political voices...and the current administration has announced plans to challenge the ruling. Meachem suggests that there's wisdom...and correct interpretation...to be found in the judge's decision.
Religious liberty—the freedom to worship as one chooses, or not to worship—is a central element of the American creed. Yes, many of the Founders were believing, observant Christians. But to think of them as apostles in knee breeches or as passionate evangelicals is a profound misreading of the past. In many ways their most wondrous legacy was creating the foundations of a culture of religious diversity in which the secular and the religious could live in harmony, giving faith a role in the life of the nation in which it could shape us without strangling us. On the day George Washington left Philadelphia to take command of the Continental Army, the Rev. William Smith preached a sermon at the city's Christ Church, saying: "Religion and liberty must flourish or fall together in America. We pray that both may be perpetual."
Arguments about the connection between religion and politics, church and state, have surely been perpetual. The civil and legal cases against religious coercion are well known: human freedom extends to one's conscience, and by abolishing religious tests for office or mandated observances, Americans have successfully created a climate—a free market, if you will—in which religion can take its stand in the culture and in the country without particular help or harm from the government. (my emphasis)
Meachem also correctly points out that this protects the people as well from those in government using religion to justify their actions in office:
There is a religious case against state involvement with matters of faith, too. Long before Thomas Jefferson, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, called for a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world," believing, with the Psalmist, that human beings were not to put their trust in princes. The principalities and powers of a fallen world represented and still represent a corrupting threat to religion: too many rulers have used faith to justify and excuse all manner of evil....
...A Christian nation, then, is a theological impossibility, and faith coerced is no faith at all, only tyranny. If God himself gave human beings free will—the choice to love him or not, to obey him or not—then no believer should try to force another to confess a faith.
The Founders understood this. Washington said we should give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance"; according to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by John Adams, "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Jefferson said that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo (Kurt note: archaic spelling of Hindu) and Infidel of every denomination."
Meachem's conclusion is powerful:
There are many precedents for the National Day of Prayer, but serious believers, given the choice between a government-sanctioned religious moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its own stand, free from the corruptions of the world, should always choose the garden of the church over the wilderness of the world. It is, after all, what Jesus did.