I'm all for freedom of religion - on one condition. Freedom of religion must also mean freedom from religion. Religion should be practised in churches, that's where it belongs, not in legislatures, not in our schools, not in any of our public institutions.
I think about religion a fair bit. It's pretty hard not to think about religion these days or at least the ascendancy of religious radicalism or fundamentalism.
What I find telling is how fundamentalism seems to appeal to a section of a population no matter the faith. In the West it surfaces as Christian fundamentalism. In Israel, it's Jewish fundamentalism. In the Muslim world it's Islamist fundamentalism, Islamism. In India, it's Hindu fundamentalism. Whatever the state or region there's a percentage of the population susceptible or drawn to the particular radical, authoritarian and often unhinged religious fundamentalism on offer. These are people with a great capacity for suspension of disbelief and a hefty appetite for mysticism. Who needs reality when you've got that?
(As an aside - imagine Steve Harper today had he been born and raised in Riyadh. He'd probably be on someone's no fly list or undergoing rendition therapy.)
As I understand the history of fundamentalism, it's always been around but, like a coal vein fire, it has usually been well underground. Now, however, the fire has reached the surface and that's where the trouble starts.
Andrew Bacevich chronicles this in his excellent book, The New American Militarism, in which he outlines the unholy marriage of the political radical right with the religious radical right with the military leadership and the military/industrial/commercial warfighting complex out of which is formed the perpetual warfare state.
In my day (and before) the American officer class was predominantly Episcopalian. Today evangelical fundamentalism has taken over. It surfaces in oddball characters like General Born-Again Boykin who said this of a Muslim adversary at a public event, " I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." And Boykin is by no means an exception. There's an undercurrent of this "Holy Warrior" business running throughout the US military as though we needed another reason to keep our distance.
Religious extremism finds its political toehold in social conservatism of the sort that appeals to Harper's far-right political conservatism. It is within social conservatism that the radical political far-right and the radical religious far-right find unity. And in that union they quietly undermine our freedom from religion.
And now they're targeting our kids in our public schools. The fundamentalist Christian Group, Invisible Children, that produced the controversial Kony 2012 video is working to get their video into high schools and colleges for what founder Jason Russell openly admits is an evangelical "trojan horse".
The time for polite reservation is just about over. If we're to have a healthy democracy that respects both freedom of religion and freedom from religion we are going to have to reinforce secularism in our institutions. These people won't stop until we do.