In the midst of the December "war on Christmas" mania, last week's decision by a federal district judge to strike down the inclusion of "intelligent design" in a Pennsylvania science curriculum gave new impetus to the debate over separation of church and state.
The ruling was a stern rebuke to those who sought to place the theory that the universe is the result of a higher power's "intelligent design" on the same playing field as Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The court rightly observed that the former is a matter of faith, while the latter is a scientific argument. More to the point, the judge ruled that the motivation of the Dover Board of Education was patently religious, and thus a violation of the Constitution's prohibition of the establishment of religion.
Like the needless bickering created by those who see the use of "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" as an insult to most Americans, the intelligent-design debate only serves to divide us along lines that make no sense. The vast majority of Americans believe in God, and probably, on some level, believe that God is behind the workings of the universe. But that doesn't mean that they wish to include such musings in a child's science class. Opposition to the attempt by the Dover board and others isn't an argument for atheism. Science and religion are far from incompatible, as the faiths of many great scientists attest.
The "wall" of separation between church and state is not absolute. Our constitution is not hostile to religion, nor does it demand that our public squares (in both the figurative and the literal sense of the term) be devoid of expressions of faith. Radical secularists who would alter the pledge of allegiance or remove the word "God" from coins fail to understand the profound religiosity of Americans and the role of religion in U.S. history.
But by the same token, those believers who try to sneak their beliefs into science curricula are doing religion no favors. Sectarian attempts to use public schools to bolster religion are not only illegal, but futile. And when such proposals are made in the context of politicized religious campaigns, it comes as no surprise when the courts of law and of public opinion turn against them.
The genius of America remains the inherent sense of balance and moderation in our constitution and our political process. As such, this latest ruling is an indication that good sense has not yet been legislated out of existence in this country.
Is Syria Off the Hook?
While Americans may debate the wisdom of the U.S. military effort in Iraq, one side effect of that conflict has been the chastened attitude of some other Arab political players. Since the invasion of Iraq, Syria has been put on notice that its support for terrorism and its occupation of Lebanon were no longer acceptable. Indeed, when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad had a Lebanese critic assassinated last year, the ensuing furor forced the Syrians to pull their army out of Lebanon.
But since then, the Syrians have showed every indication that they will not relinquish their still potent control of that hapless nation. Even more to the point, the clamor for reform of Syria's police state and an end to its terror support operations seem to have lost momentum. The culprit is a new spirit of "pragmatism" from Washington that seems to advocate the retention of Assad's regime and a softening of the U.S. stance on Israel's volatile neighbor.
That would not be wise policy. Though the United States has its hands full in Iraq, that's no excuse for the revival of a policy of cozying up to this brutal Damascus dictatorship. The only way to enhance chances for peace and to quarantine Islamist terrorism is to create more pressure on Syria - not less.