I think growing up a religious minority in a community dominated by one faith (I was raised in a town that was, and I think still is, nearly three-quarters Mormon) must have made it easy for me to understand why we have a First Amendment separation of church and state.
It was always fairly obvious that the main bulwark it creates keeps the people who have the most votes from cramming their religious beliefs down everyone else's throat. And of course, in our town, Mormons were always rubbing up against church-state separation, especially in the schools, and that made me especially grateful. Visions of dress codes requiring us to wear white shirts and ties and ride bicycles danced in our heads.
Of course, if anyone should be sensitive to the matter of religious freedom and the utility of church-state separation, you'd think it would be Mormons, since probably no other modern American faith (besides Judaism) has such a clear history of enduring religious persecution. But I think Mitt Romney's Muslim-bashing of a few months ago revealed just how confused the issue is wherever religious conservatism in general can be found.
The modern religious right, which constantly has placed church-state separation under attack (even claiming, with great frequency, that it's a "myth"), really puts my old hometown Mormons to shame, though. I can't tell you how many times in the ensuing years "born again" Christians I've known, swollen with spiritual pride, have questioned whether or not I and others, mostly on the liberal side of the faith equation, are "real" Christians -- often based on narrow doctrinal standards that actually only exist within their own fairly narrow, cultic fundamentalist belief systems.
And when they do, I've thanked God that they don't have the means to force those beliefs down my throat. Yet.
I was reminded of this when reading about the pastor who is demanding that Barack Obama explain the detail of his faith, evidently still suspicious of his "Muslim background":
For his part, Schenck declared that he has no reason not to take Obama “at his word” regarding his Christianity … and then proceeded to question the legitimacy and depth of his faith, saying “The question becomes: How serious, how profound is the religious commitment that Barack Obama has made" considering that United Church of Christ to which he belongs has strayed dramatically from “historical, Biblical Christianity … from historic, moral Christian instruction.” Schenck also says it is interesting that Obama claims to “pray to Jesus” rather than “pray to God in Jesus’ name” and takes issue with Obama’s claim that his views on topics like civil unions and abortion don’t make him any less of a Christian, saying that “he owes the public a further explanation of that and most certainly religious people.”
Actually, he doesn't owe Schenk or anyone else any more explanation than what he's given. Because faith, in the end, has to be an innately private matter, a question of each person's "walk with God," as it were. And no one but God has the right to judge that.
Even the Mormons I grew up with understood that. After all, it's an article of faith for the Schenks of the world that they're not real Christians either.
But you know, I think they're just projecting again.