The Concept of Neutrality

Many people fail to understand the concept of neutrality in church-state relations and I suspect most of these have never given any thought to comparing the various theoretical possibilities which clearly demonstrate it. They seem to believe that anything that fails to support their opinion automatically supports someone else's opinion and I think this is at least partially because they never stop to ponder the situation if the roles were reversed.

Let's examine the case of the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and coinage. When the issue of removing it arises, they see only two options:

(1) Keep the religious motto
(2) Remove the religious motto (and possibly replace it with a secular one)

They view the first option as favoring belief and the second as favoring disbelief. They don't see a neutral option and since there are more believers than non-believers, they argue that the majority should win. The problem is that they don't realize there's a third major option because it receives no support:

(3) Use an anti-religious motto such as “There are no gods”

With the full spectrum under consideration, they can see that the first option favors belief, the third option favors disbelief, but that the second option is truly neutral. It neither supports nor opposes any religious position. That the third option is never presented as a viable possibility doesn't negate its usefulness in demonstrating government neutrality.

The same principle can be shown with the issue of public prayer such as that at football games and city council meetings. The third option in this case would be to open or close the events by saying something like, “Since there are no gods, we have to rely on ourselves.” While I wholeheartedly agree with it, I don't think it would be appropriate to make this kind of statement in an official capacity at a public gathering.

Of course, many people who support government promotion of their religion have no interest in neutrality, but I honestly believe that at least some people who oppose removing religious mottos and public prayers simply need to be educated about the concept of neutrality.



Anonymous said...

It's good to read a post by someone who actually understands the term secular government. I couldn't have said it better myself.

You have made my day. Thank You.


vjack said...

What an excellent point! I'm going to have to remember this one.

nullifidian said...

A great post. It's a shame that you had to explicitly spell out what appears to be blindingly obvious to those of us that understand such things at all.

Clive Esher said...

I would like to call your attention to Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church" by David Ranan.

You can find more information at:

Seamus Breathnach said...

Anyone who lives in a religious society (as I did in the Republic of Ireland), knows full well how totalitarian all decisions are. The Church wins all elections; it appoints most judges, civil servants, army; it owns 93% of the schools; it runs the universities; it promotes courses, even in criminology, where not one person has ever, ever, ever, criticised the church for buggering the children, or the state for paying for their damage....

It has ratlined Nazies, sold children to the US, carved up women's wombs in hospitals, run schools and reformatory schools with the same impunity in respect of its endemic violence, and it has suppressed the will of women entirely.

The only opinion that matters are those sponsored by the Church.. no other opinion matters. And the Angelus that sounds from the National Broadcasting Service daily is testimony to who rules...

A country of hopeless drug-addicts would be more criticial fo their environment.

Seamus Breathnach