Freethought San Marcos: A Column
By LAMAR HANKINS
In this inaugural column of Freethought San Marcos, I want to explain what I hope to accomplish by writing a weekly column, and give readers an idea of what they might expect and what they should not expect to find in this column.
Freethinking, or freethought, is a philosophical viewpoint. There are great variations in what freethinkers believe and what ideas are important to them. Generally, though, freethinkers hold to the proposition that beliefs should be formed on the basis of rational processes, such as the application of science and logic, rather than by emotion, authority, tradition, sectarianism, prejudice, conventional wisdom, or dogma.
I chose the name for the column because of a historic connection with German Freethinkers who moved to the Texas Hill Country before the Civil War. I have considered myself a freethinker for many years and came across a reference to this immigration of freethinkers to Texas two years ago while reading Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. Many of these freethinkers lived in or founded New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Sisterdale, Luckenbach, Comfort, and other small towns in our area.
About 1,000 freethinkers moved here to escape political and religious persecution in Europe. They included accomplished doctors, writers, newspaper founders, philosophers, and inventors. One of them had been a personal friend of the German writer and humanist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who died in 1832. One group, killed near Comfort for its freethinking ways, represents a heritage that modern freethinkers should not ignore or forget.
I will try to approach each issue that I write about using the ideals of freethinking listed above. This approach can be seen, I think, in a column published by the San Marcos Mercury a few weeks ago, in which I provided information that led me to conclude that San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz had used public funds without city council authorization to carry out political outreach to clergy and religious leaders in San Marcos for the last four years. This view was supported, in part, by the mayor’s campaign statement in her recent re-election campaign, that she followed God’s will in conducting the business of government. As a strong and life-long supporter of the separation of government and religion, I found the mayor’s conduct inappropriate, unconstitutional, and without legal authority.
While many people believe that religion and government should be intertwined, I find that such involvement of government in religion is contrary to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the establishment clause of the Constitution. That part of the First Amendment prohibits the promotion of religion by all levels of government. I summarized in my earlier column the court’s three-pronged test for analyzing government action that involves religion and found that the Mayor had violated that test.
While it is true that the Constitution does not use the words “separation of church and state,” as one pastor commented about my recent column, the establishment clause of the First Amendment has long been interpreted to mean just that, as its authors apparently intended. While I disagree frequently with the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Constitution, it is not a valid refutation of my assertion that Narvaiz has violated the Constitution to argue that the words “separation of church and state” are not found in that document, since that phrase is an integral part of First Amendment jurisprudence.
It is up to the San Marcos City Council to hold Mayor Narvaiz responsible for her use of public funds to further her theocratic vision of local government. However, based on their general unwillingness to challenge Narvaiz to date, I don’t expect the city council to confront the Mayor about her use of the council’s expense budget in this way.
I have no doubt that those in attendance at these clergy breakfasts gained useful information about what the city was doing, and I said so in my original column. But there are many other community leaders who could have received the same benefits had they been invited to these taxpayer-funded events, including neighborhood association leaders, realtors, scout leaders, youth sports organizers, social service agency leaders, reporters, and many others. Looked at in context, based on what we now know about the mayor, these events cemented the mayor’s relationships with clergy and religious leaders to her sole political advantage.
Freethought is a philosophical, not a political, position. It suits me largely because I am not a political partisan. While I considered myself a Democrat for many years, I gave up that affiliation in 1992 and regularly cast votes for candidates from many parties, as well as independents. Today, freethought embraces adherents of virtually all political and social persuasions, including libertarians, socialists, communists, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, communitarians, and the unaffiliated. It includes capitalists (e.g., Adam Smith and Ayn Rand), free traders, fair traders, consumerists, nationalists, internationalists, isolationists, interventionists, and peacemakers.
American freethinkers, along with many traditional religious adherents, agree in their support of state/church separation based on the belief that if government becomes involved with religion, it will distort religion and interfere with a person’s private religious beliefs, as well as use the government’s power to promote the religious views of the public officials who seek political advantage in taking this direction. The freedom of religion is among those for which this country was founded and is too important to be abused for political gain.
As I write each week, I will try to honor the best tradition of freethinking. I hope my effort will encourage others to respond both rationally and logically, based on reason and evidence, rather than from adherence to dogma, tradition, or emotion. My ethos, whatever your response, is that we should disagree amiably and try to persuade others, following the freethought tradition. I will do my best to follow these ideals.Email | Print