Speaking at this panel were:
Melody Barnes, Senior Fellow and Director, Faith and Progressive Policy Project, Center for American Progress
Samuel Casey, Executive Director, Christian Legal Society
Chip C. Lupu, Associate Dean and Professor of Law, The George Washington Law School
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Melissa Rogers, Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy, The Wake Forest University Divinity School
Chip Lupu started the discussion by posing two questions to the panelist:
Does the Constitution constrain the actions and purposes of the government and governmental officials to be secular?
Is the requirement of secularity hostile to religious faith, supportive or friendly religious faith or does it stand neutral to religious faith?
Judge Reinhardt open panel saying that he had a simple answer--when it comes to public policy, there is not a false dichotomy between secularism and religion it is a constitutionally mandated one. He had added that this nation provides the highest respect for religion and religious beliefs, but the constitution is godless. It does not mention god, nor does it declare a national religion. "It was not an oversight that god is not in the Constitution," Reinhardt argued. He explained that the founding fathers believed that, "religion had no place in government, and the government had no place in religion."
Following Judge Reinhardt's comments, Melissa Rogers echoed and continued some of his comments by arguing that the framework of the first amendment was established to deny the government a role in religion. Rogers said the "government neutrality in religion" forbids the state from promoting religion as truth, but also prohibits the government from declaring a religion false. Essentially, the government cannot advance or inhibit religion. Religious liberty and religion have been made stronger because the Supreme Court shared this ideal and that separation between the church and state has continued to be protected, according to Rogers. Rogers warns that we can no longer rely on the courts as a backstop to protect this separation. She claims that progressives need to develop a vision that advocates both the protection of liberty and religion. She added that progressives must work to ensure that the government does not place burdens on the practice of religion, and, at the same time, we must stop expecting the government to promote our faith and claiming discrimination when the government does not promote our faith. Rogers summed things up by arguing, "religion is far too precious for the government to meddle with."
Melody Barnes opened her comments by declaring, "secularism and religion are not natural enemies." In discussing "Justice Sunday" and Bill Frist's involvement in the daylong event that argued that the filibuster in judicial nominations was being used against people of faith. Barnes exclaimed that there is nothing wrong with officials expressing their views as informed by their faith, but it is troubling when religious and political figures use religious institutions to fan the flames of division between religious groups. Barnes continued that the flames are being further fuel by the rhetoric from some religious groups that claim that secular groups, including the government, are "taking away our faith." She fears that the arguments are creating a vast us vs. them divide. Barnes said that, historically, we must remember that religious and secular communities have worked closely together on civil rights, the environment, peace, and poverty. She suggested that, by embracing this history, we can return to a common ground between religious and secular groups to achieve many advances on the social front. Barnes concluded by charging progressives with the responsibility to do at least two things. First, Barnes argued that we must make clear to the public and the press that there is not one acceptable view of religion, and second, that we must look at our own progressive table to make sure that we are making room for persons of faith. Barnes suggest that the ultimate question in exploring the separation of church and state is whether we, as Americans, would trade a system of separation of church and state that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly.
Samuel Casey spoke mostly about the role that his organization, the Christian Legal Society (CLS), has played in Supreme Court jurisprudence through the filing of amicus briefs in almost every case that has first amendment religious implications. Casey said that the CLS is friendly to faith and freedom and that his organization strives to preserve religious freedom so that its lawyers and members can remain free to do God's will. He believes that the state has no higher duty than to protect the free exercise of religion. Secularist and religionist do not need to be on opposing sides, according to Casey, and that the free exercise and separation clauses of the first amendment need not clash.