In the cloud of dust that passes for public rhetoric these days, few epithets can stir up passions as quickly as accusing an opponent of being a “secularist,” or some variant of the term. To middle-of-the- road folks, to embrace secularization is to be vaguely un-American, or at best irreverent. For religious conservatives, of course, it is the red flag that can send them stam peding to the ballot box, and thus it has become a favorite flourish for campaigners.
A prime example was Mitt Romney’s highly touted speech on religion in December, in which the Republican candidate sought to allay suspicions about his own Mormonism by projecting himself as a defender of faith — any faith at all, as long as it was not what he derided as “the religion of secularism.”
Romney’s blast was loud, but hardly unusual. In a commence ment address at Liberty University last May, Newt Gingrich eulogized the university’s founder, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, by lamenting “a growing culture of radical secularism” that Falwell battled to the end. “In hostility to American history,” Gingrich said, “the radical secularist insists that religious be lief is inherently divisive and that public debate can only proceed on secular terms when religious belief is excluded.”