Defend equality and enlightenment against Catholic bigotry

February 4, 2010 at 12:20 am (Catholicism, Champagne Charlie, Christianity, class, Human rights, James P. Cannon, LGBT, religion, trotskyism)

Pope Benedict’s outrageous attack on the UK’s equality bill and sexual orientation regulations requires a vigorous, uncompromising counter-attack from the serious left, the forces of secularism and all those who support equality and enlightenment. We must certainly support the National Secular Society’s call for protests against the Pope’s planned visit to the UK in September (subsidised by UK taxpayers to the tune of £20 million, by the way).

Sadly, however, much of the British “left” shies away from fighting religion, or defending enlightenment values like the separation of church and state, or proclaiming secularism and atheism (yes, I know: they’re not the same thing, but Marxists should be both). The SWP, to its eternal shame, has in recent years promoted the idea that opposition to religion is an optional extra for Marxists and that Marx himself wasn’t all that militant about atheism in the first place.

Against the background of  much of  the UK “left”‘s present softness on religion, and in the light of the Pope’s attempt to interfere in UK legislation, I thought it would be a good idea to republish the great American Trotskyist James P. Cannon’s 1951 article (from the US Militant), entitled Church and State.

The occasion for Cannon’s empassioned but reasoned article was The Truman government’s breach of the First Amendment (of the US Constitution) by proposing to send an ambassador to the Vatican. This wasn’t a passing whim on Cannon’s part: he wrote no less than three articles in the The Militant in 1951 denouncing Truman’s proposal as (for instance) a “concession to reactionary clericalism.” Noticeably, he even proposed making common cause with the Protestant clergy on this issue: “the Protestant leaders don’t go all the way, but as far as they go it is in the right direction and their fight on this issue is the people’s fight too.” No such alliance is possible in the UK these days, of course, as the craven C of E cowers before the Pope, even when he tries to poach their clergymen.

Anyway, here’s Cannon’s article Church and State:

IT’S A FAIRLY safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite claer to all who have no interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state”.

It means that all religions must operate on their own; that no church is entitled to a privileged position so far as the state is concerned, and has no right to financial support from public funds. Congress is specifically enjoined from “making any law” which infringes this principle. That is how the people of this country have understood the first article of the Bill of Rights; and that is how the highest courts have interpreted it up to now.

All religions claim to operate under the sanction of the Almighty; and with this unlimited power on their side they should have no need of material reinforcement from human institutions, such as the state, in their business of saving souls. The authors of the First Amendment, however, claerly indicated that the people could not trust any church to limit itself to spiritual pursuits and rely entirely on supernatural favor. They all had to be restrained by constitutional fiat from seeking mundane advantages at the expense of rival claimants to the devine certificate of authority. Hence the amendment requiring the separation of church and state.

This doctrine has been subject to persistant encroachment in recent years by one institution in this country which doesn’t believe a word of it. The Roman Catholic  Church, here and now, as everywhere and always, wants temporal as well as spiritual power. They claim the exclusive reservation of all places in heaven, but they want the real estate and money of this world too. By various devices and subterfuges they have been trying, with unwavering persistence and increasing boldness, to get into a preferred position to regulate public morals by police methods and to dip into public funds to support their religious schools.

Their campaign for special privileges has recieved a tremendous impetus from the President’s decision. The constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state is directly under attack in this proposal. Some protest by the Protestant clergy was no doubt expected by Truman and his advisors. But the unanimity, the fervor, and even the fury of this Protestant counter-attack has upset the apple cart. Frozen with fear over the political implications of the Catholic aggression and the Protesatnt uproar, Congress adjourned without acting on the appointment of General Clark as America’s ambassador to the Pope. The issue remains in doubt as the controversy rages from one end of the country to the other.

In some respects the conflict has the aspects of a religious war which can have profound consequences for good and evil. But it is more than that. All the people of this country who cherish the freedoms they have inherited have a stake in the controversy. The leadership of this fight belongs by right to the labor movement, for the trade unions cannot live and breathe without freedom from the control of both church and state. They will not escape eventual  involvement, although the entire leadership is trying to evade the issue in craven silence. The simple truth is that the labor skates are afraid of the Catholic Church, whose cardinals and bishops are already reaching out for control of the unions. Woe to the American labor movement if they succeed!

We Marxists are by definition alien and hostile to each and every form of religious superstition. We believe with Marx that religion is the opium of the people; and we are not Marxists, not genuine socialists, if we do not say so openly, regardless of whether our opinion is popular or not. Our business is not to save souls for another world, but to tell the truth about this one. What, then, have revolutionary socialists to do with this controversy between the churches? Plenty.

The U.S. Constitution in some of its sections sanctifies private property in the means of production. This must be abolished for the good and welfare of the people, and the future Workers’ Government will make the necessary constitutional changes. But in my opinion, one part of the present Constitution will stand: that is, the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) in general, and the First Amendment in particular. The revolutionary people will have no reason to strike or alter that. On the contrary, believing in and needing democracy and freedom, they will treasure it and guard it.

The First Amedment of the Constitution is our amendment: and we must defend it tooth and nail against all aggressions, whether secular or religious. It seems to me not accidental that all the authors of the Amendment linked freedom of worship with free speech and free press in the same sentence. Thereby they clearly indicated that religion is to be considered a matter of opinion, in which each individual is free to choose, and by no means a revelation binding upon everybody. Moreover, “freedom of worship” implies also freedom of non-worship. That’s the freedom I am exercising and I would surely hate to lose it.

Under this interpretation of the First Amendment, free thinkers and atheists, heathens and public sinners, who are very numerous in this country, have a chance to breathe and spread enlightenment without fear of the dungeon and the rack. The First Amendment has been a protecting shield for the Childen of Light and has enabled them to make their great contributions to literature, art and science. A breach in this provision of the Constitution, leading to its eventual repeal, would be an unspeakable calamity aiding and strrengthening the forces of reaction and obscurantism here and all over the world.

The Protestant clergymen are “on the side of the angels” in this dispute, and all friends of enlightement and progress owe them unstinting support.


  1. maxdunbar said,

    Here comes Maria!

  2. Laban said,

    “Sadly, however, much of the British “left” shies away from fighting religion”

    Not Christianity they don’t, to be fair. Only Islam.

  3. voltairespriest said,

  4. Matt said,

    We’ll see when the Pope arrives. Didn’t see too much of the left on the anti-religious hatred law demo in 2005, just Christian fundamentalists who (rightly) wanted to be free to criticise other religions.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    I doubt very much whether there’ll be a giant turnout from the left. For me, it’s not so much the man flying into the UK and driving about followed by a load of cameras that’s the issue, it’s that rather a lot of what he says gives me serious political concern.

  6. shug said,

    Male virgin in a dress don!t that make the mind boggle.Mind you, Jerry Hicks wouldin!t mind the turn out that he going to get.

  7. Max Dunbar said,


    I like the picture of the cat!

    It could be the Shiraz mascot

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Get Out Of Jail Free (if you’re religious), courtesy Cherie Blair:

  9. Jim Denham said,

    From Peter Tatchell, via Sasha Ismail:

    —– Forwarded message from —–
    Date: Wed, 10 Feb 2010 05:30:43 -0500 (EST)
    From: Peter Tatchell
    Subject: Pope protest – London for a Secular Europe

    No Pope, No Vatican – London for a Secular Europe
    Oppose Pope Benedict’s State Visit to the UK
    Stop the Vatican’s crusade against women’s and gay rights
    London – 10 February 2010
    Protest the Pope
    This Sunday 14 February 2010
    Meet at 1pm outside Westminster Cathedral (not Westminster Abbey).
    Victoria Street, London SW1 (near the corner with Ambrosden Avenue)
    March to the Italian Embassy in Grosvenor Square for a rally at 3pm.
    We support:
    · Women’s equality and reproductive rights
    · Equal rights for LGBT people
    · A secular Europe – immune to the Vatican’s agenda
    · One law for all, no religious exemptions from the law
    · State neutrality in matters of religion and belief
    We oppose:
    · European Union collusion with religion (Lisbon Treaty Article 16c)
    · The special status of the Vatican in the United Nations
    · State-funded faith schools
    · The economic privilege and political influence of the Vatican in Italy
    · Taxpayers funding the Pope’s State Visit to the UK this September
    · Misogyny, homophobia, fascism, racism and xenophobia
    Protest against the Pope’s State Visit to the UK
    “We want a secular Europe, where the Vatican and the Catholic church
    cease attempting
    to impose their harsh, intolerant morality on everyone else,” said
    Peter Tatchell
    of OutRage!, who is speaking at Sunday’s protest and assisting with
    its organisation.
    “The Pope opposes women’s rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell
    research, death
    with dignity and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.
    “He wants the Catholic Church to be exempt from equality and
    laws that apply to everyone else.
    “Pope Benedict played a key role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by
    “He has rehabilitated the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson,
    and even
    though Pope Pius XII failed to speak out against the Holocaust he
    plans to make
    him a saint.
    “Given that he opposes universal equality and human rights, Pope
    Benedict should
    not be accorded the honour of a State Visit to Britain.
    “The estimated £20 million cost of the visit will be funded by the
    taxpayer. The
    Pope has already denounced our equality laws. He is likely to abuse
    his presence
    in Britain to further attack our democratically-agreed legislation
    that gives equal
    rights to women and gay people.
    “The Pope has discouraged the use of condoms in countries where HIV
    infections are
    decimating whole populations. Such teachings are irresponsible and
    immoral,” said
    Mr Tatchell.
    Sunday’s demonstration is organised by the Central London Humanist
    Group in partnership
    with the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society,
    One Law for
    All, the Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association, the Rationalist
    Association and
    It is in solidarity with the demonstration happening the same weekend
    in Rome, also
    against the Vatican and its reactionary interference in Italian,
    European and world-wide

    Central London Humanists

    London, GB
    1,932 Central London Humanists

    The Central London Humanist group [CLHG] provides a meeting place for Humanists, the secular, brights and other non religious people, particularly those who live or work in th…

    Next Meetup

    External: Meet editor of International Humanist News – Sange…

    Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014, 5:00 PM
    4 Attending

    Check out this Meetup Group →

    Program of the demonstration:
    – Assemble: 1pm at Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey)
    – March: 2pm – 3pm from Westminster Cathedral to the Italian embassy
    – Rally: 3pm – 5pm at the Italian embassy (Grosvenor square)
    Speakers at the Italian embassy (3pm) :
    * Bob Churchill (British Humanist Association),
    * Derek Lennard (Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association)
    * Maryam Namazie (One Law for All)
    * Gerard Phillips (Protest The Pope)
    * David Pollock (European Humanist Federation)
    * Terry Sanderson (National Secular Society)
    * Peter Tatchell (OutRage!)
    * Josh Kutchinsky (Central London Humanist Group)
    Protest organiser, Marco Tranchino, writes:
    The tiny Vatican State is inhabited mainly by priests. It is extremely
    and its “moral” crusades adversely affect the lives of millions of
    people in Europe
    and across the world.
    Officially part of the UN, its “observer-state” status means it can
    access, influence
    and pressure UN debates on issues such as birth control, abortion and
    No other religion has such privileged UN status.
    The Vatican has diplomatic relationships with almost all the countries
    in the world
    (174 when John Paul II died) and in many EU countries it benefits from
    the support
    of Catholic politicians and, in many cases, of Christian political parties.
    Of the 27 countries of the European Union, 14 are bound to the Vatican
    by at least
    one treaty. No other faith has such political power in Europe and the
    world; prompting
    the Economist to publish an investigation about the diplomatic service
    of the Vatican,
    questioning whether it deserves its special status in the UN (21 July 2007)
    The Catholic Church is an extremely profitable business. It owns
    businesses such
    as hotels, restaurants, shops and private schools and the Vatican
    pays no tax!
    On top of this, the Vatican receives public money in many countries:
    in Italy about
    1000 million Euros in taxes paid to the Vatican every year (991
    millions ? in 2007
    Through its very considerable political, diplomatic and economic
    power, the Vatican
    adversely impacts on the lives of European citizens, and the wider humanity.
    The issue of women’s rights and the Catholic Church goes way beyond
    the hierarchy
    of the church, where women are unable to ascend to priesthood as a
    result of their
    gender. Women who have had a divorce, women who want to have an
    abortion and women
    who are living as single parents in Catholic countries are often
    victims of moral
    intimidation and discrimination. The Pope encourages us to view women
    as unequal
    to men, by consistently and publicly stating that the two genders
    are different
    and that women are naturally inclined to be mothers and
    child-carers. In some Catholic
    countries, like Ireland and Poland, abortion is illegal. In others,
    like Italy,
    the right to an abortion is constantly under threat from the Vatican’s
    on the government.
    The Pope says that being gay is an “objective disorder” and a “moral
    evil”. In nearly
    half the countries in the world, homosexuality is totally illegal and
    by long terms of imprisonment. A proposal for the universal
    of homosexuality was opposed by the Vatican in the UN in 2008. It has
    a long history
    of blocking attempted UN debates on lesbian, gay, bisexual and
    transgender (LGBT)
    human rights; often refusing to condemn homophobia and opposing laws
    to protect
    LGBT people against discrimination. .
    Although Britain is a fairly “secular” society, Christianity still has
    influence in many British institutions and it continues to enjoy
    unfair privileges.
    A limited right to abortion has been granted to women living in
    England, Scotland
    and Wales, but in Northern Ireland it remains illegal. This anomaly is
    due to religious influence, including that of the Catholic Church.
    Christian lobbies
    are engaged in continual efforts to restrict a woman’s right to
    abortion and have
    succeeded in reducing the time limits for an abortion.
    Religion retains undue influence and power in various ways. With
    increasing numbers
    of state funded faith schools (1 in 3 of all schools in the UK is
    either Catholic
    or Church of England), religious institutions continue to exercise an
    on many young people.
    The churches (especially the Catholic church) made sure that the
    proposed EU Constitution
    – and the now approved Lisbon Treaty (article 16c) – dangerously
    commits the European
    Union to “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with Churches and
    organisations”. Why should religious bodies receive this special
    treaty guarantee,
    which is denied to humanists and human rights advocates?
    The state should be neutral in matters of religion or belief.
    No faith should have privileged legal or social status, or special
    access to government
    The beliefs of one group should not be used to limit the rights of others.
    We affirm the common values of the people of Europe as expressed in
    the Brussels
    We want to protect democracy and to champion human rights against
    those who seek
    to retain undemocratic influence and deny equality and protection
    against discrimination
    to others.
    Further information:
    Peter Tatchell, OutRage! – 0207 403 1790
    Protest coordinator: Marco Tranchino – – 07806647903

    Peter Tatchell

  10. Red Maria said,

    Saw it earlier. It’s a sad day when such a respected man as Peter Tatchell joins in with such anti-Catholic filth.

  11. Cathey Kolikas said,

    Excellent article. I absolutely appreciate this site. Continue the good work!

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