A Secularist in the No Spin Zone

This is a partial transcript from "The O'REILLY Factor," April 5, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST:  In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, the war between secularists and traditionalists in America.  As you know, we are covering that hard.

And as you may know, I am a traditionalist, one who believes this country was founded on Judeo-Christian philosophy and is the better for it.  I base my opinion on the research I've done on the Founding Fathers and their constitutional debates, research that you can read in my book "Who's Looking Out for You."

Now a minority of Americans disagree with me, and they are called secularists, those who want most vestiges of spirituality removed from the public discourse.

With us now is Susan Jacoby, the author of the book "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism."  Ms. Jacoby is an atheist.  We don't hold that against you, even on holy week.

SUSAN JACOBY, "FREETHINKERS" AUTHOR:  And the first night of Passover, let's not forget that.

O'REILLY:  Yes, Passover tomorrow.  And then Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter on the weekend.

Now, the Pledge of Allegiance, you want it -- "under God" out, I'm sure, right?

JACOBY:  I believe it's unconstitutional, because there's a lot of compulsion for children.  I have to say, however, that the pledge, because I believe assaults on separation of church and state much more important are going on now, the pledge is probably not my No. 1 concern.

O'REILLY:  Not.  But if you were in charge, you'd knock it out?

JACOBY:  Yes.  Since it's only been around since 1954, as you know.

O'REILLY:  We all know that.

JACOBY:  No.  Most people think it's been around forever.

O'REILLY:  Ms. Jacoby, you're on The Factor here.  This is a very educated audience; they're up to speed.  You don't have to explain things like that, all right?

How about federal holiday of Christmas, would you revoke that?


O'REILLY:  You'd leave the federal holiday of Christmas?

JACOBY:  No.  It's celebrated by so many religions in so many different ways and by secularists in a secular way, that...

O'REILLY:  You'd leave that alone?

JACOBY:  I'd leave it alone.

O'REILLY:  All right.  How about "in God we trust" on the coinage?

JACOBY:  Oh, I suppose if you thought that was important, I would say it doesn't belong on the coin and since it's only been around since the Civil War.

O'REILLY:  So you would knock that out if you could?

JACOBY:  Yes, but it's not a big issue for me.

O'REILLY:  OK.  Now, do you dispute the fact that the Founding Fathers wanted spirituality in the public arena?  Do you dispute that?

JACOBY:  Oh, yes, I do.  I think that many of the Founding Fathers were religious, though they were not traditionalist religious of their day.  Most of them -- a lot of them were deists.

But what's more important to me than what their personal beliefs were, because they had a whole range of personal beliefs.  Many were very religious, as you've said.  Many were not at all religious, like Jefferson, and were called infidels and atheists, although in fact he wasn't.

But what the Founding Fathers agreed on in the Constitution is that religion and government should be separate, that people were free to express their religious beliefs...

O'REILLY:  We all know that.  Religion and government.  But not spirituality is different from religion.

Now, have you read the letters between Madison and Jefferson?  There are voluminous letters.

JACOBY:  Yes, I have.

O'REILLY:  OK.  Did you notice in the letters that there's an awful lot of spiritual talk about how we are guided by, you know, an omnipotent force?  Did you pick that up?

JACOBY:  Providence.

O'REILLY:  Providence.  Very good, Ms. Jacoby!  So you picked that up?

JACOBY:  I not only picked it up, I read it.

O'REILLY:  Then how can you dispute that the Founding Fathers wanted spirituality in the marketplace?  How can you dispute that?

JACOBY:  They wanted it in the marketplace of ideas, Bill.

O'REILLY:  Yes, in ideas.

JACOBY:  Not in the marketplace of running the government.  In other words...

O'REILLY:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is an idea.  It doesn't influence policy in any way, shape, or form.

JACOBY:  That -- That's not true.  When children are compelled to say something -- for instance, if I have a child and a child says "under God," that child is being made to recite in a public school something that says to me my beliefs are wrong.

O'REILLY:  But they don't have to.  They don't have to recite it if they don't want to.

JACOBY:  You and I both remember school.  Saying that children don't have to do something.  In a school which I support with my tax dollars, I don't think God belongs in school.

O'REILLY:  All right.  But you must see that there's no policy involved with "under God."  It is a thought; it is an idea.  And if your child doesn't want to say it, that child doesn't have to say it.

Now the point of your book is...

JACOBY:  If my child wants to be made fun of by teachers and other students.

O'REILLY:  Well, kids will make fun of all the time.  I was made fun of things continually because I was a contrarian and didn't say things that I didn't want to say.  Lessons to be learned from that.

Now, the point of your book is that secularism is good.  OK?  And I kind of agree with you that I don't want the government telling me or anybody else what religion to practice.  All right?  And that's what it comes down to, a specific religion cannot be endorsed by the government.

In what other ways is secularism good?

JACOBY:  Secularism and good, I think, for instance, we can see, we've -- the world today, every government which has been closely involved with religion, it has never done good for people.  Why secularism...

O'REILLY:  That's not true.

JACOBY:  Why secularism is good is not only for secularists.   Secularism has been great for religion in this country.

Probably one of the main reasons we have a more active religious life than they do in Europe, which is more -- no...

O'REILLY:  Let me rebut that.

JACOBY:  ... which is because we had separation of church and state in which the government was over here and...

O'REILLY:  OK.  OK.  Ms. Jacoby, you just made a tremendously erroneous statement that I want to rebut, and then you can rebut me.

Religion has been a civilizing force in this world.  Do you remember the Dark Ages (search) when everything broke down and the Roman Empire (search) went out of business and the Huns (search) and Visigoths (search) took over?

Well, order was only restored when the Catholic Church began to keep records and began to build up a structure.

Now madam, if you're going to tell me it was better under the Huns and the Visigoths then than it was under a structural church I mean, come on.

JACOBY:  Now, sir, if you're going to tell me that it's better when the church was -- had absolute control over European states, was free to perpetrate the crusades, pogroms (search) against Jews and all of that, if you're telling me that that's better than the American government...

O'REILLY:  I'm not.  I'm telling your that you definition of religion has always been oppressive is wrong...

JACOBY:  When it's allied with government and political power.  Not by itself.

O'REILLY:  Let me ask you another question.  Secular society has taken deep root in Europe, all right?  Spain is the latest and the church going is now at record lows.  Is that a good thing?

JACOBY:  That's not the right question.

O'REILLY:  That's the question I'm asking, madam.  Is it a good thing?

JACOBY:  I don't think it's a good or a bad thing, as long as there's not a relationship between church and state, but the reason...

O'REILLY:  So you don't know whether it's a good thing?

JACOBY:  Anything that people want to believe themselves, as far as I'm concerned...

O'REILLY:  Church going has declined in a secular state: good or bad?

JACOBY:  I don't see it as a bad thing, no, but the reason it's happened is -- Spain in particular is reacting to 600 years of the most oppressive -- no, but that's important.

O'REILLY:  That may be true, and it may be because children now don't have any structure at all, they can do what they want.  And they're not responding to spirituality because they don't even know about it.

Anyway, you've...

JACOBY:  Do you like the word "spirituality?"

O'REILLY:  I do.  I'm a spiritual person, and you can tell.

JACOBY:  I like Catholic, Protestant, Jew and atheist better than that nebulous "spiritual."

O'REILLY:  Many thanks for coming in.  We appreciate it.

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