Secularism must be the most misunderstood and mangled ism in the American political lexicon. Commentators on the right and the left routinely equate it with Stalinism, Nazism and Socialism, among other dreaded isms.
In the United States, of late, another false equation has emerged. That would be the groundless association of secularism with atheism. The religious right has profitably promulgated thismisconception at least since the 1970s.
More recently politicians such as Newt Gingrich have gleefully fostered this confusion. During his raucous, unforgettable 2012 presidential run, the former Speaker of the House fretted that his grandchildren were poised to live in "a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."
Claiming that secularism and atheism are the same thing makes for good culture warrioring. The number of nonbelievers in this country is quite small. Many Americans, unfortunately, harbor irrational prejudices toward them. By intentionally blurring the distinction between atheism and secularism, the religious right succeeds in drowning both.
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