It's a shame that in their modern misguided zeal to read the first clause as mandating a complete separation of church and state, liberals do great damage to the second clause and defeat the overarching purpose of both: ensuring religious liberty.
Ever since the so-called Christian right began its organized activism during the 1980s, liberals (and some others) have become increasingly nervous about (and critical of) Christian influence in politics, let alone the public square.
This issue has reared its controversial head during the Republican presidential primary because of candidate Rick Santorum's unashamed and outspoken commitment to his Catholic faith and Christian values. It's not just leftists who are complaining; many on the right are, as well.
For years, there has been an uneasy alliance inside the Republican "big tent," between those who embrace social conservatism and those who would just as soon see it deleted from the party platform. With our anxiety about the national debt, economic issues are naturally at the forefront of people's concerns. Some believe that those who are still articulating social issues in this period of crisis are at least annoying and possibly detrimental to the cause of electing a Republican who can build a wide enough coalition to defeat the primary culprit in America's race to bankruptcy: President Barack Obama.
I think it's a false choice to say that we conservatives must pick between economic issues and social ones. It's also a mistake to believe there is a clear dichotomy between economic conservatives and social conservatives. As I've written before, Reagan conservatism is a three-legged stool -- economic, social and national defense issues -- and the three are compatible and probably embraced by most Republicans.
Our center-right tent is big enough to include libertarians, economic conservatives who either are indifferent to social issues or consider themselves socially liberal, and so-called neoconservatives, who tend to emphasize national defense issues over the other two -- although they might reject that characterization. We all must unite to defeat President Obama.
But with Santorum's rise in the polls, many are expressing their anxiety about his perceived religiosity and are depicting him as a threat to religious liberty.