There is indeed an outspoken group of secular liberals who oppose any manifestation of religion in the public sphere because they are suspicious of religion in general, and their views are Constitutionally protected. But most liberals (and many conservatives) fret about the separation of church and state because they want to protect the free expression of religious views. Conservatives might scoff at this as an over-reaction, and perhaps it is, but for most liberals it's a view born out of a love of religious freedom.

They Feel Under Assault

With conservatives controlling the House, Senate, White House, and Supreme Court -- and Christians accounting for 83% of the population -- it's hard for liberals to understand how conservative Christians can feel persecuted or under attack. But religious conservatives look at this way: they have clear beliefs about what is right or wrong. They think homosexuality is wrong, for instance. They turn on the TV and see it treated as morally okeedoke, and there's nothing they can do about it. They may have the numbers but they nonetheless feel powerless against a popular culture that doesn't seem to share their values, and in the face of aggressive judges who impose their will over the objections of state legislatures.

Family Values Are Revered

Telling someone they are against "family values" is not far from telling them they're bad parents. Most liberal parents (like most conservatives) spend most of their days thinking not about politics but about how to raise good kids. It's probably not worthwhile to try to figure out who is better at it but these statistics ought to at least pour cold water on conservative self righteousness on this point: of the 10 states with the highest divorce rates, ten of them voted for Bush. Of the 10 states with the lowest divorce rates, 9 of them voted for Kerry. And the state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation? Massachusetts.

They Believe American Culture Has Become An Insult to God

Liberals look at the fervor of the anti-gay marriage movement and wonder: why do they care so much? Are they just obsessed with sex? What that fails to understand is that for many religious conservatives the stakes could not possibly be higher. They believe that in condoning legalized abortion or gay unions or even out of wedlock heterosexual sex, America is messing with morality as outlined in the Bible and so attacking God. As anyone who takes the Old Testament seriously knows, the consequences of that could not be more enormous.

On both sides, discourse now moves swiftly from disagreement into demonizing, from contrast to caricature. The worst motives are always assumed. Both camps have polemicists who win popularity, ratings, and book sales by devising ever more clever ways of ripping the eyelids off their opponents. We all know the visceral satisfactions of hanging out with our home-team blogs and watching the TV or radio stations that fit our worldview. Our politicians and pundits happily supply us with the voodoo dolls and the pins. But we'd be smarter not to use them.

I'm not saying the conflicting values aren't profound and important. But I am saying that if we choose to find the legitimate underpinnings of our ideological opponents' arguments, we can. It may not be as much fun, but it is more patriotic.