I got into a debate with someone who supported the National Endowment for the Arts. I asked him if he believed in the separation of church and state. They said, "yes." I asked him if it would be acceptable use of NEA funds to create a ten foot crucifix and put it up in a public park. He said, "no, because that's religious based and violates the separation of church and state." I then asked him why Christo's "Piss Christ" could be funded by the NEA. If the separation of church and state means the NEA can't support a religious viewpoint, doesn't it also mean they can't insult a religious viewpoint?
Backed into a corner, he could not admit that his viewpoint of the first amendment was that it was okay to silence speech with which he disagreed, but to fund speech of which he was supportive. He kind of lamely said, "Well, if you put stuff like Piss Christ out of the way, all the NEA could fund would be stuff so banal it would be meaningless. I posited that the NEA should be eliminated, and Art should be funded by those who wished to support it, not by taxpayers who were often offended by the art for which they were paying. Of course, this got back to goring his ox. The NEA sent money to him. He couldn't find someone who would pay their own money for his work. Therefore, the NEA was good, cause it gave him money.
“Another point to this is that previously government had small and limited reach. Now, it reaches into everything.”
Yes, exactly. Small government and individual liberty were the reason Christians were free to believe and practice their religion wherever and whenever they liked.
Your discussion about the NEA is a good illustration. Positively or negatively, government involvement with religion will always be detrimental (and of course that’s true for the arts as well).
Your last is a bit of a tale on what has happened to the character of American people, I’m afraid. People will sacrifice any principle for money. Not much hope I’m afraid.