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What is the Place of Separation of Church and State?
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 14:10
Give the Church a Say
Whenever you look at which issues will be important this election, (gay marriage, women’s issues, health care) it always seems as though religious folks have their fingers in the outcomes. Even on matters which you wouldn’t think religion would have a significant stance on, like the structure of the economy, someone will have something to say from a religious standpoint. The desire of religious people for their beliefs to affect all aspects of society has often resulted in mandated public school prayer, creationism in the classroom, the Ten Commandments on the footsteps of a courthouse and other things which many would find objectionable.
While I believed in a nuanced approach to separation, and that there should be some amount of separation for the sake of both church and state, for the purpose here I’ll confine myself to explaining why, in the issues important to this election, the church ought to have a say in secular affairs.
Perhaps the most fundamental misunderstanding about this issue is the origin of the phrase. Contrary to what many people believe, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not found in the Constitution, but most notably in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in response to an infringement of the state in their religious affairs.
The “wall” Jefferson referred to worked in such a way that no religion would be established as the state religion, as per the first part of the religious clause in the First Amendment, but also left religious practice in all matters up to the practitioners. No say in how religious people could choose to practice their beliefs, so long as that practice conformed to self-evident moral norms, was left to the state. The state was explicitly prohibited from inhibiting any practice or belief otherwise.
Another important point to make is that religious belief, especially when it is it well-reasoned in terms of how practice flows out of belief, is no different than any other belief system and should not be excluded or denounced as a valid foundation from which to act politically. Most religions believe in a sort of natural law which is a reflection of the purpose of life, the purpose for which their God created them. Natural law is something which is understandable and sensible to most people, whether religious or not, and any belief which could reasonably be deduced from its maxims can be disagreed with, but not dismissed as a legitimate belief. This belief in the purpose of human life, toward which all actions should tend, is something which all people have some form of.
No one could prove that any one purpose is the definite purpose, and so determining what that purpose is left up to the best efforts of the individual. If someone determines that belief in a creator, God, and a life directed to God’s purposes are the most likely or best possible worldview to have, that is their prerogative, and they can no more separate that belief from the way they see the world than can a non-religious person keep their view separate. To assert that religion ought to have no place in the public forum is unreasonable, because it can no more be discounted as a reasonable worldview than can a lack of religion.
I suggest that the church ought to have a say in the public forum, as the “wall of separation” was never intended to shut the church out of state affairs, and because asking a religious person to divorce these persuasions from their interaction with secular matters would be impossible and unreasonable. Despite the abuses and oversteps of free exercise, it remains in our Constitution because it is a right and ultimately necessary.
They are Separate for a Reason
A long, long time ago in a country a fair distance away, people were tired of being forced to follow a religion they did not want to follow. So, they broke away from that country and started their own. Those people were what we refer to as “pilgrims” and they formed the country we now refer to as “home.” It is still very apparent today that freedom is a key factor in our every day lives as Americans. We take pride in our freedom and the rights we have because we are citizens of the United States of America.
Freedom is important. Our soldiers risk their lives for it everyday, and it is the reason we have so many rights in our country. We are all so lucky to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom of religion. The last one, it seems, has become a little hazy to many Americans. With issues such as gay rights and the HHS mandate, people seem to think that if the laws made in regards to these issues aren’t supporting Christian beliefs they are restricting religious freedoms. But why are we even making laws about these things? Our constitution states in the Bill of Rights that it will not make laws that respect the establishment or impede the exercise of a religion. Meaning, we will not make laws based on religious beliefs.
Gay marriage is the perfect example of this. How is it possible that people are even considering passing a law that inhibits fellow tax paying Americans from the right to get married? Considering the reasoning behind this amendment is to keep marriage “traditional” in a religious sense makes it even more unbelievable. Our country was founded on freedom. To suggest laws that take away that freedom based on your religion completely undermines the founding fathers’ vision of what America should stand for.
The government makes laws, not the Church. The reasons for that being not all people in America have the same religious beliefs. We do not all have the same lifestyles, traditions or concepts of what is right and wrong either. Not everyone has the same God, or a god at all for that matter. To suggest otherwise is ignorant. The reason we came to America was to ensure religious freedom for all people.