Separation of Church and State

I haven’t blogged about any of this in a while for a few reasons. First, the election is over, and I was hoping everything would die down. While it has a little, the fight to preserve traditional marriage continues. And frankly, I got a little worn out. I don’t like arguing with others. I don’t like when people are angry. I know this is a sensitive issue, but I still wish we could all just talk about it calmly and, even if we just aren’t going to see eye to eye, accept that we have different opinions and that’s okay.

But I decided to start writing about this again, because it’s still very important to me. One thing that I keep hearing about that is indirectly related, is the issue of separation of church and state. Opponents of California’s prop 8 keep arguing that it was unconstitutional for Mormons (among MANY other religious groups) to work together in support of an issue they felt strongly about. Our country’s laws do permit any agency to work together in regards to issues. Churches can promote issues, but not individuals.

But what about separation of church and state, you say? Well, there’s a very vital piece of information that people tend to forget about the concept of separation of church and state.

It’s just that, a concept.

There is no law concerning separation of church and state.

The First Amendment simply states that Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereofmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” All that means is that they cannot force people to practice or forsake any particular religion. That’s why so many people left Europe in the first place – they wanted to practice a religion other than the state religion, free from the persecution which dogged them in Europe.

There is no law that says you can’t practice religion in public. There is no law that says you can’t pray in public for fear of offending others. There is no law that says a public official can’t mention God for fear of offending someone.

The idea of separation of church and state mostly comes from the philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and John Locke. (See the great wikipedia article on the subject here.) My favorite part in the article is this wonderful quote from Jefferson:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

He’s praising the First Amendment because it protects each individual’s right to worship how he pleases. It PROTECTS OUR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. Religion was that important to the founding fathers; they made sure our right to worship was one of the first things addressed in the constitution. By prohibiting people from expressing their religious beliefs in public, I believe we are stripping ourselves of our religious rights. Schools can’t have Christmas trees, public prayer is now a shameful thing, and heaven forbid you ask someone not to take the name of the Lord in vain. How come they can offend me as much as they want by swearing and using offensive language toward the God I love, but I can’t offend them by mentioning that very same God in a positive context?

Back to the issue at hand… The 1st Amendment DOES mean that a public official cannot use his or her office to promote a specific religion, or force others to believe it. Expressing one’s beliefs, however, is not necessarily promoting them.

If I’m a teacher, and one of my kids asks me about my religion, and I say, “I believe in God and His Son, Jesus Christ,” are you turned into a believer? Of course not. It simply informs you of my beliefs.

If I said, “I believe that God will strike you down right now, if you don’t bow down and pray to Him,” then that would, in my opinion, be crossing the line. That’s threatening, forcing my beliefs on others.

In my opinion, this is part of what’s wrong with modern America. In our eagerness to avoid giving offense to – let’s admit it – the minority of Americans who do not believe in God, we strip ourselves of our rights to worship. Judges have used the phrase “separation of church and state” so frequently, in justifying their case rulings, that they have, in essence, created a new law, one that our lawmakers never intended. Judges are not intended to make laws, but to interpret them. (And legislators aren’t supposed to influence judges by telling them that they disagree with the laws the people just voted on. We DO believe in separation of powers, but hey, who cares about that part? Not our judges or legislators, evidently.)

Publicly elected officials are now scared to death to do anything that might be construed as religious, because they might get slapped with a lawsuit, and they might not get re-elected – the most terrible fate on earth, I know. In our society’s eagerness to be “politically correct,” we avoid any semblance of religion, including many “old-fashioned” values that seem too closely related to our Christian roots. And this is where the whole issue ties into prop 8 – our society has decided that it’s unfashionable to believe in being modest, honest, chaste, and polite, or anything else having to do with the Ten Commandments. It’s too religious. And heaven forbid we should use that freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.

Unless, of course, your religion is Atheism. Because even believing that there is no God is a religion. It’s a way of looking at the world, and it informs your choices and beliefs. It’s different than 99% of the religions out there, so we tend to forget that it’s a religious way of life too. By not allowing those of us who believe in God to admit it in public, we are forcing the religion of Atheism on our country.

Where’s that idea of separation of church and state when you need it? Maybe I should go protest down at the courthouse.

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