One of the most important concepts that we have in the United States of America is the separation of church and state.
One of the greatest thing about the United States of America is the separation of church and state. In theory, this was important to our founders because many immigrants escaped religious persecution by coming to the New World. Unfortunately, many of them were perfectly happy with religious persecution so long as it was them doing the persecuting. It took some very smart and forward thinking people to form as the basis or our country the notion that the separation of church and state is vital to a sustainable nation.
We see how important this is now with the current crisis in Afganistan and the Middle East. The Taliban clerics were the state, too. In Saudi Arabia it is a crime to convert to Christianity. We Americans can’t help but look on this as completely backwards ass. We highly value the notion that a person’s faith is their own and that civil matters are entirely separate. Certainly it is not only Muslims (and certainly it is not all Muslims) who favor this sort of dogma. Extremists in almost every religion see non-believers as infidels who must be converted or destroyed. I do not begrudge them their faith and I am outraged that they begrudge me mine. If there is anything we should have learned over the last bloody 4000 years it is that it is impossible to get everyone to agree on anything. It is certainly impossible to convert or kill all those who disagree with your faith. Give it up.
The notion of the separation of chuch and state is under constant attack in America by some religious people. To them, banning prayer in school or the ten commandments from government places makes no sense. They believe that many of the ills in society can be lessened by the appropriate emphasis of their religious morality. I beg these people to reconsider and I can use an example that drives the point home. If you believe that prayer should be allowed in school then you are supporting my right to lead the class in a Satanic prayer. You believe in my right to perform Wiccan ceremonies before the football game. Right? No, no, no, they rush to say. That is taking the concept to an illogical extreme, they say. Their reason, I presume, is somehow based on this notion that most people are not Satan worshipers or Wiccans. They are Judeo-Christians. To me, the flaw of this logic is so obvious. We are not a nation of Judeo-Christians! We, as a nation, allow all religions the same freedoms. You cannot assign to one religion freedoms you do not assign to all religions. This is a good thing and an important thing and is one of the really special things about the good ol’ U S of A. I won’t force you to be a Wiccan and you won’t force me to be a Christian. How can you possibly disagree with that?
I encourage all people to evangelize their faith in whatever ways they deem appropriate with the very strong exception of our public institutions. You do not believe in prayer in school unless you believe in ALL prayer in school, even the ones you deem evil and wrong. You do not believe in posting your religious documents if you do not believe in posting ALL religious documents. If you are very religious you should be more concerned about this, not less. You should not suffer as a minority and you should not persecute as a majority. Only in this way can we keep tragedies like the dumb-ass Taliban* from happening.
The other argument one often hears is that America is based on Judeo-Christian concepts. This may be true. The question is: should it be . Just because we say “so help me God” in court or have “In God We Trust” on our money, is that really an argument that our government should allow expression of Judeo-Christian values but not the values of other religions? Do you really think we have laws against murder because the Ten Commandments say thou shalt not kill? Remember, our founding fathers also had slaves and didn’t allow women to vote (or exercise many other rights). They were not perfect. They were wise enough to state clearly that the United States should not endorse a specific religion. They thought, I assume, that the concept of God was universal. It turns out that is not the case. Many people in this country are uncomfortable with this notion of a state-condoned god. They may be of different religions or no religion. Since religious freedom is constitutional protected, we don’t need a state sponsored god. Our state is secular and that is a good thing.
I personally believe that all states will reach this conclusion. Those that don’t will suffer unending violence until they do. Please be respectful and tolerant all of religions and faiths. Be tolerant of us with no faith. Thank you.
* Some may take the phrase “dumb-ass Taliban” to be hypocritical, as if I am not respecting their faith. It is not their faith I take issue with but the abusive political system they built around it. I encourage all Taliban to evangelize their faith in whatever manner they see fit, short of forcing us non-believers to take part in it. As I have stated, even when you have a vast religious majority it does not, in my opinion, give you any right to persecute those that disagree with you. The Taliban practiced systematic persecution of those they disagreed with and that makes them dumb asses. Q.E.D.
3 thoughts on “Church & State”
Let’s use the time machine to transport Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin to one of those Christian prayer-enhanced football games. Let’s have them speak with the Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu father of a member of the team. This man wants to feel he is a respected member of a community in America, and his son feels the same. How do they feel about that prayer? How do all the christians present feel about them abstaining from a part of this tax-payer funded event; a part about which many feel so passionately? Given an adequate explanation of the situation (which would take awhile…), I believe Jefferson and Franklin would be very troubled by the experience, as I would be. They’d say, “this is not what we had in mind.”
Perhaps it would be difficult, or even impossible to “win over the opinons of a majority of the voters,” but drawing a harder line on the separation of church and state is a very worthy goal, for all the reasons Michael mentioned. If we don’t do this, it’s a slippery slope.
Dan said: “If a large majority of the parents in a school district want to pray before a football game in some little town in the south, then they should have the right. I am still a big fan of the majority making this sort of decision. If its some highschool in Long Island with a Jewish majority, then I would also not be offended by some form of a Jewish prayer. If its some school in Detroit with a Muslim majority, then I have no problem with a Muslim prayer. I know the last two examples are unlikely, but it makes my point. These guys are not hurting anything and they are not offending a christian minority any more than they would be by teaching creationism in school.”
The problem with this is what Thomas Jefferson called “the tyranny of the majority”. The flaw with democracy is that 2 plus 2 doesn’t equal 5 no matter how many people vote for it. You seem to think there is nothing wrong with the majority deciding things and that has gotten this country and the world into grave trouble in the past. Government has to be smarter than the mob.
I heard a story that Thomas Jefferson was going to write “we hold these truths to be sacred” or something like that and Benjamin Franklin convinced him to use “we hold these truths to be self-evident” instead. What a stroke of brilliance. Franklin knew that these rights should not and do not come from god.
We didn’t let the fact that the founding fathers had slaves stop us from stopping slavery in this country. If the separation of church and state erodes in this country, we will be the much worse for it.
First let me say that I also agree with the seperation of church and state, but I do not know if I draw the lines in the same place as you.
We can probably both agree there should be no state sponsored religion. Also no religion should be discouraged unless it involves something harmful such as canabalism (silly example to prove a point). I think we could also agree that no state institution should be run by or tied to a religion. For example, to join the police force you should not have to pass any sort of religious test.
On the other hand, I do not think we have to wipe away any hint of religion in any government function or process. To say we are a secular government does not have to mean we are a government who purges all trace of religion. A secular government is not limited to being a government dedicated to being Godless in all ways.
If a large majority of the parents in a school district want to pray before a football game in some little town in the south, then they should have the right. I am still a big fan of the majority making this sort of decision. If its some highschool in Long Island with a Jewish majority, then I would also not be offended by some form of a Jewish prayer. If its some school in Detroit with a Muslim majority, then I have no problem with a Muslim prayer. I know the last two examples are unlikely, but it makes my point. These guys are not hurting anything and they are not offending a christian minority any more than they would be by teaching creationism in school.
As for the misuse of government property and government funds, lets talk about that for a minute. If the prayer happens at a school, then local sales and property taxes are paying for the bigger part of it anyway. So it if the majority of the local population agrees with the prayer then its ultimately their money that is being used. As for the smaller amount being provided by the federal government, that money is really coming from the top 25% of the taxpayers anyway since the bottom 75% do not put in enough to pay for themselves. So if you are in another state and you hear about some group praying at a football game, then I can assure you none of your money is being diverted to their use of public funds unless you are in the top 25% of income earners. For that reason, it makes me laugh when I hear some athiest with an evangelical outlook on his beliefs who whines about his tax dollars being used for something he does not support.
What about having “In God we trust” on our money? Is that some violation of church and state? I seriously doubt our founding fathers would have thought so. Remember these were not agnostic or athiest people. They certainly were not liberal according to the current definition of the word. They were all wealthy, male, christians of European ancestry. As such, their context for talking about seperation of church and state probably had more to do with not imposing a state religion as we saw in many European countries before our reveloution. They were not saying that a group of people could not have a prayer at a football game. They were not saying that any reference to God must be stricken from our currency and all public buildings. Lets all get a grip hear. If you really are committed to understanding the motives of our “Founding Fathers” then put yourself in the mind of a wealthy, older, white, christian man from 200 years ago and tell me how you think that sort of person would have viewed the seperation of church and state.
Sorry to get on a soap box, but I am tired of hearing people bend the constitution or the intentions of our founding fathers to fit their preferences and prejudices. It reminds me a lot of the evangelical christians who twist the bible to fit their image how things ought to be. Intolerance can take many forms both liberal and conservative.
If you honestly believe that all references to God must be stricken from our government then fine. Win over the opinions of a majority of the voters and make it happen. Just don’t insult my intelligence by telling me your version of a good government was the real intention of the founding fathers.