Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Separation of Church and State

On his show "Real Time with Bill Maher", the aforementioned Bill Maher mentioned that in order to be considered a liberal, one had to stand up for liberal principles. Among the principles he mentioned was the separation of church and state, a principle that is often very misunderstood in this country. If believing in this principle makes one a liberal, than I am extremely liberal because this idea is part of what makes America the greatest nation on Earth.

When hearing this principle, some extreme religionists say this does not mean that religion cannot play a role in government, while the non-religious want no mention of God or religion in the public square and want it left in the churches. Both of these ideas are right, and both are wrong. Allow me to explain

First, the term "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the document we call the Constitution, but the principle behind it is. The first amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"

So, what does that mean? Simple: It means that United States cannot have an official state religion, but also guarantees that those who reside here can practice (or not practice) any religion that they desire. It is not at all implied that those who hold office or run for office must leave their faith at the public squares edge, but it does mean they cannot force it upon others when they are elected.

The man who coined the term "Separation of Church and State" was a hero of mine, the great Thomas Jefferson. He wrote the term while writing a letter to the Danbury Baptist's, who at the time were being attacked by Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut.  He said "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 and State."

So, what is Mr. Jefferson saying? If I understand words correctly, then he is agreeing with my position. He said that the government can only interfere with the actions of religion, not beliefs., and that there can be no official religion in this country. That is all that the separation of church and state means: Government cannot take over the churches, and churches cannot take over the government. As long as that happens, neither the religionist or the non-religionist has room to complain.

2 comments:

  1. Agreed! So much misunderstanding today about the term "separation of Church and State".

    ReplyDelete
  2. Agreed! So much misunderstanding today about the term "separation of Church and State".

    ReplyDelete