Monday, April 23, 2012

On Separation of Church and State

by PLC founder Dan Bimrose;
(This was first published by HuffingtonPost.com here.)

It has become a popular refrain among the religious right that all of our nation's problems exist because there is not enough Christianity in our government and in our schools. If we were only to mandate prayer in schools and arm our teachers with Bibles then certainly all that ails us would be healed. That if only our government were a bit more holy, all of our financial woes would disappear and the hurricanes would cease to blow and the earthquakes would cease to tremble.

The nation of China is currently kicking our proverbial economic behinds and has youth which rank number one in all relevant categories of education. Should we take those facts to mean that China, which is guilty of numerous human rights violations is also holier than thou?

I am a proud unshakeable member of the Christian left, yet I find it amazing that many people refuse to accept this "crazy" notion that government has no role to play concerning religion.

I have a hunch that the same people who believe that this so called recent diversion from God is directly attributable to the present administration in the White House are the same ones who believe that President Obama is deserving of the entirety of blame for the current economic environment.

The 2012 field of Republican presidential candidates included many disciples of the professor of revisionist history, David Barton. Candidates such as Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry use their conservative Christian beliefs as a very effective tool to obtain votes and campaign donations.

All three have overtly stated their opposition to the separation of Church and State through either their words or their actions.

Utilizing the same methods as David Barton to recreate history and rewrite the Constitution of the United States they have taken to the tactics of Fundamental Christians who must find a way to twist themselves into a pretzel trying to justify supporting someone who believes; a person should die if they don't have health insurance, that state sponsored executions are worthy of hearty applause, or that "real" American Republican Presidential candidates stay silent, sacrificing all decency, honor and integrity, when an audience boos an American soldier who is currently risking his life fighting for our country in Iraq for the sole reason that he is gay.

There are multiple sources of information which Christian conservatives can peruse to justify their fever for theocracy. These sources bend over backwards to push the belief that the Constitution only demands that Government stay out of the Church and not the other way around. They venture to the far reaches of their imagination to suggest that every one of our founding fathers intended that our government be subject to the Christian religion. They simultaneously fail to acknowledge that when the founding fathers had the opportunity to make this desire obvious they chose not to do so.

Unfortunately for them the very first Amendment of the Constitution is nothing but clear that there should be a separation of Church and State. "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."

They shout that it does not say separation of Church and State. Who cares? The intent is obvious and the result is the same.

The Supreme Court has often used the words of our third President Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, to help them interpret and enable others to understand the intent of the very first Amendment. Contained in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association from Jefferson were the following words, "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."

Less than ten years after the ratification of the Constitution in the treaty of Tripoli which was initiated by President George Washington, signed by President Adams and unanimously ratified by the Senate were the words,"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ..."

There was no outrage expressed by the populace and no public debate over the painfully clear intent behind the inclusion of such words. Why were there no protests held? For the simple reason that the fact that we are all free to worship as we choose is something to take pride in. Our forefathers had determined that we should all be free, not just some.

They understood that in order to keep the government out of religion that we must keep religion out of government. You cannot have one without the other.

James Madison is often referred to as the father of the Constitution and we find in the Annals of Congress the following statement from Madison: "Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."

The thought occurred to me while contemplating the current state of public opinion, how weak and powerless some Christians must feel about our faith that they must task the Government with spreading the message that most of us have learned in our living rooms and in our churches. It was great comfort to me that another signer of the Constitution, Ben Franklin, expressed the same sentiment. "When religion is good, it will take care of itself. When it is not able to take care of itself, and God does not see fit to take care of it, so that it has to appeal to the civil power for support, it is evidence to my mind that its cause is a bad one."

While some Republican conservatives, such as leader Paul Ryan, express devotion to the currently very popular atheist Ayn Rand and her religion of selfishness, to a one they all also kneel at the altar of Ronald Reagan.

Many Republicans conveniently forget the fact that Reagan gave amnesty to illegal immigrants, raised taxes many times, orchestrated a substantial reduction in nuclear arms and left the nation in more debt than when he got there.

They will also surely look past what President Reagan had to say about the separation of Church and State, "We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief. At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral."

While some may prefer the idealized fiction of David Barton, I prefer the wisdom of Ben Franklin. While some stand behind Michele Bachmann, I shall stand with George Washington. While some look to Rick Perry for guidance, I look to Thomas Jefferson. While some prefer the intolerance of Rick Santorum, I shall enjoy the freedom to worship as I choose guaranteed to me by James Madison.

It is important for all to understand that my opinion in this matter makes me no less a Christian, nor no less an American. I fervently believe in my Christian home and my free nation.

Hoping for a Christian theocracy means you forfeit our democracy which was only created and held together through the tremendous loss of life of many great and brave men.

By mandating that Christianity reign as the sole authority in Washington you will reduce the voice of others to a whisper and will have lost the right to sing the song about the "land of the free."

On Separation of Church and State

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