Thursday, June 23, 2011

Do we have separation of church and state?

Today I’m addressing another constitutional issue: the Separation of Church and State.

Sounds like an easy concept, right? Not to mention one of the foundations of our country and something that everyone should follow and believe in, right?

Wrong on both accounts.

Separation of church and state starts with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that the government cannot pass laws that establish a religion. One of the main ideas behind this is that a person should not be taxed to support a religion that they don’t believe in. However, the current view of the Establishment Clause is not a wall that firmly separates government from religion. Instead it is the view of the Supreme Court that such a separation is hostile to religion and limits the ability of the majority to govern as it wishes.

As a result – religious monuments are allowed on government property (see Van Orden v. Perry); religious schools can receive government aid (see Mitchell v. Helms); and our pledge of allegiance contains the words “under God”, an issue that the Supreme Court just declined to review.

However, it is law that you can’t have school prayers, a fact that has been confirmed by the Supreme Court in several cases. So that’s something at least.

My thoughts: I feel like this should be simple – church and state should be separate. However, I can see the Supreme Court’s point that denying any aid to religious organizations (especially ones that run programs that help the community) could be seen as hostile. So there’s definitely an issue there, one that isn’t really solvable. But I definitely disagree with the concept that strict separation does not allow the majority to rule as it wishes. If we allowed that we would (1) be a theocracy not a democratic republic and (2) no better than any other country where the majority has imposed its beliefs on the rest of the population. The second point is kind of the reason this country even started, right? The Puritans were persecuted in England because they were not of the majority religion. And considering that about 10 percent of the current American population is descended from those first 20 families who came here to find the freedom to practice their own religion and not a state established religion, one would think that more people would advocate separation of church and state. And yes, I do realize that the Puritans then established their own state religion, but my point is this – the majority should not be allowed to rule under their own religious dictates because to do so violates the rights of the minority.

In closing, I’m a Christian, but the fact that the pledge of allegiance contains the words “under God” is wrong to me. This is not a theocracy, we are not a nation under God. But nothing is going to change unless the Supreme Court reviews the problem. And even then, the current court would probably keep the phrase anyway.

Information used in this blog was taken from the book "The Conservative Assault on the Constitution" by Erwin Chemerinsky and from Americans United for Separation of Church and State's blog.

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