“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The government lacks authority in the realm of individual conscience. The church must keep its distance from matters of state, as faith maintains its independence of reason. These were some of the ideas of John Locke and Pierre Bayle, among others, at the dawn of the Enlightenment. These ideas were instrumental to the drafting of a secular constitution, and eventually the creation of a secular society – America. This secular nation was created despite the fact that the Founding Fathers themselves all embraced some form of religiosity. The first amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1791, strictly forbids the creation of any law respecting an establishment of religion and impeding the free exercise of religion:
“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.”
Today, well intentioned, albeit shortsighted Christian fundamentalists via the Tea Party like 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have expressed disgust at the very idea and necessity of the separation of church and state. Believing firmly that America is a ‘Christian nation’, Santorum declared, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up”, speaking of then senator and presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.“
– John F. Kennedy
The main objective behind establishing these United States as secular was to eschew the very issues that the “religious right” so vehemently advocates. JFK not only understood what the Founding Fathers had envisioned and foresaw, he was the embodiment of it. Himself a Catholic opined, ‘I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.
Despite landmark Supreme Court decisions in cases like McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), Engel v. Vitale (1962), and Abington School District v.Schempp (1963) have been consistent on the prohibition of state-sponsored prayer in schools, some Christians express feeling deprived when constitutionally-based bans have been enforced in schools across the Bible-belt. They proudly protest that they have been allowed to practice sectarian prayers in public all their life so they should continue to flout the highest law of the land, as if a centerpiece of democracy is to foist your beliefs unto others.
Meanwhile, the unconstitutional violations are rampant and mostly go unnoticed. A few are: religious holiday displays on government public property, religious tests for public office, opening government meetings with prayer, and bible distribution in public schools. With a variety of religions practiced in the U.S., spread across hundreds of denominations, and almost 20% of the population who identify as non-religious, whose religion should be allowed in the public domain and on what basis?
“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:5-6 (KJV)
Religion by its very nature is exclusionary and the varied doctrines within each only increase the potential for further exclusion. Minorities and persons of dissenting opinion have no voice in any religion-based society. But, what if the tables gradually or suddenly turned in America? What if the prayers that were allowed in the public domain were Jewish, Buddhist, or even pagan prayers? Imagine for a second if Christians were in the minority? Would Christians feel comfortable when a pagan prayer blares from the loudspeaker at a graduation or a public school football game? How would you as a Christian feel about a dalliance between Mosque and state? Sadly, we don’t have to look very far to see examples of this in the Middle East and other parts of the world where Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam. In these cultures democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and religion, LGBT, and women’s rights are equivalent to blasphemy.
Church and State Costs
Have you ever considered just how much religious institutions cost the United States? Religious tax exemptions cost the U.S taxpayer a staggering $71 billion annually. It was none other than Thomas Jefferson who noted that, “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” From Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists:
“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…”
“…Be it resolved that in America church and state must always be separate, because where all men (and women) are born equal, one religion cannot be held in higher regard than another. Be it resolved also that men of no faith must have similar and equal rights to those of faith, because to deny this would be tantamount to voiding the founding documents, and making a mockery of our nation’s foundation. Let us therefore, condemn the affair between church and state and dissolve this marriage once and for all.”
BONUS VIDEO on Church and State:
Presidential candidate John F. Kennedys major address to a group of Protestant ministers on the religious issue. Many Protestants questioned the ability of a Roman Catholic President to make important national decisions independently of the influence of his church. Senator Kennedy answers those questions before an audience of Protestant clergy, many of whom may believe that he can not.
“John F. Kennedy’s Separation of Church and State Speech”
Rice Hotel, Houston, Texas on September 12, 1960