The Separation of Church and State: When Walls Tumble Down

The Separation of Church and State: When Walls Tumble Down

“. . . a republican form of government, in a rule of the people, by the people, and for the people.” ~ US Constitution

Hey wait a second! You don’t come to Spicie for civics lessons, but this is a lesson that does apply to not only women, but men. The separation of church and state is often widely misunderstood and at times even willfully misinterpreted, but it is central to the manifest destiny of women in America at this very moment. Let’s not pretend that there are no politicians that use their personal religious beliefs as the basis for how they vote on legislation that directly impacts everyone. Let’s not pretend that the US was founded solely on Christian beliefs and only to serve those of that belief system. The 1797 treaty of Tripoli clearly states that “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;”, we can see see this is true.

Initially, the separation of church and state was created, in theory prior to law, to ensure that people would have the right to pursue whatever religion they wanted to without interference from the government or the establishment of a state endorsed religion. While the colonies were based on secular faiths when established, this was seen to be counterproductive by men such as Roger Williams and later James Madison and most famously Thomas Jefferson.

 

US Constitution

This was a two way road, however, by the time the Constitution was being drawn up. The founding fathers realized that protecting religion from the government was beneficial to the people, but protecting government from religion was equally essential. Should religion, any religion, be used as a tool for governance, eventually it would be imposed upon those who did not believe in it and usurp their rights as citizens removing any shadow of freedom of worship. In essence, you could not have one without the other.

In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court wrote in their decision “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” This was echoed in Engle v. Vital (1962) regarding  officially-sponsored prayer or religious recitations in public schools. This was done on the basis of a prayer that was created by governmental officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. This particular case is important to remember.

After the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman case, the Supreme court devised what is still know as the “Lemon Test.” It is the third part of this test we need to pay attention to in particular which states “policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.” Keep this along with the Engle v. Vitale case in mind as we move to the current day.

 

Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA)

We have a number of elected officials that are introducing, trying to pass or in some cases passing, legislation which crosses the lines of these two benchmarks discussed above. Some are brazen like Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) in publicly stating he uses to the Bible as the litmus test for the manner he operates as an elected official; “But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, DC, and I’ll continue to do that.”

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romeny stated “. . . there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.” What does that say for those who are not Christian, but rather Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or any other faith system – can their conscience not be a force for good as well? What about people that don’t subscribe to any faith system – is their conscience not capable of being a force for good? Are Christians the only ones with a conscience capable of knowing enough to care for the less fortunate? Taken in any context you want, it speaks volumes about the man to only focus on Christianity being equated with good.

Even president Obama is on the record as saying that “As a husband, as a father, and as president, my faith helps me to keep my eyes on the prize and focus on what is good and truly important.” That is worrisome if, and only IF, he uses his own religious beliefs to create policy that all people in the US must live under. To this point, he has not. If anything, he has almost gone out of his way to avoid it.

Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic that has voted against every piece of legislation that has crossed his hands regarding reproductive rights (aside from early term abortions to save the life of the mother) has used his faith to inform how he votes, even stating in a recent campaign stop in Pennsylvania, “I’m happy to be clinging to guns and religion.”

This is important because we have politicians on both sides of the aisle (And in-between in a couple cases) that are voting on measures that effect every single one of us based on their religious beliefs. While it is predominately members of the GOP, it is not their domain alone.

Does this play into how abortion is legislated? Yes

Does this play into how birth control is legislated? Yes

Do both of these issues have a direct impact on every single American woman that is fertile? Yes. Over and over again, YES!

 

Not all politicians keep this clearly in mind once assuming office

The argument made by one of our former, more prolific Facebook visitors, is that we have it all wrong. The problem with government is not that politicians use religion as the basis for how they vote, it is that they don’t do it enough. He and others have pointed to the atheists in government making religion (Only Christians were ever referenced though) do horrible things against their conscience. They believe that government is forcing Christians to pay for abortions and provide birth control so people can have sex and abortions over and over again. Despite being asked time and again, none could ever tell us who these government atheists were – not one single name – just some mystery cult that is determined to destroy religion.

Here are the real facts:

There is such a thing as the religious conscience clause that exists within our laws. What that states is that no house of worship can be forced to do such things as provide employees with health care plans that cover abortions or birth control. That, however, does not extend to the employees at their schools, hospitals or working in their charitable arms. The bulk of these have been in place since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 and state something to the effect of “Conscientious objection in health care is the refusal to perform a legal role or responsibility because of moral or other personal beliefs.”This DOES apply as stated above to houses of worship as their providing insurance which covers abortions or birth control have been covered under this provision.

Since the passage of Roe v. Wade and the formation of religious conscience clauses, not all states have allowed them to the same degree. The argument is that Obamacare is forcing churches to provide access to coverage for abortions and birth control. Not so, as stated above. The January 20, 2012 announcement by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius clearly stated that the exemption is still in place for “churches and houses of worship, but not for other religious institutions such as hospitals, universities and charities.”

Why is that? The primary reason is those institutions do benefit from tax dollars whether they be payments from Medicare, receiving money from school vouchers or government sponsored/backed grants and/or loans and exemptions from taxes for monies collected through their charitable arms operated from outside of their house of worship as well as other considerations. In those ways, they do receive special considerations and tax dollars that have been collected from people of all faiths and therefore they should not be allowed to discriminate against those people. If they don’t like it, they always have the option to opt out. It really is that simple. Some have gone that route.

 

Image from Seniors For A Democratic Society

We at Spicie are not against Christianity or any religion. We believe faith is a good thing. It does help a great many people who are in need to have a higher power to turn to. We are, however, opposed to our elected officials using their religion to dictate policy, or try to at least. We are opposed to it because we are not living under a national religion that the state has chosen for us and we don’t want to. We don’t want to see a person forcing religion upon anyone. Period.

When we allow our elected officials to start using their faith as the litmus test for everything and it is shaping policy, as it is right now in regard to reproductive rights, we are afraid. We are very afraid and we are angry. When we allow religion to be used to form a policy, any policy, we open Pandora’s box. We make it easier for the next time and the time after that until we are living under the rule of whatever religion is capable to take political control at any given time. That is when faith is dictated to us, and faith is not something that should ever be dictated. It is something that is supposed to exist between a person and their higher power alone.

So even if you are not in favor of an issue such as legal abortion or readily available birth control based on your religious beliefs, you should damn well be afraid of it ever being legally marginalized based on religious beliefs. It is a slippery slope. Next, it may be telling you that you need to take on as many wives as you can support and to have children with each one of them – or be one of those many child bearing wives. It may be telling you that you can’t eat bacon or shellfish or that you need to send all the women in your house away when they are “unclean” during their period. Maybe it will tell you that you need to execute your son, daughter, sibling, parent or spouse for being a homosexual – maybe you would be the homosexual in question even. When we use religion to legally dictate who can and cannot do something that does not subscribe to that religion, we have crossed the line that separates church and state and we have flouted all that our founding fathers held true.

 

Believe it or not, we are mingling the religious beliefs of our politicians with law in a manner that is dangerously close to, even crossing in some opinions, excessive entanglement and breaching the wall that keeps the church and state separated for the good of all. So, if you do plan to cast your votes based solely on your faith, think for a moment – how would I feel if legally compelled to abide by the laws of a religion I do not believe in? If you don’t like the idea of that, don’t vote in a manner that forces someone else into that position. Celebrate your faith and hold it in your heart, but don’t force someone else to do the same.

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  1. Tracy says:

    Thank you for this well written explanation of why separation is so important. So many don’t understand that it protects U.S. citizens to have the freedom of choosing a religion without interference of the government. I get it, I wonder why others don’t?

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