Thursday, April 14, 2005

Separation of Church and State

A few years ago while we were waiting for the crowd to thin out after a U of Nebraska football game, a random woman nearby expressed shock at the actions of a group of players (from both teams). They were kneeling in prayer, right there on the football field, on public property. "How can they do that?" she asked. "Isn't it against The Separation of Church and State?"

As we all know, the Founding Fathers enshrined the "Separation of Church and State" into the Constitution, thus protecting the Republic from religious tyranny. The phrase "separation of church and state" has been repeated so many times for most of us that it has become a sort of national mantra, a Secular Humanist "Hail Mary."

It comes as a surprise to many, evidently including that woman, that the Constitution doesn't mention religion at all, although it does give, "...the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven..." as the date.

No doubt recognizing the unfortunate mixing of church and state embodied in that slipup, the Founders quickly rectified things with the Bill of Rights. Getting right to the point in the First Amendment they wrote:
United States House of Representatives - Amendments to the Constitution: "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."
That's it; there is no more. Oddly enough, they still failed to mention that critical "Separation of Church and State" phrase, although it is the "establishment clause" that is said to embody this concept. There it is, though: no official, government-approved religion and no government meddling in religion at all.

There's nothing to suggest that all public traces of religion must be expunged to avoid offending the easily offended. In fact the right to "free exercise thereof" seems to explicitly allow public displays of piety.

We also don't see anything that would prohibit religious leaders from urging belivers to vote one way or another on a particular question. In fact their rights to do so appear to be inalienable.

Prohibiting someone from holding a particular government job based on religious views is also clearly out, even if that job is Supreme Court Justice.

Fortunately we have the ACLU looking out for our right to free exercise of religion by making sure that no one ever has to see it:
American Civil Liberties Union: "The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one's religion free of government interference. The establishment clause requires the separation of church and state. Combined, they ensure religious liberty. Yet assaults on the freedom to believe continue, both in Washington and in state legislatures around the country."
We certainly agree that the ACLU knows a lot about "assaults on the freedom to believe," although we see more of those in the courts than the legislatures. While it is indeed leading this fight, the ACLU is on the wrong side.

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