‘Separating Church and State’: What Bunk

I guess one of the reasons our public schools fail to teach children that constellations are not real places inhabited by superhuman Space Brothers is that they’re too busy teaching other things that are equally bogus.

One of those things is that there is some law in America mandating an absolute “separation of church and state.” And that’s why you can’t say “Bless you” if someone sneezes in the classroom–although I’d like to see what would happen if a kid said “Obama bless you.”

For those who still don’t know, because they’ve been taught something that isn’t true, the words “separation of church and state” do not occur in the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land (although you’d never guess it from the actions of our government). There is no such law. Go ahead, look it up. You won’t find those words in the Declaration of Independence, either.

All they’re really doing is trying to separate the people from Christianity and establish their own atheistic religion of statism. They’ve done quite a job of it, so far. They invoke the boogieman of “theocracy” to justify their own de facto theocracy.

There is no law in America that forces people to pray. But there are imaginary laws used by our bureaucrats and judges and “educators” to force people not to pray. They’re the ones who are in the theocracy business, not us.

5 comments on “‘Separating Church and State’: What Bunk

  1. Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the first place, the Supreme Court has thoughtfully, authoritatively, and repeatedly decided as much; it is long since established law. In the second place, the Court is right. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions.

    That the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who once mistakenly supposed they were there and, upon learning of their error, fancy they’ve solved a Constitutional mystery. The absence of the metaphorical phrase commonly used to name one of its principles, though, is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    It is important to distinguish between “individual” and “government” speech about religion. The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square–far from it. Indeed, the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views–publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion. As government can only act through the individuals comprising its ranks, when those individuals are performing their official duties (e.g., public school teachers instructing students in class), they effectively are the government and thus should conduct themselves in accordance with the First Amendment’s constraints on government. When acting in their individual capacities, they are free to exercise their religions as they please. (Students also are free to exercise and express their religious views–in a time, manner, and place that does not interfere with school programs and activities.) While figuring out whether someone is speaking for the government in any particular circumstance may sometimes be difficult, making the distinction is critical.

    Nor does the constitutional separation of church and state prevent citizens from making decisions based on principles derived from their religions. Moreover, the religious beliefs of government officials naturally may inform their decisions on policies. The principle, in this context, merely constrains government officials not to make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion; in other words, the predominant purpose and primary effect must be nonreligious or secular in nature. A decision coinciding with religious views is not invalid for that reason as long as it has a secular purpose and effect.

    It should not be supposed that the government, by remaining separate from and neutral toward religion in keeping with the Constitution, somehow thereby favors atheism over theism. There is a difference between the government (1) remaining neutral in matters of religion and leaving individuals free to choose, exercise, and express their religious views without government intrusion and (2) taking sides in matters of religion and promoting one view (whether theism [in one, any, or all its various forms], atheism, or whatever) to the detriment of others. It is one thing for the government to endorse the idea that god(s) exist or, alternatively, endorse the idea that god(s) do not exist; it is quite another for the government to take no position on the matter and respect the right of each individual to freely decide for himself.

    Wake Forest University has published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://divinity.wfu.edu/uploads/2011/09/divinity-law-statement.pdf

    1. I don’t agree with you, of course, but I must respect the work you put into this comment.

      In fact, there is no such thing as religious neutrality. When a government agency forces a Christian to participate in, say, a same-sex imitation wedding by attending it and photographing it, or to participate in abortion by funding it, the state is forcing the individual to act against his conscience.

      And where in the world does it say a town can’t have a Christmas parade, but must call it “the Winter Festival” or some such thing as that? Where does it say a valedictorian speaker at a high school graduation may not give thanks to God? And so on.

      I do not accept Supreme Court decisions as “law.” Laws are properly enacted by elected representatives, not appointed judges. Supreme Court decisions in the 19th century were very different, respecting religion, than they are today.

      A teacher flies off the handle because a student says “Bless you” in response to a sneeze. Tell me–where is the religious neutrality in that reaction?

    2. I agree with you that it is sometimes difficult to determine whether and how the law applies in particular circumstances. For instance, if a valedictorian speaker speaks for himself or herself, that individual speech should be protected as such; on the other hand, if the speaker but gives voice to the government (in the form of a public school), that government speech should be constrained as such. I also agree that the story about the student saying “bless you,” at least as I’ve seen it related, appears unjustified by the law. I suspect, though, that there is more to it than what I’ve so far read.

      These sorts of difficulties should not call into question the general principle. The Constitution, including particularly the First Amendment, embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, at least in some measure, the Constitution serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to undercut our secular government by somehow merging or infusing it with religion should be resisted by every patriot.

    3. Please understand that, as I see it, the government does indeed endorse and promote the religious views of atheists. And if members of the teachers’ unions really are to be seen as representing the government (when they’re actually at work in their classroom), then it can be truly said that the government is actively hostile to one religion, Christianity, and shows a strong partisan bias for another, atheism.

      As it happens, I don’t have time tonight to make a full response to your comment, to do it justice, and will have to leave it to tomorrow. You write rationally and cogently, and I want to take the time to savor it. I doubt we’ll wind up agreeing on many basic principles, but I enjoy a civil conversation. Frankly, I am not used to good manners from someone of a secular point of view. Mostly it’s name-calling, shouting, and threats.

      In closing I will remark, by way of a historical perspective, that it’s inconceivable that any delegate to the Constitutional Convention, in accepting the First Amendment, could have had in mind the extravagances that are practiced in its name today.

  2. You are correct Lee. Religion is simply a belief system or a world view. Everyone has one, it either centers around a god or someone or something else. No matter whose in charge somebody’s belief system is being promoted, it’s unavoidable. As it stands now the government promotes the Church of the Holy Secular (i.e. secular humanism), which the supreme court has ruled IS a religion.

    As I understand it the first amendment was meant to protect the church from the government, and not vice versa. If the founders intended such a dogmatic separation of church and state, there would be no mention of God in any official document, there certainly wouldn’t be a statue of Moses and the ten commandments on the supreme court building, and every president would have to be a devout atheist.

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