When I was a child my mother told me that the best way to stay away from a fight was to not talk about politics or religion.  I guess I am jeopardizing the ire of the readers of this column as I’m going to discuss both in the context of our great nation.


There has been a lot said about the separation of Church and State and the political correctness that our country has become mired in.  We can’t pray in public for fear of offending someone and the flag can’t be flown in certain communities since it doesn’t meet some archaic rule imposed that protects home owners from unwanted decorations on a residents lawn.  The fiber of our great nation is being eroded from the very words that brought many of our original settlers to this country so many years ago. These words have been misused and misaligned until the very utterance of it brings shivers to town hall meetings and school boards across our country.  This term is “Separation of Church and State”.


Much of our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values that were manifested from immigrants that fled the ravages of state run religions.  The Pilgrims were brutally treated inEnglandand escaped to the harsh but freelandofAmerica.  Others likewise made the perilous voyage that would take them to a land where they could practice their religion without persecution.  Then when it was time to form the framework of our wonderful country our forefathers derived much of the foundation from their Christian values but with a very unique and fresh twist.  Instead of imposing a religion on the populace such as was evident inEngland; the state would separate Church from State.  This did not say that the Christian values must be ignored; it said that if a person wants to practice any religion they would be free to do so. TheUnited Stateswould not impose the religion of it’s’ founders on any man that entered this great nation.   No man would be discriminated against due to race, creed or religion; but what wasn’t said was that the country must be sterile when it comes to its religious roots.  What has been lost in the argument of separation of Church and State is that a person is free to participate or to not participate when a religious event is held.  No one is mandated to stand and listen to a prayer when it is being broadcast over a microphone at a sporting event nor is it mandated that a person must stand and listen to a call for prayer coming from a mosque in the suburbs ofDetroit.  At the same time, those that would like to participate are allowed to do so without bias or discrimination.


The greatest judicial body in the world is the Supreme Court of the United States.  Every year legal cases are elevated to its’ hallowed chambers and fair and just verdicts are delivered based on the Constitution and the Laws of the United States.  These judgments are dispensed without prejudice and without religious bias.  This is a true separation of Church and State.  However; when a person walks into these great chambers they will see etched into the great walls not a politically correct doctrine that fears the retribution of a law suit; instead the visitor will see an engraving of the Ten Commandments.    (CONTINUED NEXT WEEK AS WE SEE THE FATE

  1. dougindeap says:

    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 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 the people (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. They later buttressed this separation with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    While the First Amendment undoubtedly was intended to preclude the government from establishing a national religion as you note, that was hardly the limit of its intended scope. The first Congress debated and rejected just such a narrow provision (“no religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed”) and ultimately chose the more broadly phrased prohibition now found in the Amendment. In keeping with the Amendment’s terms and legislative history and other evidence, the courts have wisely interpreted it to restrict the government from taking steps that could establish religion de facto as well as de jure. Were the Amendment interpreted merely to preclude government from enacting a statute formally establishing a state church, the intent of the Amendment could easily be circumvented by government doing all sorts of things to promote this or that religion–stopping just short of cutting a ribbon to open its new church.

    It is important to distinguish between the “public square” and “government” and 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. If their right to free exercise of religion extended even to their discharge of their official responsibilities, however, the First Amendment constraints on government establishment of religion would be eviscerated. 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.

    Wake Forest University recently 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://tiny.cc/6nnnx

    While some people may favor a broader political doctrine to secularize the public square as you argue, it is important to distinguish that political dialogue from constitutional law.

    Beware stories about the Supreme Court building depicting the 10 Commandments; of the many versions in circulation, they generally range from false to distorted beyond recognition. See http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/capital.asp

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