Saturday, March 22, 2008

Separation of Church and State

Many people believe that the concept of the separation of Church and State comes directly from our Constitution, and is outlined in the 1st Amendment. In point of fact, they are wrong. What this part of the Bill of Rights states is, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…". 

This was something that our Founding Fathers were rather concerned about, having suffered under religious persecution in Europe before coming here, and therefore they felt it was essential such protection be included in the founding document of this country. No, the concept in question actually comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association, where he writes of, "building a wall of separation between church and state". Now I am sure by now that you are wondering where in the heck I am going with this and how I knew it in the first place. (Does the word Wikipedia mean anything to you?)
Where I'm going with this is to state that in fact religion does not seem to be separated from government, in spite of the fact that we adhere strictly to the 1st Amendment. No non-Protestant president was elected to the office prior to the 20th Century. John F Kennedy was a candidate whose greatest flaw (at least that we knew of at the time) was that he was Catholic. Mitt Romney's biggest liability as a candidate during this latest election cycle seemed to be his Mormon religion. Barak Obama's fatal flaw may not be his positions or policies (how can they be flaws when we don't know what they are), but his association with Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ. At a lesser level, we are told to celebrate Muslim members of Congress as if this says something about us that Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu representatives in Congress does not.

Now I don't want to get into the specifics of the belief systems of any church and I am certainly not criticizing anyone here (I'm not qualified). These things are important, but they are a posting for another day. I am more concerned with the ties that seem to bind religion to politics. The right is pummeled and bullied by Christian zealots seeking to control the discussion and party platform on their side, and the left is overrun by special interest groups who want to treat everything from global warming to animal rights as religious beliefs. The process of debate in this country has become poisoned by doctrines which cannot and must not ever be questioned.
Any form of calm, reasoned political discussion is shouted down by these Inquisitors of moral exactitude on both sides and any questioning of either side's dogma are met by cries of "Blasphemy".

Perhaps it is time in this country for a true separation of Church and State. Personally I don't care if a candidate practices Zoroastrianism (look it up, I had to), is agnostic, or (dare I say it) an atheist; as long as they have a proven track record of honesty, good judgment, and ethical behavior. Practicing an organized religion does not qualify anyone to run for or hold political office. It does not in fact, even qualify them as a good person. Only their actions will give us the answer to that question. In one of the few times that you will ever hear me break with the spirit of the Founding Fathers, I will say that a belief in God (in any name, shape, or form) means nothing to the good governance of this country, unless it is part of a larger framework of closely held personal beliefs. Until we truly understand that, there will be no separation of Church and State.




4 comments:

Hooda Thunkit said...

Tim,

Well said, despite resorting to Wikipedia for a source/reference ;-)

(Do you REALLY trust anything on line that can be edited freely by anyone?)

All of that aside, your posting was excellent!

Honesty, good judgment, and ethical behavior certainly have nothing to do with religious beliefs as much as they have to do with how one was brought up, IMNHO.

I've met some far off the wall religious people (and their foaming at the mouth,) zealot followers) in my day...

Tim Higgins said...

hooda,

I only admitted to the use of Wikipedia in an effort at full disclosure (I guess I won't make that mistake again). As to trusting it, hell I don't even trust the dictionary, except when it serves my purpose.

As to the rest, thank you.

Roland Hansen said...

This was always a hot discussion topic in the American Government classes I tauught at University of Toledo and at Owens Community College.

Tim Higgins said...

Roland,

I cannot tell you how happy hearing that has made me. It cannot be discussed enough in my opinion.