“Separation of Church and State”: we sure hear that phrase a whole lot, don’t we? It’s often used by people who don’t have the foggiest what they’re saying. I think I blogged on this years ago, but my favorite silly story about the subject involves the time a (conservative!) local radio talk show host was opining about the fact that a local church had raised the Christian flag higher on a flagpole than the American flag (a good idea, frankly; why is it, in VBS, that we have kids pledge allegiance first to the country, and only then to the Savior and the Bible? Chaw on that awhile…). One point he made—the point that drove me through the roof and prompted a nice, but firm, call from my end to set him straight—was that somehow putting the Christian flag higher on a pole than the American flag violated the separation of church and state.
Yes, a guy on the radio actually said that.
Anyhoo, here’s an article I posted a response to recently:
I want to elaborate a bit on my response there, because we have people on the “secular” end of the spectrum who are scared that Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney is going to try to turn America into a “theocracy” (or more generally, that the “Religious Right”—whatever in the world that is—has theocracy as an aim). Then, we have Christian folks who say, “separation of church and state isn’t in the Constitution” (which is true), but then act as though Thomas Jefferson’s use of that phrase in writing to the Danbury Baptists is of little more value than the latest tabloid story on Paris Hilton. Uh, guys, ole Tom was there, you know? So perhaps he has a thing or two to tell us, whaddya think?
So let me wade in: I believe in the principle of separation of church and state, correctly defined, which it rarely is. The Constitution (which should be the law of the land but sadly isn’t) says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is the “wall of separation”—and it’s a wall that protects the citizens of the country from having a state-sponsored religious faith, and that protects us from government intrusion into the free exercise of whatever faith we might choose. Some things that the Constitution doesn’t do, say, or even imply:
And so on. Some of these types of things are the things that our more secular friends tend to decry. In the article above, for instance, the fellow mentions drug laws as flowing from a religious base. He seems oblivious to the idea that perhaps drug laws might have a much broader purpose than the advancement of some imaginary “religious” program (I say this as a person who does not believe we are wise to fight the “Drug War” as we have, that we are throwing tons of good money after bad, that we need a wholly different approach to fighting the problem, and that decriminalizing marijuana would be a good start. But that’s a different post for a different time, my “inner Ron Paul” coming out.). The point is that it’s just plain silly to say that we should end the drug war because it’s an element of some “religion”. Of all the reasons I can think of, that ain’t on the list.
All of that said, there are some bones I have to pick with my conservative brethren as well. Sometimes we end up fighting silly battles that aren’t worth fighting, and that have dubious constitutional support as well. I’ve not yet lost a moment’s sleep fighting over having a creche on public property—one way or the other. But what I do have a problem with is fighting to keep them there by using argumentation that places the creche on roughly the same par as Frosty and Santa. I remember the VMI case a few years back; I blogged on it. VMI cadets had for years prayed a prayer before mealtime, and a couple of cadets challenged it in court. The prayer was described by a VMI official, as best I can remember it, as being a “Rudolph Giuliani, apple pie, motherhood and Kate Smith type of prayer”, or similar wording. Questions: one, why on earth would a Christian ever want to pray such a prayer, and two, why would Christians get worked up about defending such “prayers” being prayed? No, I don’t support a “School Prayer Amendment” (I do support “equal time” legislation, though); what I support is Christian parents thinking long and hard about sending kids to our current public school system. But that too is a post for another day.
Here’s the basic illustration I want to get to in order to make my point: those secularists who decry the spilling over of religion into government/politics, like the author of the above article, miss the whole point of how “religion” works. People who are not “people of faith” seem to typically think of “religion” as being one more “bucket” in the lives of people who are people of faith. It works something like this: I have my “religion” bucket, and my “politics” bucket, and my “relationships” bucket, and my “business” bucket, and so on. This stereotype is reinforced, by the way, by so many cultural factors, including the Andy Griffith Show. Andy and friends were occasionally shown in church, dressed up to the nines to hear a preacher deliver a message (remember the one where the preacher’s message was “relax”? A forerunner of today’s Joel Osteens…). Anyway, the rest of the time, there is little/no mention of God whatever. God’s put into the “Sunday morning, 11:00” bucket, and doesn’t even survive, generally, to the “Sunday Dinner” bucket (though in that episode, as I recall, the sermon topic did at least become the focus of the plot).
So to the secular, the whole idea of church and state getting co-mingled involves the sloshing of religion out of the “religion bucket” and into the “government/politics” bucket. It’s almost like the old Reese’s candy commercial: “hey, you got your religion on my politics! Oh, yeah, you got your politics on my religion!” Except that secularists really don’t like the taste…
The problem is that “religion” doesn’t work that way; it’s flawed thinking to take a “buckets” approach. What “religion” does—and for that matter, what all “non-religious” philosophies do—is to play a role (for the committed Christian, the foundational role) in providing the lens through which every other pursuit of life is seen. For the Christian, my faith in Jesus Christ affects (or, I should say, ought to affect) every aspect of my life. I can no more separate my “religion” from my “politics” than I could separate my eyes from the way I enjoy the Rockies (that analogy probably stinks, but it’ll do ’til I get a better one). I don’t see anything except through the viewpoint which has been thoroughly shaped by my faith.
Secularists have no less a “religious” foundation for their lens than do people who identify with a “religion”; it’s just that some of these philosophies, while acting in the same way a “religion” does, are not seen as “religions”. Marxism functions in exactly the same way, for instance, as does secular humanism, and materialism (there’s of course some overlap between some of these philosophies), and so on. Yet because the adherents of Marxism don’t typically attend Marxist church service on Sunday mornings (they just stay home and read the NY Times and Newsweek—same thing), they aren’t “religious”. And if they aren’t “religious” in the first place, there’s no “religion” bucket out of which dreaded “religion” can get sloshed into their “politics” bucket.
But the problem is, then, that the Mrs. Bills of the world have a very “religious” viewpoint, and it shapes their entire understanding of the role of government, their politics, etc. And they bring that viewpoint into their governing, just like Mike Huckabee, for instance, brought his viewpoint into everything he did as governor of Arkansas and, I hope, to everything he does as president of the United States.
There’s more that could be written on this subject, but that’s enough for now…