Not terribly long ago, a blogging pal of mine wrote a piece about the myths of the separation of church and state. In her blog, she made a perfectly cogent argument against what many people see as a Constitutional declaration that makes the aforementioned separation a legal and binding thing.
Early in her post she goes right to the heart of the matter, quoting directly from the first amendment of the Constitution, to wit:
"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."
Hm. It seems as though she is right, doesn't it? Well, guess what sports fans... she IS right. There is no constitutional tool separating the "state" and "the church". Problem solved, right? No need to argue about it, or even discuss it... right?
Well, you may believe that, but I beg to differ.
Just because there is no Constitutional separation, doesn't mean that church and state aren't best kept apart.
You see, separating church and state is an incredibly American ideal. This is a concept that could only come from a great and strong nation like ours. It is radical. It is far-reaching, it promotes freedom and liberty and open worship.
The Separation of Church and State is Patriotic!
Oh, go ahead, guffaw if you like, but in your hearts, you know I'm right. Many of you who will read this today, are adherents to the many denominations of Christianity. I know of at least two who are Episcopalians, one Methodist, one southern baptist, at least one "non-denominational" christian, and a sprinkling of Lutherans (myself included). I know that at least two of my regular readers are Jewish, and at least two who are Unitarian Universalists, and there are at least a few Mormons. I guess that some that may find this post are practitioners of other religions that I haven't named here, or are atheists.
Well, good. The separation of church and state is good for all of us.
Simply put, my friends, the Constitution of the United States says that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." this is a great and good thing, since I can't think of anything more un-American than telling my Jewish or Catholic brothers and sisters (for instance), that they can't openly and freely practice devotion to their faith, or that my atheist brothers and sisters cannot refrain from religious practice.
Is a united Church/State what we want here? Before you say yes... or Amen!, let's ask an important question:
The question is: Which Church? It seems like a simple question, but it isn't. Many of the framers of the Constitution were Deists. How many of you know what Deists were/are? Should we have the Church of England as our established church? Oh, wait, we aren't English. How about the Roman Catholic Church? Hm. Difficult for many Americans to swallow, I would imagine. Unitarian Universalist? Perhaps a good fit, what with their welcoming stance, and all. Maybe the southern baptists?... they are a rather conservative bunch, although I think that most Americans would chafe at all of the prohibitive rules of that particular denomination. Hm, how about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
You see, in countries where there is an official state church, the leader of that particular nation is almost always the head of the church, too. Is that what we want in a pluralistic democracy? Doesn't that sort of thing go directly against the grain of the values of those that embrace the concept of the Republic?
I submit that most of the religious conservatives in this country no more want Bill Clinton leading their state church than I want George W. Bush leading mine.
Let's look at this another way: In a theocracy (there are functioning theocracies in the world) the breaking of a religious rule constitutes the commission of a crime. In a theocracy, people who quest for power begin to consider that their words become the words of God. In a theocracy, ultimate power is wielded by the leader of the state, because he is also the leader of the church, and has God's authority.
Is that what we want?
The other side of "state" churches is the example set by the United Kingdom. The Queen of England is the leader of the Church of England... does this mean that all British subjects have to attend church or adhere to it's rules? of course not... as a matter of fact, the churches in Britain are dying out because they are so seldom attended by the majority of the population.
Only in the United States is the concept of the independent church so robust. Here in the United States, there are more active members of churches, per capita, than any other industrialized nation. The United States needs to have the church(es) separate from the state, because it is Democratic, because it is pluralistic, and because it is inherently American.
The Blog Against Theocracy is a blogswarm event involving bloggers from all over the world. Participants come from across the broad religious spectrum of this and other countries, or outside of the religious spectrum entirely. If you think American theocracy is something you wouldn't be interested in, please get involed.