Monday, July 2, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy

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.


MedStudentWife said...

Not just the US, but Canada too.

North America had been seen as the place to be for safe practice of one's own religion; the Duokhobors as a way out of there example.

But on the other hand, theocracy is showing its ugly head in small ways... where law (even local law)is deciding, or is attemping to decide what is right... girls who cant compete in international soccer leagues 'cause they wear the hijab.. and so on... the news that makes the local papers.... but it is society ultimately using the state (law) to direct us in our day to day life.

Brillig said...

As a kid, I went to school in a foreign country where every single morning I was forced to say a prayer that I didn't believe in.

Then I came back here, and everyone around me (I come from a very conservative, religious state) was horrified that prayer in school was being done away with. I was so relieved. Yes, being a Mormon in Utah means that they were likely going to be saying MY prayers, but having been on the opposite end of that--being forced to say someone ELSE's prayers, gave me the realization that there just isn't any fair way to mix church and state.

jessabean said...

Amen, amen, amen. I agree with all of the above.

Some people of faith see the separation of church and state as an infringement on their right to pray or whatnot, and I just have to disagree. We need the separation exactly because everyone deserves to be free to pray and practice their respective faiths.

Lawyer Mama said...

Yes, it was Jefferson who wrote about a "wall of separation" between church and state. And how necessary it was to *protect* all religions.

You made your argument very well, GF!

soccer mom in denial said...

Having just spent time in another part of this grand country where folks actually think the church and state should be combined gave me the shivers. But then, I proudly live in the Commonwealth with marriage equality so I may not have a good sense of how the rest of the country thinks.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, GF!

Mathman6293 said...

Your insight into what it would be like to part of the non-sanctioned religion is so often overlooked by those talking about "our christian nation". I think many don't realize the christian diversity we have in the US.

viciousrumours said...

Now...the argument was never made that there should be a combined church and state. However, how do you prevent someone who is a member of the Executive, Legislative or Judiciary branch from using their religious or "moral" (because to most people, it's the same thing) in the decision making process. By extension, how do you ever really seperate church from government?

You can prevent the government from declaring a national religion and thereby insure that individuals will retain the right to practice their own religion, but how do you keep that religion from leaking into government? Doesn't that constitute a violation of the church/state idea right there?

Gunfighter said...

"...the argument was never made that there should be a combined church and state.

Not by you, perhaps. There are no small number of people that would argue that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation". I am here to state, unequivically, that this isn't the case. The suggestion of which is historically inaccurate.

" do you prevent someone who is a member of the Executive, Legislative or Judiciary branch from using their religious or "moral"... in the decision making process."

I don't think that this has ever been suggested... Certainly not by me.

PT-LawMom said...

Great post, GF. I tend to think that our children should not be indoctrinated into any particular belief by our government. When we moved to the U.S. when I was a teenager, I was horrified that children had to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I just stood there respectfully and kept my mouth shut. "Liberty and justice for all?" I could see that wasn't happening. In terms of religion, a person's personal relationship with the Lord is one of the most sacred and private things. No one should be able to impose limits or guidelines on that relationship. That said, I'd rather know someone who has faith in something than faith in nothing...

Mark said...

"Doesn't that constitute a violation of the church/state idea right there?"

I think it does.

It has to work both ways. Not establishing a national religion is critical and must be prevented at all costs.

Gunfighter mentions that a theocracy is a system of government in which religious laws become the law of the land (paraphrasing as I can't go back to reference the exact quote and I'm too lazy to open a new window and navigate back here - hope I didn't mangle your sentiment).

True. Sharia, for example.

Many argue that the ten commandments form the basis of some law in the US and therefore religion is slowly creeping into government. There have been numerous court battles over the fact that the ten commandments are posted in public buildings, etc.

It's all nonsense when you stop to realize that the ten commandments really weren't handed down to Moses by God (sorry to all the fundies I just insulted). They are part of an ancient code of law developed by men in order to live together in a decent way.

The Constitutional amendment in question, I think, was meant to be all-inclusive, not exclusive, in nature. And that includes atheists, of course.

The Big Giraffe (aka Mr. Alex Elliot) said...

This is a great post! I absolutely agree with the criticality of separating church and state. However, I do believe a strong separation was intended by the framers.

The Constitutional justification for separation of church and state comes from two sources. First, the establishment clause was intended not just to prohibit a government established religion but to prohibit the government from establishing a preexisting faith as a formal state religion. The argument continues that if the government enacts legislation that is based on the tenets of an individual (or group of) religions, it is effectively giving that religion state endorsement or establishing at least some elements of the religion as part of the body of laws of the state.

Second, enforcing the tenets of one faith automatically excludes religions with contrary beliefs and those who are not part of an organized religion.

To me gay marriage is the most obvious example, because the overwhelming majority of arguments for prohibiting it are based on individual faiths and religious doctrines. Further, they disregard religions, like Unitarian Universalism which recognize and perform gay marriages as part of our religious practices and faith tradition.

In high school, I was the only person in my homeroom who stood and recited the pledge of allegiance every day when it came over the loudspeaker, although I refused to say "under God." While I believe in a higher power, I do not accept that my belief (or anyone else's religious beliefs) is a constraint on our nation's laws.

To viciousrumours's point, I do not believe we can or should expect individuals to deny their religious views when making decisions. I expect our leaders to act morally (although the current national leadership leaves those expectations more disappointed than usual), but I expect them not to enforce a moral code.

When we elect politicians, it is obvious that their moral and religious views are among the factors that determine their behaviors and decisions. It is critical to understand a leader's views in advance, for example knowing whether a Catholic politician adheres to his or her faith's views on abortion and gay rights. I am unlikely to vote for a candidate whose policy decisions are heavily driven by a conservative religious agenda. However, the issue of separation of church and state is not about executive or legislative decisions based on what politicians believe to be right. It is about a legal construct designed to ensure that no individual's views (or even no majority's views) may restrict the religious liberty of anyone else.

For example...

The question of whether schools should distribute birth control is a public policy question. The question about whether it is legal for stores to sell birth control is a rights and freedom of religion question. There are many people who do not believe in birth control. Those who consider it immoral are likely to be among those you oppose making it available in schools. They should not try to have it banned from stores, because that limits the freedom of others.

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