Monday, May 9, 2011

The Separation of Church and State is Good For Everyone

The founding fathers "were well aware of the fact that God had given them and all of mankind very specific litmus tests in the Bible that they needed to apply to all government officials before putting them into positions of power." This is a quote from a website ( that uses David Barton's revisionist history to argue against the separation of church and state. Barton, as I hope you are already aware, is a favorite among the religious right as is evidenced by this website using his research to dispel the "myth" of separation of church and state. As I previously posted, potential presidential contender Mike Huckabee argues that Americans should be forced to listen to David Barton (at gun-point no less) and claims he is the greatest historian in the United States today. I beg to differ.

The people over at seem to not understand the same thing that Barton and other religious right proponents don't understand. The Constitution of the United States expressly forbids religious tests for public office in Article VI: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." While they can rant on and on about the personal religious beliefs of some of the founding fathers, none of that changes what is written in Article VI. If the founders intended for this country to be a Christian nation, they could have explicitly called for it. They could have removed that clause in Article VI, or have never included it.

This past weekend, my wife and I visited the Library of Congress and they have an entire exhibit devoted to the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In the exhibit there is a section detailing the numerous potential amendments that were considered for inclusion in the Bill of Rights. There were hundreds of proposed amendments, but the final ten selected included freedom of religion, among other freedoms. The First Amendment states, in part, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Tell me, if our government/country was supposed to be Christian, why would the founders have granted religious freedom? Granting religious freedom allows citizens to worship (or not worship) as they choose. The First Amendment does not state that the word "religion" should only apply to the different sects of Christianity. Allowing religious freedom for all citizens does not indicate a desire for the country to be Christian, it indicates a desire for religious freedom and an end to government persecution of different religious beliefs.

One of the arguments against Thomas Jefferson's famous quote about a "wall of separation between church and state," is that it was not intended to be viewed in the way we now see it, and that it has no legal authority because it is not found in the Constitution. They are correct that the phrase holds no legal authority and also that the exact phrase is not found in the Constitution. However, if we apply this logic to their arguments stemming from personal letters from and between the founders that allegedly indicate the framers intent for a Christian nation, are we not drawn to the same conclusion? The personal letters and feelings of our founding fathers toward religion are not legal justifications for a Christian, or non-Christian nation. I have no doubt that many of the founders were exceptionally religious (Christian) individuals. What I doubt is that they were so sure that their supposed intent to make this a Christian nation would be expressly understood that they failed to make that known in the one document that is the foundation of our country.

Separation of church and state is good for all involved. It allows churches, and other religious entities, the freedom to worship as they choose. It ensures (or is supposed to ensure) that the government will remain neutral in matters of religious faith, neither showing preference nor intolerance toward a particular religious belief. This concept is what has allowed religion to flourish in the United States. It is this concept that has been emulated around the world by nations that have had similar issues with government-sponsored religion. Perhaps most interestingly, it is a lack of religious freedom that the religious right (and most everyone else) despises about Islamic nations, yet it is what they seem to be striving toward in the United States. I for one am thankful that our founding fathers had had enough of government-mandated religion and decided to make their new nation one where all would be free to believe, or not, in whatever religion they felt was true. This is one of our country's foundational rights and the desire to end it should not be praised or taken lightly. I am sure none of us wants to live in a country where the government dictates which religion is the correct one - although that would make for an interesting debate.

1 comment:

  1. So while "seperation of church and state" is not in the Constitution or any of the legal documents found in the US Government archives, on phrase that is found that is rather telling:

    "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" Seems pretty straight forward to me. Although they will do all sorts of mental gymnastics to rationalize that away...

    And Barton's revisionism seems to want to take credit for just about any idea that is considered "good" no matter what evidence is lined up against it: