Thursday, July 3, 2008

My Commentary On State/Church Separation

What's hard to understand about "separation"?

By Thurman Hart/NJ Voices 
on July 03, 2008 at 2:07 PM, updated July 03, 2008 at 2:45 PM


A friend brought to my attention that State Senator Gerald Cardinale wants our kids to begin their school day by reciting part of the Declaration of Independence. My problem with it is that he seems to be thinking too small. Below is the entire preamble of the Declaration, with the part the Senator would omit in bold:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.


You can read the whole thing here.

My Commentary:

Posted by Zemack on 07/03/08 at 10:55PM
This is an excellent piece. However, I couldn't disagree more concerning Mr. Hart's assertion that the highlighted part of the preamble is "the truly revolutionary part of the document." Not to diminish this part's historical importance, but the first, un-highlighted lines are the core of the American Revolution. Never before had a nation been founded on the moral premise of the supreme value of the individual possessing inalienable rights, with the government's role as protector of those rights, as opposed to being his ruler. It is the first part that validates the second.

Having said that, I agree that the mere memorized recitation of a small part of the Declaration without a full knowledge and understanding of the complete document in full context would be futile. I'm not saying that is Senator Cardinale's intention, but that would likely be the effect.

As to the issue of "separation", the Founders were deeply suspicious of organized religion, including Christianity and its multiple sects. They understood fully the inherent dangers to liberty of placing into the hands of people whose beliefs rest on faith rather than reason the coercive power of government. They saw that danger as not only a threat to the non-religious but to other religious sects lacking political power as well.

It is not against religion that the "wall of separation" was erected, but against religious tyranny. That "wall" is our only guarantor of the freedom to practice any religious belief, or no belief at all. Far from being an inhibiting force against religion, it has actually been a boon. This fact became clear early on in our history. As Brooke Allen writes in her book,Moral Minority, Our Skeptical Founding Fathers:

"Madison was noticing what was becoming a peculiarly American phenomenon: namely, that full religious freedom, protected by the Constitution, seemed actually to foster religion and fan its flames rather than to spread atheism, as its opponents had feared. There could be no doubt about it: Americans, especially in the once-skeptical Southern states, were becoming more and more pious. Religious freedom had created an explosion of thriving sects, just as free-market capitalism was creating an explosion of new wealth. But this, perhaps, was not quite what Madison and Jefferson had in mind."

In America, the practice of religion by one is no threat to any other. We owe the unfettered right to our own beliefs free from fear of persecution to that "wall of separation." As an athiest, I cannot understand how any religionist would want to begin chipping away at that safeguard with such nonsense as "faith-based initiatives." With Senator Obama now throwing his support behind that program, the assault against state/church separation has apparently gone bipartisan. (Never mind his "re-invention" ploy. Any scenario that involves public funds going to any religious organization means that some people will be forced to support, with their tax money, religious beliefs that they may or may not agree with. It represents a violation of the First Amendment, of inalienable individual rights, and of the wall of state-church separation. Period.)

There is not much of the Left's agenda that I can support. But one great value they have traditionally offered is as a steadfast guardian against political intrusion into the religious sphere. If Obama's action is a precursor of a breakdown of the Left's resolve, the consequences for America long term will not be good.


Other's Commentary:

Posted by blarneyboy on 07/04/08 at 3:42AM

Didn't the veterans' bill after WWII smash this separation of church and state concept to smithereens?

Massive federal money went from the feds to every religious college that wanted it, and is still going there.

ROTC on a religious school's campus also helps that religion. It fills classrooms with ROTC scholarship students and rents space for the gov't instructors and their supplies....like rifles. Does the 'wall' appear and disappear depending upon the circumstances or is the whole "separation" argument a bogus creation of the ACLU?

Lastly, the first moslem attack on the West for several centuries was repulsed by adamantly christian armies. Can a 'secular humanist' state or civilization fight off a moslem terrorist onslaught over a period of a century or two? Will our atheists in foxholes prevail? and why does the gov't pay for religious chaplains if there really is a 'wall" that you want to strengthen against support of religion?

And what will happen if Baptists and Catholic and Methodist clergy decide that sending their kids off to fight for an atheistic gov't, serving as the lapdog of international corporists, serves no purpose within the concept of a "just" war?

And look at the UK with its state religion cursed with empty churches. The chief judge is ready to apply Sharia law, because the moslems of the UK DO attend services, and sometimes plan bombings there.

This thoughtful article raises a lot of questions for a civilization trapped in a religious war. We may need an Augsburg Confession, though, to unify the West now, as the confession did in 1530 against the moslem military offensives, then. Theoretical discussions of a 'wall' are of little use if the West becomes subject to Sharia Law as massive population shifts continue with the aid of the democracies.



My Response:

Posted by Zemack on 07/05/08 at 8:25PM

The principle of church-state separation, more accurately called religion-state separation, is no mere floating abstract theoretical idea without connection to reality. It is an issue crucial to a free society, as the Founders clearly understood. It is as vitally relevant today as then, especially in light of the rise of the threat from totalitarian, imperialistic Islam. As Mr. Hart says, there isn't "anything going on today that suggests throwing away our history would be a good thing."

The "wall" does not, however, mean atheistic government. The intellectual package-deal implied in that idea sets up a false alternative. And this goes straight to the heart of those words in the Declaration that the senator wants recited in schools. The choice is not between atheistic government and religious (Christian, Islamic, or any other) government. The choice is between either a government with the power to impose a particular set of beliefs on its people, or a government that protects the right of its individual citizens to hold and act upon his own beliefs and judgements, free from coercive interference by others. "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men..."

Government is a tool. Its proper function is to protect the inalienable rights of its people, as individuals, and that's all. Neither an atheistic government, nor a Christian one, nor an Islamic one is consistent with America's revolutionary founding principles. A government that acquires the power to impose a particular set of beliefs thus becomes a tool of any group that happens to seize political control. Therefore, our best protection against the imposition of Sharia (i.e., Islamic) law in America is to prevent our government from ever acquiring that power...i.e., to maintain that "wall of separation."

The battle today is not between Islam and Christianity. It is between theocratic tyranny and political freedom. Our soldiers are fighting not for an atheistic government or a Christian government, but for the freedom to hold his, and our, own personal beliefs and for a government that protects that freedom.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men."


These revolutionary words should be repeated, and understood, because we Americans...all of us...are fighting for, and defending, the same thing.



Others' Commentary:

Posted by blarneyboy on 07/05/08 at 1:43PM

Zemack, the Declaration of Independence is a wonderful document.

It is NOT a part of American law, though; however pleasing it may sound.

It may well be time for the religions of america to trump your wall with a declination to help corporists build their greedy empire. Let them send their own offspring to protect their investments abroad.

I wish them God's speed, if that's permitted.



Posted by richl on 07/05/08 at 2:04PM
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..."

Our Founding Fathers had a very specific intent in making the establishment of a religion an unconstitutional act, and a very specific definition of what that means. Most of them came from England where the government gave preference to and provided money and support for one of the Christian religions (the Anglican Church) and chose it as that country's "official" religion. They did not want the government establishing a national religion here. They wanted the government to stay out of religion, not for religious principles to be eliminated from government. Their desire was for the United States to be a nation with it's values and laws based on Christian principles, but did not want the government choosing one Christian religion (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) over another and establish it as it's "official" religion.

The same Founding Fathers who wrote the First Amendment that prohibited the government from establishing a national religion also believed that allowing and encouraging public religious practice was not the same as establishing a religion. Establishing a religion would require a government-sponsored set of beliefs, rules which must be obeyed by everyone, official ministers to teach the selected doctrine and penalties for those who do not conform. Our Founding Fathers were men of faith and wanted Christianity to be included in every aspect of life. The intent of the First Amendment was never to separate Christianity and state. If that had been the intent, it would never have been ratified.

The Constitution guarantees everyone freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion.

Liberal and politically correct interpretations have their intentions going in the wrong way. Government cannot influence or create religion NOT religion influences cannot reside in government priciples and buildings.


Posted by blarneyboy on 07/06/08 at 9:25AM

A particularly repugnant example of statist destruction of a religion is the New York Court's decision to force Catholic hospitals to pay for abortion coverage for their employees.

Kind of like asking Jews to contribute to the upkeep at Bergen-Belsen, and in a Catholic's view, no less depraved towards humanity.

I didn't hear of any atheists protesting this repudiation of a religious belief (Life, Liberty...... Thou shalt NOt Kill etc.) in a religious institution, by the government.



My Response:

Posted by Zemack on 07/06/08 at 10:15AM

Blarneyboy, you are certainly correct that the Declaration, technically speaking, is not part of American law. But however imperfectly implemented in practice, it is (or was intended to be) the philosophical basis for that law. A nations legal framework, to be just and fair, must be based upon some set of ideas...of universal principles...that all people can relate to and that can be the basis for resolving disputes peacefully. The Declaration of Independence is America's set of universal principles.

Otherwise, you end up with what we have today in America...the "controlled anarchy" of countless pressure groups and special interests fighting for control of the apparatus of government in order to impose some law or regulation or judicial edict or whatnot that coercively benefits one group at the expense of another. It is the fact that we have largely abandoned the Founding principles as laid out in the Declaration that has led to this free-for-all. What replaced those principles is...nothing. No principles, no ideas, no guideposts of any kind.

The primary victim of all of this is the individual and his inalienable rights, the protection of which is the very purpose of the Declaration. Unless we rediscover and take seriously that our Founding document is the set of universal principles that our law should be based on, the expanding "cold civil war", and the "polarization", now gripping America will continue to degenerate into either a "hot" war, as in Weimer Germany, or outright dictatorship, or both.

So, Blarneyboy, I must ask this question, which I ask in all sincerity, because I don't want to misunderstand your position. When you say that "the Declaration of Independence is a wonderful document. It is NOT a part of American law, though; however pleasing it may sound," are you saying that the Declaration of Independence is irrelevant?

Just asking.



Other's Comments:

Posted by blarneyboy on 07/06/08 at 6:52PM

Drericablair sums up the problems in Jersey accurately.

As the central gov't increases control over the individual and breaks us down into separate groups, it undermines the philosophy set forth in the declaration as a reflection of the natural law, not merely universal principles.


My Commentary:

Thomas Hart responded to my comments on his blog, which I much appreciated.

Here is an excerpt:

Mike Zemack was kind enough to post a thoughtful commentary on one of my posts at NJ Voices. Though his answer is almost two months old, I’d like to respond to it here –

As far as the separation of church and state go, however, I think we are in full agreement – and I think that is more important that quibbling over which part of the Declaration means what. Even if I love to do things like that.

Mike goes on to take to task one of the commenters on the original piece. He does a good job answering this tripe [from Blarneyboy]:


"Didn’t the veterans’ bill after WWII smash this separation of church and state concept to smithereens?

Massive federal money went from the feds to every religious college that wanted it, and is still going there."


Mike does a bang-up job on this:

"The 'wall' does not, however, mean atheistic government. The intellectual package-deal implied in that idea sets up a false alternative. And this goes straight to the heart of those words in the Declaration that the senator wants recited in schools. The choice is not between atheistic government and religious (Christian, Islamic, or any other) government. The choice is between either a government with the power to impose a particular set of beliefs on its people, or a government that protects the right of its individual citizens to hold and act upon his own beliefs and judgements, free from coercive interference by others."


Mr. Hart goes on to take apart Blarneyboy's reference to the "veterans’ bill after WWII" statement, which I want to republish here:

Veterans earn their educational benefits with their service. It is their right to use those benefits as they see fit – even if it means studying anarchist philosophy to justify destroying the government they once served. Even if it means studying the Bible, the Koran, or whatever scripture they want to study. Is the government promoting religion by allowing a veteran to study religion? No, they are promoting higher education. The veteran is choosing the field. That’s the end of that. Think of it the other way around – if a veteran wants to use his or her benefits to study religion, would a neutral government stop it? It hardly seems so.


Thomas Hart is one Christian who understands that any attempt to impose his religious beliefs on others would necessarily put his own freedom of religious faith and practice in jeopardy. The "Wall" is specifically designed to protect that freedom.

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