Skip to comments.What is the Separation of Church and State? Misunderstood and Maligned
Posted on 07/06/2004 4:59:49 PM PDT by Kerberos
What is the separation of church and state?: That is a very good question - the separation of church and state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today's political, legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully misinformed. That is one of the primary purposes of this FAQ: to provide as much information as possible in order to better inform people about this debate.
After all, the separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon - their reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional principles in American history.
Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a simplified phrase. There is, after all, no single "church." There are many religious organizations in the United States taking different names - church, synagogue, temple, Kingdom Hall and more. In addition, there are many corporate bodies which do not adopt any such religious titles but which are nevertheless controlled by religious organizations - for example, Catholic hospitals.
Also, there is no single "state." Instead, there are multiple levels of government at the federal, state, regional and local level. There is also a great variety of government organizations - commissions, departments, agencies and more. These can all have different levels of involvement and different relationships with the aforementioned religious organizations.
This is vitally important, because it underscores the fact that, in the "separation of church and state," we cannot be talking about a single, literal church and a single, literal state. Those terms are instead metaphors, meant to point to something else, something larger. As a strict separationist, I have very definite ideas about what those metaphors point towards.
I believe, and will support via the documents in this FAQ, that "church" should be construed as any organized religious body with its doctrines/dogmas, and "state" should be construed as any governmental body, any government-run organization or any government-sponsored event. As a result, a more accurate phrase than "separation of church and state" might be something like "separation of organized religion and civil authority," because religious and civil authorities are not and should not be invested in the same people or organizations.
In practice, this means that civil authority cannot dictate to or control organized religious bodies. The state cannot tell religious bodies what to preach, how to preach or when to preach. Civil authority must exercise a "hands off" approach, neither helping nor hindering religion in society. This is a key issue to understand, because any time the state assumes the power to either help or hinder, the state also acquires the power to do the other.
Separation of church and state is a two-way street, however. It isn't just about restricting what the government can do with religion, but also what religious bodies can do with the government. As a consequence, religious groups cannot dictate to or control the government. They cannot cause the government to adopt their particular doctrines as policy for everyone, they cannot cause the government to restrict other groups, etc.
This last issue is vital because it is important to remember that the biggest threat to religious freedom is not the government - or at least, not the government acting alone. We very rarely have a situation where secular government officials act to repress any particular religion or religion in general. More common are private religious organizations acting *through the government* by having their own doctrines and beliefs codified into law or policy.
Thus, the separation of church and state ensures that private citizens, when acting in the role of some government official, cannot have any aspect of their private religious beliefs imposed upon everyone else. School teachers cannot promote their religion to other people's children. Local officials cannot require certain religious beliefs on the part of government employees. Government leaders cannot make members of other religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular religious beliefs - for example, through sectarian prayers or scriptural readings.
This enforces a certain moral self-restraint on government officials, and even to a degree on private citizens - a self-restraint which is necessary for a religiously pluralistic society to survive without descending into religious civil war. It ensures that the government remains the government of all citizens, not the government of one denomination or one religious tradition. It ensures that political divisions not be drawn along religious lines, with Protestants battling Catholics or Christians battling Muslims for "their share" of the public purse.
The separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional liberties which protects the American public from tyranny. It protects all people from the religious tyranny of any one religious group or tradition, and it protects all people from a government intent on tyrannizing some or any religious groups. We need the separation of church and state as much as we need any of the liberties guaranteed in the American Constitution.
So I have posted this article in an effort to give you some resources to improve you understanding of politics and law.
Yeah right....from the impeccable source Unknown and posted at About.com....While the article does havae some interesting points it does not deal with the current "neutral" standard that SCOTUS has set up.
There is NOTHING complicated about "separation of church and state," it is a 1947 FDR court theory based upon false Jefferson readings. We can all thank KKK Hugo Black for his incrediable flights of fantasy.
School teachers cannot promote their religion to other people's children."
Amendment I, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
"No law" is the key phrase.
Referring to the examples above, there is not a law that is being enforced when individuals choose to "exercise" their relition.
"Local officials cannot require certain religious beliefs on the part of government employees."
True. The 1st Amendment does prohibit this action.
"Government leaders cannot make members of other religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular religious beliefs - for example, through sectarian prayers or scriptural readings."
How a citizen "feels" is their business and has nothing to do with government.
A bunch of B.S.!
Congress shall make NO LAW ESTABLISHING.
Congress shall make NO LAW PROHIBITING.
What is so hard about that that? I see no "seperation" of church-state other than what is SIMPLY stated - there will be no state religion and the govt cannot restrict religions.
"Martin Luther King's civil rights movement would have been absolutely snuffed out and extinguished in today's outrageous defenses of the separation principal. There is no way his sermonizing, church organization, religious rhetoric, and religious values would have survived the absurd contentions of your post."
How could that be, was King a government employee, was he carry out his ideas at the taxpayer expense, I don't think so, So your accusation that King would have been somehow restrained today is completely baseless.
"Nonetheless, you are part of the social annihilation of the free exercise of religion."
Wrong, I am part of Americans who value freedom, true freedom, not the nanny state variety, and want to keep religion out of government as well as government out of religion.
"What is so hard about that that? I see no "seperation" of church-state other than what is SIMPLY stated - there will be no state religion and the govt cannot restrict religions."
Didn't get it huh? Oh well, I guess one can provide the tools, but they still must be willing to use them.
"There is NOTHING complicated about "separation of church and state"
Absolutely correct there is nothing complicated about it that a good study of world history up to the founding will be able to explain. Oh, and some decent study of the founders themselves.
"How could that be, was King a government employee, was he carry out his ideas at the taxpayer expense, I don't think so, So your accusation that King would have been somehow restrained today is completely baseless."--Kerberos
Wrong-- King's success in the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was predicated upon his religious viewpoint that all men are created by God as equals. Such a view cannot be allowed to be established since it is religious. Moreover, churches were used to organize political rallies and political resistance to local authorities. These activities violate your description of separation. It is quite fair to say that churches imposed the 1964 Civil Rights act by initiating a massive political act against southern states. The abolition of slavery could be similarly critiqued.
"I am part of Americans who value freedom, true freedom, not the nanny state variety, and want to keep religion out of government as well as government out of religion. "--Kerberos
Yes-- you value freedom-- freedom from religion. Unfortunately, the first amendment guarantees quite the opposite-- the freedom of religion. Your efforts to secularize the government and then bulldoze it across vast public spaces constitutes your sense of "freedom." In fact, I think you have a near religious like attachment to your view-- so be careful.
Oh, are you of the persuasion that you must know who authored an article before you can decide if it has any merits or not.
"Didn't get it huh? Oh well, I guess one can provide the tools, but they still must be willing to use them."
I would assume you are talking about the asinine author of the piece of clap-trap writing.
If not .... if you believe that garbage, then you are one of the reasons this country is going down the toilet fast.
Perhaps people need to learn how to read English?
Please, show us the reference in the Constitution where it says "separation of church and state".
LOL, there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. The Constitution is a document that defines the limited power of our government, it has no effect on what a church can and can not do. The Constitution was not adapted by churches, but by the government and it is absolutely a one-way street.
"I know all those judges and the ACLU fascists shall pay for the evil that is their existence, but it sure would be nice to see a few of them pay for their evil in my lifetime."
So, do you frequently have these fits of delusional paranoia and persecution and have they been occurring for a long period of time? You know there are places that you can seek and obtain help for them. See your doctor about it as soon as possible.
Show us the phrase in the Constitution! Oh, you can't -- because it DOESN'T EXIST!! You moron! Were you "educated" in a government school?
Even a cursory glance at this nations founding makes clear that several of the states had established religions prior to, during and after the ratification of the United States Constitution.
How did you miss it?
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