Unequal separation

Originally separation of church and state was meant to keep the state from meddling in the affairs of the church. It was to keep the state from enacting or enforcing any church memberships upon citizens. People were to be free to worship as they saw best, not the way the state directed. It was for the state to be hands off the church. It was not meant to keep the church from having any influence in the state. Nor was it meant to prohibit religious expression in public.

“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.”

Fast forward 200 years or so. We’ve now completely reversed the original intent. Quashed it and twisted it so much that it now is almost entirely opposite in form, intent, and enforcement. Now it is used to keep any church related content out of the state. Not just government legislation, but public institutions like schools and even public places such as building lobbies, libraries and other meeting places, or parks. Nor is it limited to morals or doctrine influences, but also any religious display may be subject to censure.

We claim to have freedom to worship, but that seems to be only applicable to private places like churches and homes. No longer can prayer meetings be held in parks or other public places without fear of persecution by the state. In fact, some prayer meetings even here in the US that are held in homes have become suspect and raided for not getting a permit to hold a religious gathering. No longer can a person hand out religious tracts on streets. No longer can people pray for Godly guidance before public hearings or meetings. Or if they can, it must be a generic, non-faith prayer not evoking a specific religious meaning such as “in the name of Jesus”.

No longer is is acceptable to teach the religious influences on history at public schools. Instead, you must teach just the humanist reasons; turning history into just names and dates, secular reasoning and events. How can you teach the Crusades, or other events in the Middle Ages? How can we even properly teach the history of our own nation without including the Christian influences? Our country was founded by Christians seeking religious freedom, not just no taxation without representation. What about the Pilgrims? To remove religious influences in history is to remove the reasons behind a lot of historical events, making them meaningless.

Yet, this modern separation of church and state interpretation seems mainly aimed toward Christians. We have become almost anti-Christian in this country if our efforts to barricade church and state apart; rooting out and destroying any vestige of Christianity. Christmas displays have been baned (even decorated trees and Santas which are definitely not originally Christian symbols although they have come to be associated with Christmas). Forget the Easter egg hunt at the public park. Yet, it is all right in the name of cultural diversity to teach holidays celebrated by other religions, complete with the religious significance behind it. We are to leave our Christianity at the church door.

President Obama personally sat down and held a Muslim feast, yet he didn’t even send a representative to the National Day of Prayer. This was the first time in 8 years, services haven’t been held at the White House. The National Day of Prayer was established in 1952 by President Harry Truman. President Reagan signed a resolution in 1988 to observe the National Day of Prayer each year on the first Thursday in May, and each president since has recognized this day with a proclamation. How can the President claim to reach out to people of all faiths if he ignores one of the largest faiths in the US, namely Christians?

For instance in Texas, there is a proposal to replace teaching Christmas and Rosh Hashanah with the Hindu festival of Diwali in the 6th grade social studies curriculum relating to world geography and cultures. Currently students are to explain the significance of religious holidays such as the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. If you have a separation of church and state it should be for all religions. No religious teaching should be done. Not just going after the dominant religion. Yet to do so would be to a failure to understand the motivations behind many world cultures and societies. Instead, they are simply removing Christian and Jewish religions.

It would seem to be a double standard. A separate separation for Christians. Religious expression freedoms in public by Christians are being quashed in the name of separation between church and state. Ironically, enforcement of a total separation between church and state actually violates the very same article of the Constitution many are evoking by restricting religious expression. Also by doing so, the state is restricting free speech too.

Separation of church and state is not actually in the Constitution. What is there is an admonition against a state run church. It is an anti-establishment clause, not separation. The separation clause instead comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. However, many now interpret the First Amendment to be separatist. Yet, in the strictest sense, separation between church and state is unconstitutional in that it isn’t directly mentioned in the Constitution.

Not to be racist, but this seems to have similarities to the separate but equal racial segregation where whites and blacks had separate but supposedly equal public places such as rest rooms, water fountains, and even schools. In reality, they were far from equal. If a Christian tries to publicly express their traditions, it’s violating separation of church and state. If another religious group does, it’s welcomed as cultural diversity. If that’s not a double standard and prime example of reverse discrimination, what is? In some instances I would go so far as to say it is bordering on state sanctioned persecution.

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7 Responses

  1. Just out of curiosity, what is your source or reasoning for this statement: “Ironically, enforcement of a total separation between church and state actually violates the very same article of the Constitution many are evoking by restricting religious expression”?

    Also, are you arguing that “respecting the establishment” has the exact meaning as “establishing”?

    While I disagree with you on a few points, this appears to be a fairly well-thought-out article. Nicely done.

  2. In Texas the 6th grade social studies is world history. Hinduism along with other religions and religious festivals are mentioned. With the emphasis on passing the TAKS there really isn’t much time to cover anything in depth.

    BTW, the social studies cycle is:
    K-3rd grades — community, general social studies
    4th & 7th grades – Texas history
    5th, 8th & 9th Grade US
    6th & 10th or 11th grades — world history
    10th or 11th grade –geography
    12th grade government/economics

  3. I’m not surprised nothing is covered in depth. That’s a lot of material. Thanks for the additional info.

  4. Patrick,
    Thanks for reading my article. I probably didn’t phrase that very well. To me “respecting the establishment” means endorsing or giving favor to one particular religion, especially over another. The government shouldn’t give favor to one religion over another. I don’t believe it was to say no religious expressions will be tolerated in public areas or government since that would violate freedom of religious expression. That’s my reasoning of why separation of church and state as interpreted today means violating the same clause because the same first amendment also says the government isn’t to restrict religious expression. So that by denying people rights to freely practice their religion in public places is restricting religious expression. It’s also restricting free speech. Both of which are expressly forbidden by the government in the first amendment. In a nutshell I guess I’m trying to say that it doesn’t make sense that the government won’t tolerate public religion yet at the same time say it won’t restrict religious expression or free speech.

    What got me started on this post was a recent shipment of homeschool history books. In it was a form letter saying that because it was a school charter order, some materials may have been removed due to possibly religious content. It didn’t affect my program any, but one of the other programs about the Middle Ages would have several books including the main text removed. This just got me upset at how far we’ve gone to eliminate any vestige of religion from government and schools. It’s now an encumbrance upon teaching certain events. While I agree public schools shouldn’t enforce religion, they should be allowed to openly teach it’s effect upon history and historical events since religion is one of the driving forces in history, especially Christianity upon Western socieites.

  5. There has been a growing movement by secondary history teachers to have 3 yrs of US history. Usually the 8th grade year is up to the Civil War. If a 3rd year is added supposedly the 2nd year would be up to WWII or early 50’s.

  6. The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. The absence of the phrase in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression the words appeared there and later learned of their mistake. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. That letter, though, played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Indeed, the Court mentioned it only in passing after stating its conclusion based on a lengthy and detailed discussion (encompassing many pages and many footnotes) of the historical context in which the First Amendment was developed. The metaphor “separation of church and state” was but a handy catch phrase to describe the upshot of its conclusion. The Court’s reading of the First Amendment in this regard was unanimous; all nine Justices agreed on that much, but split 5-4 on whether the Amendment precludes states from paying for transportation of students to religious schools.

    Perhaps even more than Thomas Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that old habits die hard and that tendencies of citizens and politicians could and sometimes did lead them to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    The First Amendment embodies the simple, just idea that each of us should be free to exercise his or her religious views without expecting that the government will endorse or promote those views and without fearing that the government will endorse or promote the religious views of others. By keeping government and religion separate, the establishment clause serves to protect the freedom of all to exercise their religion. Reasonable people may differ, of course, on how these principles should be applied in particular situations, but the principles are hardly to be doubted. Moreover, they are good, sound principles that should be nurtured and defended, not attacked. Efforts to transform our secular government into some form of religion-government partnership should be resisted by every patriot.

  7. Doug,
    Your last paragraph is a great summation of the First Amendment. Thanks for the additional background. My post wasn’t to attack the First Amendment, just to point out recent inconsistencies in enforcement toward different religious groups. I like your word entanglement. Perhaps that should have been used along with establishment as it is a bit more succinct. That’s a problem I have with interpretation of historical documents. Language isn’t static. Our vocabulary and usage has changed, while the document (in this case, the Constitution) has stayed the same. But I digress…

    However, we do need to realize that there is a difference between establishing/endorsing/entangling a national religion and simply acknowledging a religious practice or historical event. It’s a fine line but one I think is important. One that was clearly understood by our founding fathers but which has become lost. (Otherwise why would religion specifically be dealt with in such a way as it is?) After all, our national motto is In God We Trust, yet God isn’t mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. To ignore all religions totally isn’t possible unless you make atheism your official position (and that would be establishing atheism).

    The rules need to be made in such as way as to be inclusive while not endorsing of specific religions. For instance public places should be open to everyone, including all religions, to practice or hold peaceful meetings. Just because a Christian or Muslim or Hindu may be the only religious group to want to take advantage shouldn’t preclude them on the basis of separation. As long as it is open to all, without a religious precedent in the usage rules (I can understand not wanting animal sacrifices but that can be handled in a way to preclude any animals not just those which may be for religious reasons. The same for excessive noise), isn’t violating separation or free expression simply because only one group choses to use the place. The opportunity and access is offered to all who follow the standard usage rules. To exclude religious groups is violating freedom of speech and religious expression. Afterall, a library doesn’t choose who wants to use it’s space. They can only control who actually will get to use it.

    The same for monuments and displays. As long as a group can show a reasonable justification for it’s design, placement, and significance and the proposed monument is unoffensive to the general public, it should be allowed in any public place irregardless if it be of religious meaning or content. I have no argument with the 10 Commandments in public buildings as long as other religious groups have equal opportunity to erect monuments in similar locations. Again, just because Christians choose to do so and other religious groups don’t, shouldn’t preclude against them so long as public funds aren’t used.

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