September 19, 2014
Can we have religious liberty without having “separation of church and state”—and can we agree on what that separation is supposed to mean?
I’m been drawn into a discussion of this—politely, I’m surprised to say—by an atheist. He believes strongly in “separation of church and state” as the fundamental law of our republic—even though this phrase is not to be found in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence and has never been codified by any act of legislation. He relies on assorted judges’ rulings to define “separation” as law. I don’t know what kind of republic is governed by opinions from the bench, especially when they routinely nullify acts of the legislature and votes by the people.
My friend is much clearer about what “separation of church and state” ought to mean. To him, it means liberty of conscience, achieved by the government preserving a strict religious neutrality, never taking sides on any question of religious disagreement.
Could anything be farther from what we have today?
Every day our courts and our bureaucracies—organs of government that go their merry way, regardless of the wishes of the people or their elected representatives—take sides in moral controversies. In fact, they nearly always take the same side, siding with “gays” against Christians, atheists against Christians, left-wing academics against Christians, and anyone else who’s trying to banish Christianity from any role in public business. What we experience, daily, is the exactly opposite of religious neutrality.
It’s a nice little scam. The government sticks it to Christians at every opportunity—and that they call “religious neutrality,” and defend it as such.
But then religious neutrality is impossible, anyhow.
When a complaint by a single atheist can move the government to abolish a small town’s annual Christmas parade, where is the neutrality? Can a Christian go to court and demand that Christian children be allowed to pray in school? Only if he wants to waste his time and money.
How can my secular friend not see this? Maybe because he thinks his beliefs are “science,” and therefor unassailably true, while mine are “just religion” and almost certainly not true. All right, the Supreme Court last year ruled, unanimously, that the federal government cannot dictate to a church who is a minister of that church and who isn’t. But that was a glaring exception to the rule.
Judges in the 19th century were perfectly comfortable with recognizing the United States as a Christian nation. The country was settled, founded, and built up by Christians, with a sprinkling of Jews. Our founders plainly declared that our rights and liberties are given to us not by the state, but by God Himself. There was no religious neutrality in that; but our heritage of religious freedom stems from that fact of history.
It took Christians a long time to arrive at that position, and painful centuries of religious wars and persecutions—which were not in any way sanctioned by the Bible. But arrive they did; and wherever any semblance of religious freedom exists in this fallen world today, it was Christians who made it so.
Now our hard-won ethic of tolerance is being turned against us.
If Christians contended for their faith with the same zeal, vigor, and persistence with which the anti-Christians contend for theirs, the culture war would be over in a hurry. But we don’t stand up and fight for our beliefs.
We’ve been bamboozled and beguiled by the mantra of “separation of church and state,” which has come to mean “all power reserved to anti-Christians.” We are daunted by our antagonists accusing us of “trying to force your ideas on everybody else”—when all the time it’s clearly atheists and others who regularly succeed in doing that very thing. We cringe when they accuse us of trying to set up a theocracy, leaving them free to impose their own kind of theocracy. We wring our hands as anti-Christians busily set up “human rights” commissions and sentence us to “sensitivity training” and “diversity classes” because we haven’t gone along with some aspect of their program. If Christians were to do the same, it would be called an inquisition.
We have no desire to take over the state and use its coercive apparatus to force anyone to honor God. In protecting the rights of religious or anti-religious minorities, we protect our own. We obey God’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
But respecting their rights should never compel us to sign away our own.
“Religious neutrality” is a utopian ideal, like absolute “equality,” impossible to achieve in the real world. The pursuit of it leads only to abuses.
Yes, it’s always easier just to live our lives, watch TV, and mind our own business. But when we make that our chief concern, sooner or later the government decides that our business is its business.
And that’s where we are today.
� 2014 Lee Duigon - All Rights Reserved
Lee Duigon, a contributing editor with the Chalcedon Foundation, is a former newspaper reporter and editor, small businessman, teacher, and horror novelist. He has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 34 years. See his new fantasy/adventure novels, Bell Mountain and The Cellar Beneath the Cellar, available on www.amazon.com