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Separation of Sect and State 2

by Stephen Williamson  
6/05/2014 / Politics


The United States of America has developed a recent popular view that church should stay in the church building. Let us first examine the parties of interest and then the message this communicates to them.

There are two basic groups who alone stand to benefit from the new philosophy: those who are afraid that their children will find the way to heaven, and those who do not know why they believe what they believe. If we are afraid that our children will face heaven, we will want to extinguish their exposure to it, and if we do not know why we believe what we believe, we will therefore be unable to explain it. Further, in both cases, if we do not want our children to have to struggle with religion, we will try to prevent their struggles, and if we are set in our ways, diversity will come as an offense.

Then, there are those who stand to lose from this philosophy: those who are curious, and those who think that they have found the way to heaven. Under this new banner, those who are curious may never hear, and those who might have found the way cannot share it. In addition, the two main groups that stand to benefit actually have something to lose, as well. Those who are afraid that their children will find the way to heaven may have greater fears realized for lack of moral and spiritual influence, and those who do not know why they believe what they believe will never be challenged on it and discover how real it may or may not have been.

So, this is the message it sends to all parties of interest: when we say that church should stay in the church building, we are really saying that we do not want to think about religion except at church. We are saying that we do not want to seek religion except at church. We are saying that religion should have no lasting effects, and that it should never transform us. And, if it ever should transform us, we would find ourselves unable to live honestly.

Now let us go back to the source of this philosophy. It began as a new interpretation of the First Amendment in 1947 in the case Everson v Board of Education. The Supreme Court overturned about 156 years of precedent and finally concluded that the founding fathers did in fact intend separation of church and state when writing the First Amendment. Let us examine that.

People are often surprised that the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Those who look closer at the First Amendment are often further confused by a seemingly contradictory "establishment clause" and "free exercise clause" placed side-by-side. The Establishment Clause seems to say that the government cannot support any religion or religious activity, while the Free Exercise Clause seems to say that any religious activity is permissible by anyone, even the government. It suggests this by using the word "and" to connect the two. We therefore have no other choice but to conclude that there is something we are missing.

What we are missing can be found in what exactly the government is to give up. If it is supposed to give up religion, this would not make sense in context of the First Amendment or its framing. However, it does not say "religion", it says "establishment of religion". So, what happens when you establish a religion? This happened to the pilgrims, and happens to be the reason they moved here. You see, it was not that religion was being forced on them; in fact, they wanted religion. It was that their government took sides on matters they considered in the realm of opinion. When you establish religion, you promote sectarianism.

So, what is sectarianism, and how can we stop it? When we think of sectarianism, we often think of fighting between denominations of the same religion, and this is actually accurate, except that when it appears in government, there are often laws that enforce one of the sides. This is what our founding fathers wanted to protects us against, so that we would be free to worship according to our own preferences, just like the Free Exercise Clause promotes.

How we stop it is a little trickier. We need to enforce the current laws according to their original intent, but we also need to make this original intent more obvious to future generations. The best option is to clarify the language, providing for the ideas that our founders intended.

By an ordinary writer who wants people to know the truth.

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