For more than two centuries our greatest governing document here in America has been molded.
I use the term molded, because there are matters contained in the Constitution which aren’t as clear as others. It is, at times, difficult to know exactly what our founding fathers’ meant when they penned that governing document.
Let’s take a look at the First Amendment and examine exactly what it meant as it pertains to the freedom of religion.
“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.”
The men who wrote that document wrote from the perspective of folks who had once dealt with a state-sponsored church. Many of those who took the journey from England did so in order to freely exercise their religion. It makes sense our founding fathers sought to ensure that right would never be infringed upon.
Some of the text is clear. The government can’t set up a church and make it THE church. It’s clear in America you can be Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist or follow any other religion or lack thereof and practice those beliefs.
However, there is as much left for interpretation as there is clarified in that text.
There are some out there who believe I am anti-religion, and it might be a fair assumption based on some of what I write. That stated, that assumption is unequivocally wrong.
Religion is a sacred matter. A person’s religious beliefs, no matter what they are, must always be respected, but a line must be drawn. I’m a huge believer in this line. Government is barred from going into a church and interjecting itself into a church’s set of beliefs.
Of course, people vote based on their religious beliefs. That’s all fine and dandy, but the line must be drawn when religious groups attempt to force the rest of society to live by their chosen set of rules.
While many people wave their constitutions around, concerned about government getting into religion, crickets can be heard from these Constitutionalists when religion interjects itself into government. Both sets of circumstances are dangerous though.
To use one’s god as a means to influence government cheapens the sacredness of the religion, and if government becomes tied up in religion, it threatens the principal upon which this nation was founded.
There’s a line, in my opinion. Church stays at church, and church values remain with a person and his or her family. Government sets policy based on what is right for the entire populace, and ought never infringe on a person’s right to practice his or her religion.
I’m in good company with those thoughts, except he called it a “wall.”
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.
When church leaders attempt to apply church beliefs to society’s laws, they give up the indemnity their religion affords them. In other words, I would never judge a belief or value a pastor conveys in a sermon or teaching. To do so would be unfair, and it would impose upon the sacredness of his or her religious beliefs.
However, when a church or pastor becomes a special interest group — when he attempts to push those values on all of our society — he loses that indemnity. He forces us to judge those beliefs on a broader basis, as he attempts to force all to live by a set of values which is derived from his sacred set of beliefs. They become no longer sacred — no longer untouchable or unquestionable, as we must question those beliefs as they apply outside of the confines of his religion.
The wall must be tall to protect both government and religion. In the world, it’s easy to see the upheaval that is caused when government plays in religion, but mixing the two is just as dangerous for religion.
With Millennials, and the generation’s general acceptance of homosexual relationships and other more socially liberal stances, about to take the reins in society, the church would do best not to play in politics.
According to Christianity Today, 70 percent of young Christians drop out of church, never to return. Many of them cite the church’s stance in politics as their reasoning.
Thus, for the good of government and church, the wall must remain impregnable.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.