Thursday, August 16, 2012


"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"

"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession."

I don't quite understand why some people oppose the idea of a separation of church and state. From what I have read by the founding fathers, as I have said before, the intent of the establishment clause in the First Amendment is to protect religious beliefs. As Thomas Jefferson clarified, this protection occurs through a wall of separation between church and state. Without this wall, the smaller fringe sects can fall victim to the whims of the beliefs of the majority. Sure, Fox News tries to paint the picture that Christianity is under attack, but every time I look closer I only see a minority protecting themselves from a majority.

Take, for example, the case of Santa Monica, California last December. In years past, various Christian groups were allowed to display nativity scenes in display cases along the beach. This is public property, so some people complained that Christian churches were being favored by the local government. In an effort to compromise, the local officials decided to hold a lottery where any church or non-profit could "win" the use of a display case for a few weeks prior to Christmas. At first everyone seemed fine with this. That is, until they realized that half of the displays went to non-Christians--including atheists (dun-dun-duuunnnn). So great was the uproar about the atheist displays that many are calling for the lottery and general use of the displays to not happen this year. And it seems they will get their wish.

Take another case. In the 90's, Evangelical Christians lobbied local governments to allow them to hand out tracts and fliers for various youth groups held at local churches to students at public high schools. Being the Bible Belt, there was little resistance and the motion passed. What the ministers did not count on, however, was that a local Wiccan group also wanted to hand out fliers at the high schools. Once it was realized that the Pagans were proselytizing to the youth, a new motion passed to remove the previous one, and now no one can hand out fliers.

There are other examples of similar events. The important thing is what they all have in common--as soon as you remove the wall of separation of church and state, those in the majority cry foul on the minority. This means that if left unchecked, the majority could very likely oppress the minority. Christianity is not under attack. They are simply being put in check. They have enjoyed a privileged status for decades (thanks to McCarthyism), and now that the minority is speaking out and applying the First Amendment properly, they are losing their privileges. This, understandably, makes them uncomfortable; hence the backlash.

Whenever I am confronted by someone who denies the separation of church and state, or who says "This is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles," I wonder if they really understand the implications of what they are saying. First, the statement is factually wrong. The United States is the first nation to use a secular constitution. This does not mean 'without religion' or 'atheistic.' It simply means 'religiously neutral.' Going back to the previous examples, separation of church and state only means that all religious groups are held equally. If one church can use a public display or pass out tracts at a public high school, then ALL religious groups have that right. The fact that local governments have had to stop allowing tracts or displays is not the application of the First Amendment; it only reflects the need for such equality in the first place, as it became necessary in order to keep the peace. And in every instance, it is the majority that cries foul when the minority is given equal ground in the community.

In 1971 there was a court case between Lemon v. Kurtzman, during which the issue of the separation of church and state became very important. I won't bore you with the details of the trial, but out of this case we now have what is called "The Lemon Test" which is often used to determine whether a law follows the First Amendment or not, when religion is involved. It goes as follows:

  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
Point number one, I think, is the most relevant to the establishment clause. In order for a law to be fair for all members of society, regardless their religious affiliations, it needs to be religiously neutral. This is what is meant by "secular," as I said above. Another way of looking at it is if the only reason for a particular law is religious, then it can not be ratified--there has to be another reason for the law. If this were not the case, then it would necessarily favor one religious belief over another.

This is exactly what is happening with the "Gay Marriage" debate. I have written about this numerous times. As far as I can tell, the only arguments being presented against gay marriage are based solely upon religious convictions. Therefore, according to the Lemon Test, laws prohibiting gay marriage are unconstitutional.


Here is Bill O'Reilly on the "War on Christmas"

And here is Al Sharpton attacking the "War on Christianity"

No comments: