Separation of Church and State – A Twisted Tale

Despite what some may say, this is actually a very simple issue. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states quite clearly that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”. This means, quite simply, that no issue of religion is to be determined by the United States Government, nor any State government (14th Amendment).

So, if we accept that, then that means that no body of government at any level has the right to say where you can and cannot pray, where a cross can and cannot be placed, where “God” can and cannot be written, or anything else in regards to religion.

However, separation of church and state was NEVER meant to mean separation of religion in all forms from government, and everyone involved in government, in every way. This country was founded by deeply religious men and women…that was, after all, the main reason so many left Europe, to obtain religious freedom.

It was understood then, as it should be now, that your religion absolutely influences who you are and the way you make decisions, and that is simply unavoidable. In fact, it it may well be desirable, for morality and religion often go hand in hand (with obvious exceptions), and we WANT and NEED moral leaders. A beneficial democracy cannot exist without morals.

The fact of the matter is that the United States of America is a democracy, where the majority sets the rules. As of 2008, 76% of US Citizens identified themselves as Christian. This means, like it or not, that the majority, the ones setting the laws, are Christian. Since any religion should, if lived, define one’s character, it will of course influence one’s decisions and morals.

And, so long as the Christian majority aren’t forcing anyone to believe in or actively participate in Christianity, the minority gets to live with it. Nobody, be it a vocal minority or the US Government, has the right to say where, when or how anyone can or cannot worship.

Prayer in schools? A OK, and there isn’t a damn thing the US Government can legally say about it. Granted, nobody can be forced to participate, but any student who would like to pray at school is, according to the Constitution, free to do so. Crosses on government or public land? Once again, fair game, and the Gov has no say. God on our money, public buildings, etc? It is an important part of the history of our country, and should never be forgotten or pushed aside. If the majority wants it there, then there it stays.

The Constitution guarantees that nobody will ever be forced to join a religion or accept religious (or non-religious) beliefs, and that works both ways. We should respect different religious beliefs (or lack thereof), worship when and where we see fit (or not at all), and be tolerant of those whose religious beliefs or non-beliefs differ from our own.

We need to stop looking at insignificant differences and try finding some common ground. If the majority would stand up and act like mature adults, perhaps our country would be a much better place, and this wouldn’t even be an issue. To fear and fight against that which is different, for no other reason than that it is different, is for fools and fools alone.

33 replies on “Separation of Church and State – A Twisted Tale”

  1. Amen!

    One correction though: We are actually a republic. Very much like a democracy, except we the people vote in individuals as the lawmakers to represent us. So, in reality, a tiny minority rules, that tiny minority being put in place by the majority.

    Thus the importance in carefully choosing the right individuals.

    But back to the point… your closing is the key point I think. We are a Christian nation. If we better abided by Christian principles of love and acceptance, the nation would be better for it. Much has been said about those who twist the principles of Islam, yet the horrible twisting of Christianity is happening right in our own back yard.

  2. Good point Stu, and well said. We definitely need to choose our representatives much more carefully. I’m of the opinion that anyone who wants to be a politician shouldn’t be…instead, we need to persuade reluctant but qualified individuals who are both religious and moral to run for office…they would make much better representatives 🙂

  3. You say that “morality and religion go hand in hand”. Would you please flesh that out? What kind of support are you able to provide? Are you saying that people without religion can not be moral? or have no basis for moral guidance? or that only Christians can be moral? What would you have to see in order to determine whether or not any given person is moral.

    1. I can’t explain it any better than this:

      But, were I to try, it would go something like this. Morality is composed of right and wrong. What is right and what is wrong is essentially defined by a society and its laws (though it really does go deeper than that, since the morality of a society and its laws can degrade). Society and laws, in all instances that I can think of, have a historical religious foundation of some sort, seeing as the majority of people on earth are in some way religious. Religion is composed of teachings/precepts believed to come from a divine being (or beings), usually to whom one is ultimately accountable. Being accountable for one’s actions is a critical component of moral behavior. Therefore morality and religion go hand in hand.

  4. I will read your Stanford reference and reply. I hope you are interested in an ongoing respectful discussion with the objective coming to an understanding of the concept of morality and how it relates to religion. From what I have read of your reference so far, it looks like historically you are right. But it is also historically accurate to say that mankind has long been ruled by royalty and despots. But society has learned through a slow, painful process that people are not served well by these forms of governance. It is possible that it is a good idea to examine the historical relationship between morality and religion to see if it truly serves mankind. It makes sense that morality does but PERHAPS its relationship with religion does not. Are you up for an honest respectful discussion? I am and, in fact, I’m looking forward to one. The issue is important and deserves much attention.

    1. Sure, I’m always game for a friendly discussion/debate 🙂 And perhaps I should clarify…I’m not saying that one must be religious, either by practice or profession, in order to be moral. You can of course be one without the other.

      However, though one can be moral without embracing religion, I would argue that since morals historically stem from religion (and religion is historically at the heart of every major society and culture on earth), then technically, if you are a moral person, you are at least in some way a religious person as well for you are embracing something that stems from religion 🙂

  5. I believe I understand what you are saying. As long as the government doesn’t legislate to establish a state religion, elected officials are free to use the moral criteria that guide them in their private lives to guide them in their voting. So for example, when an elected official believes alcohol consumption to be morally wrong he or she is free to propose and then vote for a law to ban it. Other elected officials may vote against such a law for their own moral reasons. And the law’s enactment would be the result of the moral position of the majority of the legislative body. You also believe that the moral criteria used are necessarily based on religious belief. Am I correct?

  6. Hi SamAntics,

    There appears to be a problem with the comment sort. My last comment labelled as 8 should be 10. Your last comment is correctly labelled 11. But the time of your entry is almost midnight. My time is 5:17 PM. May ask where you are? The current order confuses things. It appears that the website is having difficult putting a date and time on comments.

    Mike A.

    1. Hmmm, and odd WordPress problem, or so it seems. I have no way of editing the comment order 🙁 I’m in Utah, but despite having set the blog’s time to MST, it still shows my posts and comments 6 hours ahead…that’s what I get for using a blog instead of hosting it myself.

      Nevermind, I think I figured it out. I just edited the submitted time for your comment, and that seems to have fixed it.

  7. I’m in Utah too. So is this your website/blog? And you’re using WordPress. I was not familiar with it; so I looked it up. It says that it is both free and priceless but you may not agree with the “priceless” part. Second thought – you’re using WordPress’ website? I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.

    1. This is my personal blog, and one of many websites. So yeah, a blog is hosted by wordpress, while a blog is downloadable software that you host on your own domain.

  8. So should the words in the Declaration of Independence act as guidance as well as religion to elected officials when they cast their votes? Specifically, the words below….

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Because the rights are “unalienable”, each person can define the specifics of how he/she exercises them as long as in doing so the ability of others to exercise theirs is not abridged. Notice that religion is not mentioned. That does not mean, however, that it was forgotten or not considered a right by the founding fathers. Basically, as I see it, freedom of religion is within the purview of the right to pursue happiness. There are many ways one pursues happiness: religion, education, career, marriage, thought, assembly, art, music, books, self-defense, etc. It should necessarily follow that how one defines and acts out any of these activities is within his/her power, so long as others continue to be able to do likewise, and that no law should be passed the violates or suppresses this power.

    What do you think about the Declaration of Independence acting as guidance to legislators as well as religion? And should there ever be a conflict, which should take precedence?

    1. First, when looking at any law or legal statement, it is absolutely critical to understand both the intent of the framer and the context in which it was framed.

      If you look at the wording of the Declaration of Independence, it says “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. By that very statement, any rights which we believe to be unalienable rights were endowed by a Creator. Therefore, if there were to be no Creator, according to this document, then there could also be no unalienable rights.

      The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and in turn the United States Constitution, were all deeply religious, Christian men. They didn’t declare their independence because they wanted to practice something other than Christianity (or no religion at all), they did so because they wanted to practice Christianity in their own way. I highly doubt that they ever even conceived of a time when people would want no religion at all, for religion was such a core part of their lives and society. Therefore, the intent and context of both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution was to protect the free practice of Christianity.

      Of course it can be interpreted far more broadly than that, but from what we know that was the intent.

      Now, the 1st Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” However, this law, like all others, is subject to the principles of Democracy. The majority can vote and thereby make changes to the laws, and even to the Constitution itself. In fact they have, for the the US Government declaring polygamy illegal, which was a law respecting an establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof, for it impacted the religious beliefs and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at that time. However, it was done with due process, according the the ruling of the elected majority, and thus went into effect. It was a perfectly legal proceeding, and I support that.

      So, by that logic, of course the laws of the land would take precedence over religion in all things Government. However, to ignore the intent of the founders and context of the founding of the very laws that make this country what it is…well, that is a very dangerous path. In my experience, removing God from things never makes those things better.

      I was raised Mormon, but hated it, so at 16 I became an Atheist. However, I found that not believing in or worshiping God, not only did it not make my life any better, it actually made it worse. I walked away from God because I felt restricted, like I was lacking in freedom or choice. But turning away from religion didn’t give me more freedom, it just made making good decisions that much harder because morality and religion really do go hand in hand.

      So, since my decision to be an Atheist didn’t make things better, I began studying the religions of the world in an attempt to find an option that was more favorable to me than Mormonism…but there wasn’t one. I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, twice. I studied Greek and Hebrew and got the oldest Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament I could find in an attempt to better understand the original context and intent of the teachings contained therein. And I have to say, I was pretty dang shocked to find that, according the original intent and translations of the Bible, the Mormon religion really was the most correct of every religion on earth (and that was coming from a VERY biased perspective, biased AGAINST Mormonism.)

      So, for the first time in my life, I decided to actually try living my former religion, as perfectly as I could…and lo and behold my life got better. Not just a little, but night and day better. So, long story short, I’m Mormon again…I realize this is semi off topic, but I figure my experiences and point of view are relevant to my stance in this discussion, so I’m throwing it out there 🙂

  9. Three questions:

    What exactly was the intent of the writers of the Declaration of Independence?

    How did you determine their intent?

    If the unalienable rights were granted by the Creator, wouldn’t it add support to the unalienability of those rights?

    I am doing some more research on this but I thought it useful for you to answer these three questions in the meantime.

    1. So are we talking about the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution? It is the Constitution that governs this country, not the Declaration of Independence.

      But, sticking with the Declaration of Independence, the primary intent was to sever our governing connection with Great Britain, due to a long list of wrongs listed in the declaration itself. Summarily, they were asserting what they believed to be their God given right to free agency in all things.

      As to their intent, it is established in the Declaration itself. As to my assertion that their primary intent was to secure the free practice of Christianity, it can be seen quite clearly in the tone and content of the writings of many of the founding fathers.

      And yes, if the rights were granted by a Creator, it would of course add support to those rights. However, though we all have the right to make our own choices, I can’t see a Creator granting rights without also granting laws/rules/guidelines to govern those rights, and what is religion but a collection of such laws/rules/guidelines?

  10. Abraham Lincoln has said that the Declaration of Independence was the ideal and the Constitution is America’s means of reaching it, but that we are not there yet. Over time we have gotten closer. This is why the Declaration is relevant. When the Constitution was first put to a vote, it was turned down because it did not contain sufficient protection of individual rights – (unalienable rights). This lack caused much debate and the result was the Bill of Rights or the first ten amendments. So right from the get-go the Constitution was meant to be a somewhat flexible document. I say somewhat because, although amendable, it is not easily so. But individual freedom was the intent when the Constitution was ratified.

    Those rights were of course bound by some guidelines and those were that no entity has carte blanche to violate them. As an individual, I do not have the right abridge your freedom and you do not have the right to abridge mine. Other entities have the same guideline.

    So the Constitution is attempting to enforce the golden rule as law. Now you may believe that the golden rule is based on religion; I do not. I think that, although, some religions espouse it, it is a cultural concept. Intense examination of it points to it being the only way people can live in peaceful community. Thus, it makes sense to codify it. But it a honing exercise because “the devil is in the details”. Sometimes the golden rule is advanced by a new law and at other times, despite our best intentions, not, in which case, hopefully, we discover our error and rescind. Here is a link to a comment by a person who has studied the rule extensively for over thirty years –

    Are you saying that the signers of the declaration meant that we all have the inalienable right to pursue happiness as Christians only? Officially the signers espoused seven Christian religions plus a few (3) were Deists, which are folks who believe in God but not the Judeo-Christian version. One was a Unitarian. Here is a link that might interest you. It contains a three and a half minute video which is a portion of a presentation by Brown University History professor Gordon Wood about the Founding Fathers. The video shows the professor’s response when asked about the Founders’ views on religion.

    1. Of course the signers of the Declaration wanted everyone, regardless of their religious (or non-religious) preferences, to be free to worship or not worship without government interference. But, as the majority of the signers (and the people in this country at the time) were Christian, I believe they were protecting their right to worship as Christians, as they saw fit. Nothing wrong with that, as it benefits everyone, not just Christians.

      As for the “golden rule” being cultural and not religious, that would essentially be impossible. As far as I am aware, every ancient culture that we have record of was deeply religious, and their community values stemmed from their religious beliefs. Culture and religion are almost as inseparable as morals and religion. Even the very concept of The Golden Rule appears to be religious in origin:

      I’ll check out those links you posted 🙂

    2. I liked that video clip 🙂 So according to that some of the founding fathers weren’t terribly religious, or at least weren’t overtly so. But the majority of the people in the country, for whom the Declaration and the Constitution were written, were both very religious and mostly Christian. According to current statistics, the majority is still both religious and Christian.

      The reason I emphasize the point is that it bothers me deeply that a vocal minority desires to remove all traces of Christianity, and religion in general, from every facet and nuance of government. Is it not the right of the majority to make that decision, and should that right not be respected by the vocal minority? Personally, I feel that people who demand the removal of all traces of religion from all things government are treading upon my religious rights, not the other way around.

      The very concept of separation of church and state was intended to prevent the formation and enforcement of a state religion that could dictate how everyone was required to worship, with judicial penalties for falling out-of-line. There are no legal penalties that I know of for declining the pray in school, declining to participate in the pledge of allegiance, wanting to be sworn in at a court hearing by simply raising one’s right hand without placing one on a Bible, etc. Therefore, as legal requirements and penalties for such things don’t exist, having them present doesn’t infringe on the separation of church and state. So why the fuss?

  11. Folks in the past were less able to explain how things happen than we are today and there was a commensurate tendency to attribute many negative phenomena to the disappointment of the gods. So by definition, religion and culture were integral. But as man learned more about why things happened, there was a commensurate reduction in the need to lean on religious explanations. This kind of evolution – one of knowledge – is a great test of the general wisdom behind certain religious customs. As our knowledge grows, people will often use other criteria to evaluate customs. There is a tendency, I believe, to discard some traditions that don’t pass muster vis-à-vis the new knowledge. The golden rule can be justified on purely secular grounds as well; it does not need religion. If the governments of the world were to rule solely to enforce the golden rule, the world would be a much better place and religion doesn’t even have to be mentioned – except of course in the churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples – and at many homes as well.

    I did some research on the subject of the Founders and Religion and I came across a book titled “The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America” by Frank Lambert that folks reviewed quite favorably as the most objective book on the subject they found. It’s for sale on Amazon and I’m planning to buy it. You may want to check it out on Amazon for yourself.

    So you think that the majority should rule regardless? No one is being persecuted today so now we can weaken the separation we are discussing? Apparently, you think that today the majority would vote to have more religious aspects to government and you may be correct but what if it turns out that the majority disagrees with your preference? Would you accept that? Do you have some examples of the kinds of things you would like to see enacted? Maybe looking at specifics would help the discussion. How far should we go with this? Can it ever be too much? Another aspect of this issue is the Bill of Rights, which not only enabled ratification the Constitution but also was intended to protect folks from the potential evils of the majority-rule.

    I would like to add that I am not necessarily trying to convince you of anything – I say “necessarily” because as a human being I wouldn’t mind convincing you but my overriding hope is to understand why you believe as you do and that you understand me. No judgment – only understanding.

    1. So what you are saying is that the golden rule can stand without religion. I honestly don’t think the golden rule would work without a religious majority, not to mention the fact that I believe it’s wrong to discard the origins of something just because you don’t like it. You can’t simply keep what you like and dismiss the rest. And technically it would be impossible to separate morals and religion simply because over 80% of the world’s population is religious.

      And yes, for good or ill, the majority rules. There are only three possible responses: accept the ruling of the majority, start a war to overthrow the majority, or leave and find a place to live that is more to your liking. If the majority ruled in a way contrary to what I wanted, I would likely go with option 1 or 3, because war is rarely if ever a wise course of action.

      I personally don’t want more religion added to government, but I don’t want less either. I think this country has had an excellent balance until fairly recently. It is the fight to remove all traces of religion from all aspects of government and public display that I disagree with.

      Discussion is all well and good, and I’m certainly not judging since we are all free to live and choose as we see fit. To each their own.

      I’ll wander down to the bookstore and see if they have that book 🙂

  12. I have one rule I live by – to treat all people who have not harmed me with respect. The way to do this is to avoid violating their rights as stated in our Declaration of Independence, specifically as I quoted in a prior post. The golden rule is a good one but I don’t believe it’s good enough because it seems to condone people abuse by those who like being abused themselves. When the golden rule is made consistent with the Declaration of Independence, it becomes a platinum rule. It was the Declaration that enabled the founders to risk their lives and break free of England. That was because the idea expressed by it was noble enough to be worth fighting for. Guiding one’s life according the Declaration is not only patriotic but inherently American. The idea therein is what I like to call the Concept of America. Any law that violates these rights, and we have quite a few, is un-American and should be abolished. Remember, if Joe’s God-given right is inalienable, Jack has no right to tell Joe how to exercise that right as long as Joe’s actions do not limit Jack’s rights. Jack’s elected representatives are also prohibited from abridging Joe’s rights.

    You have found something in your religion that improves your life. I have not found a religion that will improve mine; so I do not follow any. But I treat people with due respect and I don’t need a religion to impose that on me. I impose it on myself because the consequences of any other guideline are not acceptable. When you treat people with due respect, you are acting morally, regardless of your religion.

    The leaders I would want are the ones who are capable and know how to govern without violating the rights of the people as stated in the Declaration of Independence. They may or may not have a religious background. They may or may not believe in a God. But they must obey the Declaration of Independence or at the very least the Constitution, while working to make the Constitution more aligned with the Declaration.

    1. Dude, you’re awesome. I’m glad that you have a strict moral code, and props to you for having that without a religious influence. I don’t know if that is common, but judging by the state of our world I would say it is probably very uncommon.

      We’ve established that it is perfectly possible to be a moral person without following a religion. Claiming to be religious does not make one moral, nor does being moral necessarily make one religious. However, it is virtually impossible to truly be religious and not be moral, since every major religion includes a strict moral code.

      My argument is that, statistically and historically speaking, you cannot separate religion and morals. You can’t do it. The religious distribution of the population (both now and in the past), and the influence of religion on virtually every ancient and modern culture we know of, makes such a separation impossible to prove, if not simply impossible.

      And so, if you can’t truly separate religion and morals, then how can you truly separate church and state?

      If the majority is religious, then it is again statistically likely that the majority of elected officials would be religious also. Even if they aren’t religious, they are representing a religious majority. Either way their decisions, laws, etc. would thus be religiously influenced. It’s a circle that is unlikely to be broken, and that I honestly can’t see a good reason to break.

  13. I’ve come across some interesting info that I have to digest and organize. I’ll pass my summary of it to you. In the mean time, my weekend is going to be very busy. So it will probably not be until Monday. I am enjoying our discussion immensely; it helps me organize my thoughts about this issue. Thanks for thoughts.

    1. Awesome, and I hope you have a good weekend! It’s a fun discussion for sure…I love logic, history, philosophy and religion, so any discussion involving all of the above is a treat 🙂

  14. Divine Command Theory of Morality
    1. God is the source of all morality by giving us rules to live by. Because we are created as free agents, we are not compelled to follow them. But is order to live a moral life, we must.
    2. This theory provides objectivity. Morals then are not a matter of custom, personal preference, or culture. Any given moral rule is right simply because Gods commands it. Any given act is wrong because God forbids it.
    3. This theory includes a day of final reckoning as way of encouraging obeisance.
    4. This theory raises an important question. Is conduct right because God commands it or does God command it because it is right?
    a. If we say the conduct is right because God commands it, we are implying that God is arbitrary. God could have commanded us to steal. Also the doctrine of the goodness of God becomes meaningless. So selection of this answer means we must give up the doctrine of the goodness of God.
    b. If we say that God commands it because it is right, we are implying that right and wrong are independent of God’s will.
    c. This suggests that morality is independent of God.

    Theory of the Natural Law
    1. According to this theory, the world is a rational order with values and purposes built into it. This is because the world was considered to have created according to a divine plan. In other words, the law of nature not only describes how things but also how things ought to be.
    2. Because God created us as rational beings, we are able to discover the requirements of morality on our own.

    Here is a link you may find interesting. I don’t necessarily agree with the final conclusion though.

    1. From a philosophical perspective I’d say that both the above theories and the article aren’t logically sound, as they make unfounded assumptions and fail to take into account other possibilities. I’m super busy today and tomorrow, and I’m going to have to think about how best to phrase my response…I’ll get back to you 🙂

  15. My recent post is merely something I found, not necessarily something I agree with. Sometimes people, philosophers included, think on a simplistic level. I often find that theories offered sound good initially but are often found wanting after some thought. I look forward to hearing your take on these. We may have more in common then we thought earlier.

    1. Hey Mike, sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve been super busy attempting to build out my consulting business, and unfortunately I just don’t have the time right now to carefully research and craft out responses to this discussion. I don’t want to ignore it, but neither do I have the time to give it the attention that it deserves. I’ll try to come back to this in the future, but for the time being I just don’t have the cycles. Sorry!

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