Saturday, May 07, 2005

Church-state separation--a failed experiment

A few days ago, I was reading some comments someone had written on a message board about a confrontation she had had with a teacher about religion in the classroom. The poster, while explaining to the teacher that the Constitution was set up so that the country would not promote a religion (in this case, Christianity), got this response: "But the government is promoting Christianity."

This sent a chill up my spine, not because the teacher perceived this, but because she was right. We have a former cardinal (now the Pope) telling churches to refuse communion to politicians who do not go along with the Vatican's anti-woman stance, a judge in Florida getting kicked out of his church for enforcing the law, another church telling its Democratic members to leave, and now another archbishop telling priests to deny communion to gay and gay-friendly parishioners who wear rainbow sashes.

H.R. 235, proposed by Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina, would allow clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit and still retain a tax exemption of their house of worship. Why pass this law? What's the point? Can you name one church that has lost its tax-exempt status because of political involvement from the pulpit? What happened to the church that hosted Justice Sunday? Were there any sanctions? Of course not. H.R. 235 has been enforced for a long time.

As the "morality" of the right wing bleeds into our schools, our pharmacies, our government institutions, and our media, hardly anyone pushes back. The Christians who supposedly oppose this continual blending of church and state are as quiet as...well, church mice. Our alleged progressive politicians are even quieter. It won't be long before the mission is complete, and the evil that is Christian fundamentalism will have overtaken everything.


When I worked on political campaigns the Unitarian Church was always very very careful about hosting us, letting us use their meeting room, etc., since they were afraid of losing their tax exempt status. Yet look what the right wing churches are doing. We should start filing complaints with the IRS.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:32 AM  

You nailed it. I saw it first hand in Kansas. The sad realization is that the Armageddon they so desperately seek seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. The same people who not so long ago would have defended the Constitution's separation of Church and State provisions are now the proponents of making Christianity the State religion as well as the State government. Face it, there is no longer a Constitution-- the right has seen to it that no one shall be allowed to usurp their puny, narrow purview of the world.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:32 AM  

And don't forget the decision in Virginia -- the Chesterfield Co. one -- prayers led by the state are okay as long as they cover all the Christian denominations and a few token Jews too.

Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave.

By Blogger delagar, at 10:07 AM  

I would recommend moving to Canada as quickly as possible...before they close the country.

By Blogger Liberal AND Proud, at 4:11 PM  

delagar wrote, "Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave."

I suppose one reason we're in so much trouble now is that so few Americans know their history. I don't think Jefferson would have any objection to non-denominational state-led prayers -- as President he was pretty soft on the separation of church and state. It was the Christian Madison who was radically hard-line: he opposed tax exemptions for churches, chaplains in Congress, and I don't think he even declared any days of national thanksgiving, as Jefferson did repeatedly.

I'm not even sure that that the wall of separation is being enforced less than usually in the past, historically speaking. There seems to have been a little First Amendment window since the early 1960s, but remember that before that, "God" was injected into the Pledge of Allegiance and slathered onto our currency.

If "the right has seen to it that no one shall be allowed to usurp their puny, narrow purview of the world," whose fault *is* that, really? Ever since the Carter era at least, it seems to me that liberals have welcomed the Right's tendency to drag the political center rightwards -- it let liberals backslide. Many of them had been frightened by the changes of the Sixties, partly because they were no longer the cool ones. So many liberals had supported the Vietnam War (it was Kennedy liberals who ran it, in fact), so many had been uneasy about racial equality beyond narrow antidiscrimination laws, feminism scared liberal (and left) men at least as much as it scared conservatives. (Remember that the provision forbidding discrimination based on sex was added to the Civil Rights Bill as a joke, not because any legislators in the mid-60s took the idea seriously.) To say nothing of gay issues.

I agree it's disturbing that certain churches are trying to pressure politicians who belong to them, but that is not a violation of the First Amendment. Nor is it a violation of the separation of church and state, as far as I can see. Churches can legally do those things, though tax exemptions for ALL churches should be abolished. The trouble is that religion, especially Christianity, has far too much prestige in the US. We've always been a country of religious nuts. Maybe an established church would make us more cynical about religion, as it seems to do in Europe and England. But I still don't think it's time to throw up one's hands and declare the wall of separation a failed experiment, if only because it has hardly been tried yet. There's always been conflict over this issue, and we should not be surprised that it continues now. What I don't quite understand is why it's so one-sided -- why liberal Christians are so unwilling to take on their right-wing brethren.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:55 PM  

I agree with much of what you say, and you are right on about so-called liberal males not realizing the monster they created when they added gender to the Civil Rights Act.

I also agree that all churches should lose their tax-exempt status.

When both a denomination and individual churches are threatening members who do not vote Republican; when medically dangerous and misogynistic lies, supposedly based on the bible, are told in public school sex education classes; when a court says that a government body has a right to exclude anyone who isn't a Jew or a Christian--things have gone way too far.

By Blogger Diane, at 8:05 PM  

D.E.D., saying that "things have gone way too far" is an empty rhetorical flourish. I guess that's why we're in trouble now.

I agree that all the things you list are doubleplusungood; that should have been obvious from my comments. Though come to think of it, I'm really not bothered that "both a denomination and individual churches are threatening members who do not vote Republican" -- where on earth do you get the idea that churches are, ever were, or should be just and equitable? Religious bodies are free to set the grounds of membership as capriciously as they please. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be criticized, but it would be nice to more substantive, "reality-based" (hate that word) criticism of both religion and government than we're currently getting. I guess we're doomed. I know I often suspect so.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:19 AM  

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