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In the Garden of the Separation of Church and State

By Vickie Stangl
Opinion | March 4, 2010

ANDOVER, Kan. - Why would any church want to align itself with a politician or a political party?

As the geeky Milhouse van Housen asked Bart Simpson, "What do they have to gain?", and the next shot cuts to the Reverend Lovejoy throwing a cache of coins down a counting machine, the implications are clear; the church needs money to destroy the secular world.

In real life, it is not as crass as directly funneling money from the church to the politicians since that would be a campaign violation and no church would be that profoundly foolish. However, when it comes to the well known and often maligned principle of the separation of church and state, the only separating going on is the church effectively keeping government out of their business while entangling itself into the bowels of political races, governmental entities, and PACs to push their agenda into secular society.

In short what we have is a dysfunctional system that protects churches to the point they can do almost anything they choose to do, while government is often compelled to uphold the destruction of its own secular state. Churches have the freedom to denounce certain issues and American leaders as socialists or godless, hold "nonpartisan" candidate forums, dispense voter guides, all under the eagle eye of the IRS which only intervenes if the minister or religious leader endorses a candidate. Apparently the minister can "support" a candidate which is different from "endorse" a candidate.

It makes a body wonder what the churches are fussy about when they have the advantage? Religion loves to play the victim card. It keeps the base all stirred up, money coming into the churches for "church" work and it generates publicity. FOX-News and other conservative talk radio personalities pick up the victim theme that religion in America is on its last leg thanks to those horrible secularists. Politicians in turn use this red herring to run for office by championing the faithful as a persecuted group. This is exactly what Madison feared when he warned that "Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an establishment of the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

Does the constitution enumerate, i.e. specifically state that government will protect the churches right to politicize their morals into public policy? For all the strict Scalia constructionists out in the conservative hinterland, under what Article in the constitution is this notion specifically stated? It seems clear that the 1st Amendment protects religious freedom, which means the right to worship one's God and doctrines without harm from the state. I realize religious communities feel compelled to take up a social issue they believe part of their earthly mission however, how far do we allow this to go if some religions have simply become fronts or political arms of a party or politician?

The genuine issue is protecting everyone's freedom of speech. Members of any religious house, including the minister should as individual Americans be able to speak out against an issue or support some policy, party or politician. A line must be drawn beyond this point. I adamantly disagree that any religion as an organized entity has the right under the state to cozy up to a party and organize their parishioners into political troops for their religious views to be made into public law. That is religious tyranny in my book. Maybe I'm being naive but I have this old fashion idea that church is for worship and not directing covert political messages to one's flock.

I was asked at a Church and State forum at WSU why the U.S. Congress opens their sessions with a prayer from a paid chaplain when we are suppose to uphold the separation of church and state? Good question. Our government should not condone such a clear violation and yet it does. The answer is easy but disappointing. The majority in 1787 hated the idea that our constitution was a secular document without any mention of "God" or "creator". The state conventions called to ratify the new constitution reveal how horrified the state delegates were by this new idea of government instituted by men, and not God.

James Madison may have won the battle with no religious tests in the constitution, but he did not win the war. The majority of men in power in 1787 (who were really a minority group) were overwhelmingly Christians and let's face it-what other choice did a person have but to be Christian? There was very little regard for any other kind of citizen but a religious citizen. Without much difficulty, Christian leaders were able to push their religion into the governing arena and few presidents were willing to enforce the little rule of separation of church and state. Even Jefferson toned down his deism to get elected.

In short, history reveals again and again how powerful political bullies in this nation do whatever they want and the Constitution be damned. How else can we explain the institution of slavery, or civil rights violations and denying women the right to vote? How else can we explain the continuing push by some in the religious community to stomp on the rights of others based upon their beliefs?

We can argue that politicians are a small percentage in society but the majority in elective office since 1789 have been Christians. With their political power these Christian men were anxious to reestablish their religious agenda on the public before the ink was barely dry on the constitution. This thread of ignoring the separation of church and state in the constitution can be easily found throughout American history.

In the 1870s, there was a push to add an amendment to the constitution recognizing America as a Christian nation and thereby correcting the omission made in 1787. The measure never succeeded. Undaunted, American school administrators pushed protestant-based religious prayers in school to counter the influx of foreigners coming to America's shores who might have a different set of beliefs. Continuing to ignore the dangers of mixing church and state, political officials substituted our nation's original and beautiful motto, E Pluribus Unum, ( one, out of many) to "In God We Trust". In the fifties, "under God" was added to our Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge was perfectly fine without the religious sentiments but the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization believed school children needed reminding that God was with Americans as opposed to communist Russians.

Yes, our political leaders have been some of the worst offenders in upholding the principles of our secular constitution; is it any wonder we are having some trouble with rogue churches and religions in America?

Why would any church want to align itself with a party or politician? Power, my friends, and power is what I believe stands for Patriarchy's Obsession with Everyone's Rights. It has not been lost on the politicians who are moderates in Kansas or around the nation that the last thing they want to do is alienate voters who believe their vote is a religious commandment from God, rather than cast a vote as an individual citizen of their nation.

We have some nerve expecting politicians to do the right thing when it comes to casting a vote that might end their political career versus a vote that would keep them safe and warm in their political seat. Why should any politician stick their neck out and scramble to win a "Profiles in Courage" award when voters in America do not want a politician to vote for the good of the nation but to vote for what is good for them personally. Politicians don't have to be courageous. They just have to know their voter base.

And today, the voters showing up at the polls, the voters who are organizing in churches organizing at bible studies and rallies, are the same ones demanding candidates bring Jesus to the seat of government while slashing away at "socialists" public programs which perpetuate secularism and keep the errant from falling down on their knees in church.

For all the closet progressives and moderate republicans in Kansas, this is your call to arms or be prepared to give up your political party and government to a theocracy. Good government, our good secular government, will die in the arms of religious absolutism if we do not vote and speak out in support of the separation of church and state.


3 Comments

Vickie, you may have gone a little over the edge for this old gentleman. (I don't qualify for being one of the 'good ole boys'.) I grew up on a small farm where there was no distinction between 'men's' work and 'womens' work. You did what was needed to be done if you were available and big enough to do it. The females in our family were 'liberated' from the git go. The boys were 'domesticated' in the same way.

I'm with you in my firm belief in 'separation of church and state'. However, I can't quite see where 'the church' has dominated our government from day one. Only a small percentage (albeit, the loudest) of Christian churches are screaming for Mosaic Law in the statutes of this country. I must say that churches, sometimes, have had unfair advantage for property tax treatment. However, that advantage is shared by any and all 'charitable/non-profit' organizations. Income tax (my favored source for taxes) gives religious donations exemption, but it does for any donation to any C3 non profit organization. You can give to the non-profit/charitable organization of your choice (doesn't have to be religious) and get the same exemption. The same partisan political rules apply to both.

Politics is politics. All politicians calculate their 'base' and then attempt to reach out to others without alienating their base. The 'feminist' politician is no different. And, without a large enough base they seldom are successful. That is why 3rd party candidates rarely get elected to any office outside their local area.

At the risk of being sliced, diced, and served on a platter, I'm going to suggest that the 'feminist movement' will not benefit from alienating church people who are not in the 'Mosaic Law' group.


Vickie,
You make some good points but remember churches rarely get government handouts, grants, or other funding which plenty of other non-profits get. If your group (say a non-profit community arts group) is getting government funding your going to get your people to vote for whatever candidate promises to keep that money coming, right? So if laws are passed to stop churches from being involved in politics, it could easily backfire into other groups that have tax exempt status as well.
Just something to think about. Keep up the fight!


Catholic Charities just one example of a religions group, takes in hundreds of millions in Tax monies and then turns around and uses its position as a "religious" group to discriminate against women and more often gays, who are paying taxes that fund said groups. President Bush created an executive office with the specific purpose dolling out tax dollars to faith groups. If churches want to involve themselves in the Political arena they should pay taxes, is their really a legitimate reason for the westboro baptist church to be tax exempt?


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