Tuesday, September 28

God and Government: The Separation of Church and State (Part One)

When you take a look at the news, a recurring topic seems to be the religious involvement in government, and the government involvement in religion. We see and hear about cases in which it has been taken to far, we hear of law, or doctrine, and in this two-part series, I plan to take a look at this very topic, with special thanks to Ann E. Weiss, who authored God and Government. (Photo Credit to: Wetheminority.com)

Now, understand that this series revolves, for the most part, around the United States of America, though the history also involves countries such as Germany. (Martin Luther) What is one of the most common mistakes among the American people? The separation of church and state. The issue? The Constitution never actually says that there must be a separation.

There was a case in Ocean Grove, New Jersey - any and all non-religious activity on Sundays were not permitted under law, until the 1980s when a drunk driver appealed to the court to change these laws that had been established in the 1800's. Breaking religious laws in the United States is not credited as a criminal act, and there is no public law that forces anyone to donate to religious causes and organizations.

People can worship as they want, if they chose to worship of course, but because we have the freedom of religion, they do not have to. The legal system and religion has close-knit ties. For example, the court of the 1960's put a swift end to the daily reading of passages in the Bible and reciting of Christian prayers in public schools across the nation. However, if we are to look at history, we need to understand that a belief in a supreme being, a God, is the cornerstone of the American government and life.

When we look at the Pledge of Allegiance, we see the words, "one nation under God." Meetings of state legislatures, meetings of Congress, and municipal bodies are all, generally, opened in prayer, asking for God's blessing. The American currency has the words "In God We Trust" written on it. We sing national songs such as "God Bless America," "My Country 'Tis of Thee," "America the Beautiful," and many others. You also find that prayers are common at Graduation ceremonies, be it public or private schools.

Also, when someone is taken to court, they are told to swear to tell the truth - on the Holy Bible. We find that most business across the United States tend to observe the Christian Sabbath, and allow their employees to have a day of rest. Does the church affect the production and sale of things? Certainly. In some cities and townships, you cannot sell liquor legally within a specific distance of a church.

Now, onto the historic portion. In the 1600's, Anglicanism was the dominant religion. If anyone was non-Anglican, that person could be fined or even imprisoned. In the year 1608, separatists from Nottingham sailed across the English Channel to Amsterdam, later moving to Leiden. They found freedom there. However, as time passed, their children were taught the Dutch ways, which the separatists opposed. During the summer of 1620, they returned home.

In September of 1620, these same separatists left England to establish a colony in the New World. These people are commonly known as the "pilgrims." The pilgrims came to the New World because they wanted their own church, their own state, labeling Christianity a pagan religion. The Puritans, who settled in Boston in the 1630's, had similar views and ways.

Going back further, in 311 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine announced that Christians could now live in peace, after many years of persecuting, and proceeded to make Christianity the religion of Rome. Centuries later, in May of 1787, representatives from the states gathered in Philadelphia to write the American Constitution. Of the 55 delegates who attended, when a national church was proposed, the majority opposed the idea.

By that year in history, America was a land of many faiths: there were around 4 Million Protestants, 25,000 Catholics, 10,000 Jewish, and the list goes on. The belief of the time was that "all men are born with a natural right to the freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is a God-given right and cannot be taken away by any law of man." Does the Declaration of Independence actually refer to God?

Verily I tell you, it does. The document calls him "God," the "Creator," the "Supreme Judge of the World," and the "divine providence." When we look at the Constitution, we do not see God, religion, or the Bible mentioned except, "In the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven." The majority of the delegates made it a point to omit God from the Constitution. Nine states ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect on March 4, 1789.

George Washington was sworn in as President, and the members of the first congress too their seats right away. They began working on amending the Constitution by adding what is known as the "Bill of Rights." The Bill of Rights was passed on September 25, 1789. What is all the fuss about? The First Amendment. What is the text of the First Amendment?

"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." (Bill of Rights, 1st Amendment)

Although the 1st Amendment says that Congress cannot establish one particular religion or prohibit the practice of another religion, it does not prevent Congress from passing all type of laws that can effect religion. Consider for a moment: the First Amendment only applies to the federal government, it does not make a mention of state and local governments and their relationship with religion.

States themselves are free to establish official religions, demand a religious test for office, and can even limit civil rights of what we call "dissenters." Moving ahead to the 1800's, religious discrimination was wide and dominant in the southern states. For example: New Hampshire Catholics were not allowed to vote until 1851. New Jersey did not extend the full civil rights to people who were non-Protestants until the year 1844.

It was only after the 14th Amendment that the First became legally binding upon the United States, including the South. It proclaims that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Bill of Rights, 14th Amendment, Section I)

With all this said, thus ends this entry of "The Truth." While this is not the usual type of entry, it is still a controversial topic, and will continue to be covered in the next entry of this series on God and Government. I trust that this has helped you in some way, whether it was informative, useful, or in some other manner. If you have something to add, feel free to comment below, email vexx801@yahoo.com, with any questions/comments/concerns/add-ons, or visit the facebook page. God bless, dear reader, and take care.  Troy Hillman

Next entry: "God and Government: The Separation of Church and State (Part Two)"

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