It’s sad that Democrats and the media can get away with these distortions. Their agenda is to portray Delaware US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell as unfit for office. So, when she said, in a debate with her opponent, Chris Coons, that “separation of church and state” is not in the US Constitution, they ridicule her.
But, as serious students of the Constitution all know, she is right. The first amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The term “separation of church and state” has its origin in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in the first year of his presidency, defending himself against political opponents. The phrase became a part of constitutional law in a 1947 decision of the Supreme Court. Thus it is not in the Constitution, but is an interpretation of the Constitution. (See the article on the Heritage Foundation website on separation of church and state.)
Separation of Church and State is not Separation of Religion and State
But here I have a pet peeve. I accept Jefferson’s statement that there should be a wall of separation between Church and State. But that notion has been twisted to separation of religion and State. The concepts are very different. Church is organized religion. A manger scene is not Church, it is religion. Mass is Church. Priests and Pastors are Church. Liturgy is Church. Prayer isn’t Church, it is religion. The ten commandments aren’t Church. The government should not endorse one Church over another.
The foundation of our laws and morality are in judeo-christian ethics. You can’t separate religion and government, because government has to recognize some morality or other, and morality is religion. Whether that religion is Christianity, Islam, Secularism, or any other body of belief, it is still a religion. From Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary: “Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.”
Hey, Environmentalism is Religion!
If you say that religion and state must be separated, then I would contend that environmentalism, or the worship of the earth, is religion. Heck, liberalism is religion. I remember clearly a caller several months ago to the Mark Levin show, a Jew who was an atheist who said that liberalism was his religion.
If Liberals continue to insist that we separate religion and government, then let’s say okay – we can agree to keep your religion of Liberalism out of government. Yeah, I could go for that!
See my web page on Separation of Church and State.
“Worship of the earth” is arguably religion, but environmentalism is not worship of the earth, any more than being a bodyguard is being a worshiper of the person you’re protecting. Environmentalists feel the earth is in danger and want to protect it, so trying to equate that with religion is just plain silly. In fact, you have found a rather unusual dictionary definition of religion, since when I looked it up online I found most definitions include words like “faith” or supernatural.” By the definition you quote, science is a religion, but I doubt many dictionary editors would use the same definition for science that they use for religion.
On the broader issue of religion and church I see your point. O’Donnell’s problem may simply be that she failed to explain her position, instead smirking and acting as though she had caught her opponent in some big lie that everyone would see. When you have non-mainstream beliefs, you kind of have to explain them, but O’Donnell doesn’t seem much for explaining.
However, I see the line between church and religion being a little fuzzier than you seem to consider it. You say the ten commandments is religion rather than church, and that seems reasonable within the confines of your argument. But if you start using religious texts as governmental texts, as in putting the ten commandments in courthouses and schools, and you have politicians stand up and preach about the glory of God and Jesus, and you pass laws based on the beliefs of a specific religion, then how is the government not then a church?
It seems many of the founders were concerned about religious freedom, and if the government endorses a specific religion, which is exactly what a lot of right-leaning Christians want, then there is the danger that the country becomes actively intolerant of other religions. Of course, much of the country is already intolerant of other religions, as indicated by the whole “ground zero mosque”controversy, but it is inherently dangerous to freedom of religion if the government itself becomes a religious body (i.e. a church).
The people who talk about the need for “religion” in school and government actually mean “Christianity”; they’re not insisting we study the Koran or learn the Hindu version of creation.
Response by David Hall:
I was probably off base to equate all environmentalism with worship of the earth. But extreme environmentalism would be earth worship, and that is what I am talking about. A bodyguard is hired. Environmentalists who want to “protect the earth” are expressing a set of values and priorities.
Here are some statements taken from earthfirstjournal.org, the website of the radical environmentalist organization Earth First! It stated that it “does not accept a human-centered worldview of ‘nature for people’s sake.'” It insists that “life exists for its own sake, that industrialized civilization and its philosophy are anti-Earth, anti-woman and anti-liberty…. To put it simply, the Earth must come first.” Right there, that is religion.
I will defend my use of Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary for my definition of religion. I spent seven years as president of a book publishing company, so my instincts were to go to a dictionary that is respected as authoritative. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary is the dictionary about which the Washington Post Book World says is “without a doubt, today’s unabridged dictionary of choice.” Hardly a rather unusual choice.
And I must say that you are making my point – that Jefferson’s statement that he believed in a wall of separation between Church and state has been stretched by secularists to justify their desire to separate religion and state. The Ten Commandments are religion, not church. The Bible, as you state, is a religious text. Religious. It is not the property of any one church. Church is organized religion. The Ten Commandments are religion. You tell me you believe in the Ten Commandments, and I can tell something about your religion, but I can’t tell what church you belong to. So putting the Ten Commandments somewhere isn’t endorsing any church. And that’s what Jefferson meant – when the founders established our government, they paid deference to religion by recognizing a Creator in our founding documents, but they didn’t want the government to endorse any one church over another.
The notion that robbery, murder, dishonesty, foul language, public indecency, and child abuse are wrong is a religious belief. And you can’t exclude religion from the public square with the force of government without establishing the religion of secularism.