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« The Struggle For Freedom Never Ends | Main | Book Suggestions for Black History Month »

Church & State

By Ken Poland
February 15, 2013

Is it ‘separation of church & state’, ‘separation of Christian & state’, or is it ‘separation of religion and state’? None of those phrases are in the Constitution, but they are all three very much insinuated.

Our constitution clearly states that the Federal Government shall not favor any religious organization and that there shall not be any religious test to qualify for public office. That is in the U.S. Constitution. Does that apply to individual states within the union? Is there such a thing as the ‘supreme law of the land’? Can individual States ignore or overrule Federal law? Can individual States establish Christianity as their guiding principle in determining laws and regulations?

Those questions have been debated and litigated time and again. It was hotly debated during the Constitutional Convention, while they were debating states and individual rights. They compromised (that rarely happens anymore) and agreed to put the religious language to the people and states to decide by the amendment procedure. The Supreme Court has fairly consistently come down on the side of Federal supremacy more times than not, not only on religious issues but freedom of speech, gun rights, voting privilege, and many other areas. Who knows what the present sitting Supreme Court Judges will decide? Special interest groups and individual preferences of the Judges seem to outweigh pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution.

The U.S. constitution says the government cannot put religious tests in place to qualify for public office. It doesn’t say that individuals, through the election process, cannot determine by religious opinion who should be elected to serve. Until 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected president, the popular vote refused to elect a practicing Catholic as our president. Do you remember, or have you read (for you youngsters), about the fear that a Catholic president would defer to the Pope for political guidance? Is there any evidence that Pres. Kennedy did not keep his promise that his decisions would be made, to the best of his judgment, on the basis of what was best for the majority and not for special interest religious groups? He indicated that public laws should be to protect society from society, regardless of religious or non religious affiliation.

Do we have a contingent of religious folks (Religious Right) who are claiming Christianity as our State religion? Are we witnessing a concerted effort to deny other religions space in the public square and the freedom to mention their canon to justify opinion in debate? Are we not also hearing the argument, from the non religious or anti Christian folks, that Christians have to be censored in public speech? I’m afraid all these questions are of great concern to society, especially in the diverse representation of a plethora of religious views represented in our ‘melting pot’ society. Do we have any politicians or statesmen who can stand up to the demands of special interest groups, today?

The debate about individual freedom and basic rights, all too often, is based on gender and sexual orientation. Religious dogma and doctrine is attempting to control those issues. Male dominance, by virtue of physical prowess, controlled society for generations. When women began objecting on the basis of human dignity and rights, the men turned to their religious organizations to justify and protect their status of superiority. Nearly all recognized world religions have relied on male authority. The Old Testament (book of Jewish history and prophecy) was very much biased toward male dominance in human relations. However, that is not nearly as evident in the New Testament (history of the early church and Christ’s earthly ministry). The truth is that both the Old and New Testaments have ample evidence of God using women in various ways and positions of leadership. Social culture, both the Jewish/Christian and pagan societies, has always influenced acceptance of who had authority. And, like it or not, culture changes.

Today, we have a major religious organization that is in the process of electing their ‘Supreme Commander’. They represent some 1.2 billion people, world wide. That is 4 times the population of the U.S. Their dogma and canon rely on the Pope’s authority and their judicatories to set policy for everyone. That judicatory structure is made up of un married men (celibate?), for the most part. That authority is being ignored and challenged by a significant number of the lay people in the organization. Are we in danger of a ‘holy’ alliance of the Protestant Religious Right and the Roman Catholic hierarchy putting religious canon and authority into the hands of our Federal Government? Are those religious groups attempting to use government authority to help enforce their religious dogma and doctrine?

Candidates are free to campaign on religious grounds. Religious organizations cannot enjoy their exempt status from IRS if they publicly endorse any candidate. Individuals within those organizations can privately endorse or oppose on the basis of religious issues. Are you being patriotic and supporting freedom and justice for all, if you are choosing representation on the basis of religious theology or anti religious promises of your candidate? Does man, whether by creation or evolution, have the freedom of choice so long as their choices don’t infringe on the rights of others?

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