Friday, October 22, 2010

Yes, Christine, There Is a Separation of Church and State

Originally posted on my personal blog.

I've deliberately avoided talking Christine O'Donnell on this blog (although I've made fun of her a few times on Facebook), but after this debacle I just have to say something.

For those too lazy to watch the entire video, it's from a recent debate between O'Donnell and her Democratic opponent Chris Coons. At one point, Coons mentions that the U.S. Constitutions says the church and the state should be separated. O'Donnell responds, "Where does it say that in the Constitution?"

COONS: "It's in the First Amendment. 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .'"

O'DONNELL: "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"

*record scratch*

Oh. My. God.

Now, I'm not an expert in the Constitution. I'm just a smart-aleck blogger. Nevertheless, let me try to clear things up to anyone else who might be confused.

First, let's start with the actual 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." (Emphasis mine)

True, the First Amendment does not literally say "separation of church and state." However, as Thomas Jefferson explained in an 1802 letter to the Danburry Baptists:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties." (Emphasis mine)

In order to protect religious freedom, the institutions of the Church and the State must be separate institutions with different functions. The State serves to protect rights and keep order, while the Church serves to nourish the soul. If the Church and State become one institution, you'll get either religious persecution or a theocracy. Or both. And I don't know about you, but I don't want either one!

However, that's not to say that people of faith cannot vote based on their values. Far from it! I believe, as people of faith, we should speak out about issues we feel strongly about. As Martin Luther King once said, "The Church is neither the master of the State, nor the slave of the State, but the conscience of the State." We should keep the two institutions separate, that's all.

Hopefully that clears things up.

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