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The Conjugation of Church and State

Aaron Kappel

The integration of religion and government is detrimental to our society because it undermines our Founding Fathers' core values, encourages discrimination and persecution, and furthers the myth that true morality is only possible through the belief in a superior being. A glimpse into America's recent past shows us how the power of fear and persuasion can undermine a nation's entire history in only a few years. During the unofficial "religious revival," which coincided with the "Red Scare" of the 1950's, people were encompassed by religious propaganda. Evangelist Billy Graham came to fame and warned that Americans would die of a nuclear holocaust unless they claimed Jesus Christ as their savior. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles professed that communism should be opposed because the Soviet Union's leaders were atheists. Washington was flooded with religion while politicians did all they could do to outshine their opponents by proving their godliness. President Eisenhower inaugurated the now common prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol, and in 1955 they added "In God We Trust" on all paper currency. The next year that same phrase became the official motto of our nation, replacing "E Pluribus Unum." The words "under God" were added to our Pledge of Allegiance. The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon ... the Creator ... [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." The bill was signed on Flag Day, June 14, 1954, by President Eisenhower. He was overjoyed that "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town ... the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."[1] Fifty years later the lines of Church and State were redrawn yet again with the creation of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by President George W. Bush.[2]

We should not so easily forget the misconceptions our ancestors fought to reconcile. Morality, good will, and community strengthening practices are not dependent on an established faith nor do they require the government to act as a parental figure dictating the voice of God. To truly understand why religion has no place in our government we need to go back to the beginning and examine what our Founding Fathers had to say about the matter. Ironically, conservatives point to the same era of our history in supporting their defense that the United States is "one nation under God." First let us examine the Constitution. There is no mention of religion or of a god in the original Constitution except for one. Article VI, Clause 3 states, "... but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."[3] If our Founding Fathers were as determined to merge religion and politics, as the conservative majority today believe, one would assume that it would be mentioned frequently in our nation's bylaws. The fact of the matter is it is not, and the only mention suggests the exact opposite. Our Founding Fathers understood the world around them, and recognized the power religion holds on a society when it is given a proper voice. They made a point to ensure that any person could hold public office, assuming they met the qualifications, regardless of their personal beliefs on faith and mortality. If they truly intended for the United States of America to be governed by men and women of deep religious conviction then Article VI, Clause 3 would have never been written. To further guarantee that no person or party in the future could one day institutionalize religion they added the Separation of Church and State into the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment separated church from state but not from public life, and the religious liberty clause protects religious convictions and even nonbelief from government interference or control, state and local government included. The government cannot promote or endorse a specific set of beliefs or religious doctrine. The Supreme Court decreed that the government must maintain "benevolent neutrality" which allows the existence of religious exercise but disallows its sponsorship.[4]

The European settlers came from countries that had established churches; a society without an established faith was unheard of at that time. It was thought that the morality of a community was dependent on a faith that was promoted and endorsed by the government. Today many social concerns that require political involvement are deemed moral issues and are often debated from a religious point of view. Relevant matters like abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage easily fall into this category. Our government's responsibility is to carefully and democratically oversee these debates as they arise and look at them through the eyes of the Constitution. When religion becomes unnaturally implemented into the law-making process, the lines of morality become distorted. Conservative Christians believe that marriage is between a man and woman, and that homosexuality in any form is a deliberate sin and attack against God. They view abortion as murder, while the Catholic Church views any form of birth control to be equally as wicked. If our government were to allow religion to take full hold of its system the result would be chaotic for our society. The persecution of homosexuals, atheists, evolutionists, and countless others would not only be widespread, but expected. Our freedoms and rights would only exist if they passed the test of scripture. The issue of morality and religion is an unfortunate one. The belief that one cannot survive without the other greatly diminishes personal choice.

True morality is in no way dependent on religion; the ability to determine right from wrong stems from a combination of the effects of an individual's upbringing, their environment, and society. Paula Kirby wrote an excellent editorial for the Washington Post entitled, "Morality: no gods required." She is a former Christian, currently a writer, project manager, and consultant specializing in freethinking and secular organizations. She concludes that her sense of right and wrong, along with everyone else's, comes from "parental upbringing, society's norms, and an evolved empathy with others." The evolutionary explanation is simple: our well being and survival is dependent on those who surround us. We are all at our best when we live peacefully with others because if we do not the negative effects can range from loss of freedom to even loss of life. According to the article, four out of five people—no matter their race, religion, or social class—will generally obey society's rules and behave in a manner that is considered "moral." The most poignant statement that sums up her stance on morality without religion reads:

Humans have been around in their current form for the best part of 150,000 years. Judaism emerged about 4000 years ago. How could humans ever have managed to survive so long prior to the invention of the Abrahamic god if they needed belief in God to give them a sense of how to live together in their communities? If there wasn't a strong sense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior? The simple fact is that humans are social animals and our chances of survival are greatly enhanced when we abide by certain basic social norms. That is more than enough reason for a basic understanding and acceptance of those norms to be hardwired into us.[5]

As mentioned before, President Eisenhower established the daily prayer breakfast in the 1950s. During the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin proposed a similar idea. He suggested that they start each meeting with prayer to God for guidance. That proposal was shot down by his colleagues. Religion clearly had no place in early American government, and yet today it is more prevalent than ever before, even though the laws opposing it are still intact. The United States of America is a melting pot of races and beliefs. Our Founding Fathers grew up in a world where religion and government were one and the same, and they traveled across the Atlantic to escape such a society. They were individually persecuted for their beliefs on their origin, God, mortality, science, and politics. History requires us to learn from their experiences and to ensure that our government doesn't become like those from which they fled. Most religious individuals have the best intentions at heart, and truly believe that their god and their way of life is what is best for everyone; if these ideals become law they will only end up alienating and incriminating the innocent. It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions and these intentions are naive at best.

Notes

[1] Greenberg, David. "Why We're Not One Nation 'under God'." Slate Magazine. 28 June 2002. Web. 02 June 2010.

[2] Bush, George W. "President Bush Attends Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives' National Conference." The White House. (26 June 2008). 25 Nov. 2009.

[3] Greenberg, David. "Why We're Not One Nation 'under God'." Slate Magazine. 28 June 2002. Web. 02 June 2010.

[4] Haynes, Charles C. "History of Religious Liberty in America – Overview." Firstamendmentcenter.org. (1991). 29 Nov. 2009.

[5] Kirby, Paula. "Morality: no gods required." Newsweek.WashingtonPost.com. (29 Oct. 2009). 25 Nov. 2009.


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Published:
  2010-09-20

Categories:
  Church and State, Politics

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