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Church State

The Separation of Church and State

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Article Titles

Church and State in Norway (1997) by Finngeir Hiorth

An overview of church-state relations in Norway.

Electing Atheists to Political Office (2001) by Edward Tabash

It is long overdue that people who do not believe in any god are elected to significant political office. Atheists must start electing some of their own, and Eddie Tabash, the only admitted atheist to run for political office in 2000, describes what is necessary for this to happen, and how we need to overcome crippling assumptions and prejudices and start getting politically savvy, just as the Christian Right has done.

In God We Teach (2011) (Off Site Video) by Vic Losick

“In God We Teach” is the story of Matthew LaClair, a student at Kearny (New Jersey) public high school who secretly recorded religious statements made in class by David Paszkiewicz, his history teacher. After approaching the local school board for redress and receiving none, LaClair took his secret recordings to the media, accusing Paszkiewicz of illegally proselytizing for Jesus in the classroom. This in-depth documentary explores the blurred lines between personal belief, religious dogma and civil law through the eyes of an average, blue-collar American town, presenting the views of both Matthew LaClair and David Paszkiewicz in an interesting and entertaining manner.

God on Our Coins (1988) by Jon G. Murray

The written statement of Jon G. Murray, then-President of American Atheists, Inc., submitted to U.S. House of Representatives. The statement is a supplement to the oral remarks he was scheduled to deliver on 1988 regarding legislation “To modernize United States circulating coin designs of which one reverse will have a theme of the Bicentennial of the Constitution.”

Review of Freethinkers (2006) by Kenneth Krause

Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers paints a broad picture of American secularism, beginning with the US Constitution’s break with all precedent in failing to make even a passing reference to a deity, then outlining the importance of Enlightenment values–particularly the concept of natural rights–in propelling the abolition of slavery. Though Jacoby surveys a cast of nineteenth-century secularist heroes, she does not sufficiently emphasize the battles taken up by late nineteenth-century freethought organizations. But she does enjoin us to educate ourselves and ensure that the public never overlooks the harm that religion has caused, offering no compromises for the sake of political correctness.

Review of Kingdom Coming (2007) by Keith Parsons

In Kingdom Coming Michelle Goldberg lets America’s “Christian Reconstructionists,” who openly advocate making the Bible the basis of a shari’a-type religious law, speak for themselves. Though considered extreme even within the religious right, an offshoot called dominionism, or Christian Nationalism, openly advocates theocracy and is rapidly gaining ground among “mainstream” right-wing Christians. Those swept away in this fundamentalist counterculture live in a universe that they have created, separate from and parallel to the one that the rest of us live in. The immediate danger they pose is not their impact on social issues, but the subversion of rationality itself, which has been achieved to an alarming extent. Today the best established scientific conclusions are routinely undermined and derided, and even the mainstream media feel that they have to offer “balance” on scientific issues by giving equal time to cranks and crackpots. The religious right is motivated, organized, and well-funded, and they are not going away. We ignore them at our peril. Goldberg has done us a service in giving us a beautifully crafted statement of why we fight.

Review of Natural Atheism (2006) by Kenneth Krause

David Eller’s Natural Atheism is no ordinary freethought handbook. Its chapter on church-state separation reviews most of the appropriate legislation and case law, concluding that freedom from religion is protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion. As an unapologetic rationalist, Eller insists that any deviation from reason–including faith–merely masquerades as thinking. Advocating the relativity of moral systems to specific social contexts, Eller nevertheless thinks that reason can ground moral systems by encouraging socially beneficial behavior on the basis of intersubjectivity. And while he thinks that no religious source truly values toleration, he is ambiguous about the extent to which freethinkers should tolerate religion for social convenience at the expense of truth.

The Scope and the Limits of the Church’s Inherent Coercive Power (2014) (Off Site) by Arnold T. Guminski and Brian W. Harrison

Some mistakenly hold that the Catholic Church’s declaration on religious freedom issued in 1965 (the Dignitatis Humanae) is consistent with the idea that the Church has the power to either directly impose temporal penalties typically imposed by civil authority only, and/or to indirectly do so by requiring civil authority to act as her secular arm under penalty of ecclesiastical sanction (i.e., excommunication, deposition of the offending civil ruler, or release of subjects from their duty of allegiance). In this exploration of the extent to which the coercive authority of any church or society is compatible with internationally recognized religious freedom, Arnold T. Guminski (an old atheist) with Brian W. Harrison (a Catholic priest) argues that the Catholic Church’s inherent coercive power over its members does not extend to the imposition or use of temporal penalties typical of civil authorities only. Instead, its acquired coercive power to do so obtained solely by virtue of: (a) the jus publicum of Catholic Christendom in the medieval era and for some time thereafter, (b) the discretionary delegation or grant of power by the secular authority; (c) customary law by which the Church acted as civil authority because of exigencies that arose during a period of severe political and social disorder; or (d) because of an influential but nonmagisterial theory, appealing to the power of the keys, regarding the Church’s inherent power over temporal matters in a Catholic State. The latter theory never formerly constituted part of the authoritative doctrine of the Church. (For a more detailed abstract, click on the “Info” button at the top of the essay.)

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