Separation of Church and State: How Much?

This is an outgrowth of the “Is ‘In God We Trust’ Unconstitutional” thread. In that thread, we determined that the current interpretation of the First Amendment by the Supreme and lower Courts leads to the conclusion that “In God We Trust” is not unconstitutional. I wanted to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.

That is, should “In God We Trust” be Constitutional? Forget about what the Constitution says now… but instead, think about whether separation of church and state is a Good Thing ™. If so, how far should we take that separation? Should it extend to relatively minor matters like “In God We Trust?” Should it be limited to issues like the establishment of a national church?

Try to stay away from arguing based on the Constitution. I’m talking theories of government, here, not necessarily extant situations in our country. =)

Have fun!

Powers, if you look at my posts early in that thread (before I got fed up with a certain person), I believe that a number of them dealt with this particular question – whether it should be Constitutional (I argued it should not). That was, if memory serves, the main point of my arguments (rather than basing them on what the courts have said, I argued what they should have said).

So, in answer to your other question – should it extend to relatively minor matters like money? Yes. After all, who is to determine what is “relatively minor” and what is not? As I said in that thread, I’m not out there fighting to get it taken off our money because there are more major violations that need addressing. But what’s minor to me might not be so minor to others. In any event, a violation is a violation. If you’re going 66 in a 65 mph zone, you are violating the law and could, technically, be given a ticket. In practice, it probably won’t happen (due to the accuracy of the radar gun, etc.), but 65 is the law, not “somewhere around 65.” Same thing goes with the First Amendment.

On the one hand, there’s the “slippery slope” argument: if you allow a religious symbol to be put on money, you’re taking a step down that dangerous path… and each step, no matter how minor at the time, leads inexorably to the pit.

On the other hand, there’s the “fight-the-big-battles” argument: don’t waste time and effort on the small crap, save the energy for the front lines, where it matters.

Hard to judge.

I personally think separation of church and state is a good thing when it comes to not allowing the government to endorse any religion. On the other hand, I find the separation of morality and state to be a bit disquieting.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want the gov’t legislating morality – it’s not up to gov’t to tell me how to be a good person. I don’t want legislation on birth control or divorce or impure thoughts that is in tune with any religion’s “morality.” On the other hand, I find the lack of morality in public officials to be disturbing.

The Clinton Impeachment was typical of the worst on both sides. What kind of person did we elect, who has no feelings whatsoever for the sanctity or marriage? and what kind of people did we elect (or allow to be appointed) who would go into such a hideous media-oriented feeding frenzy, disguising their political opposition as moral opposition?

Them’s my thoughts.

The Framers of the constitution were trying to avoid the problems that had previously occurred. For whatever reason, differences in religious opinion can lead to teh enslavement, murder or exodus of minority religious groups.

I went to Jesuit High school as an athiest. I think my experience was a common one; when your belief clashes with the majority, they make you pay.

We are meant to live in a pluralistic and equal society. Niether can successfully exist if the government shows favoritism on an issue so emotionally charged and so crucial as religious belief. To do so is to invite persecution.

The State should not sanction any religious or quasi religious belief…and I am saying that as a christian.

But I am not going to get all upset about IGWT. I do not really see that as harming anyone.

I’m always of the opinion that no law, even the constitution, is going to survive if everybody wants to be an asshole. This is one of those kind of situations.

Religion is inextricably linked to our culture, and eliminating every vestige of religion would require eliminating or altering our culture. Okay, fine, so we take the whole baby Jesus part out of Christmas. But then somebody complains that leaves us with a holiday directly descended from midwinter druidic festivals; and that’s religious, so Christmas has to go entirely.
Heck, Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister who actively proselytized and explicitly stated that his motives were religious; we gotta lose MLK day, too.

Gotta redo the walls of many D.C. buildings by sandblasting off those bible verses.

Congress has to stop praying before sessions, and moreover they need to pass a law prohibiting government usage of “God bless America,” and “the Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

And what’s with the army paying for chaplains? There’s establishment of religion if I ever saw it. And the army’s Commander in Chief is always getting on TV and darn near ordering people to pray for our troops; and then he says “God Bless you” at the end of the speech. There oughta be a law…

My point is it never stops. Our culture, form 1620 on, has had a strong religious element. And while the government does have a responsibility to protect the civil rights of the non-religious, it can’t eliminate religion from the culture, and you can’t eliminate the culture from the government.

Look, I can see how someone would be ligitimately feel wronged if their kid had to sit through a school prayer every day, or that sort of thing. That’s legitimate.

But somebody who files a lawsuit to get IGWT removed? No. I highly doubt that that person is experiencing personal pain and injury every time he looks close at penny. I find it more likely that he’s someone who gets a thrill out of being a “rebel” and pain in the ass to everybody else.

Similarly, there are people who don’t seem to understand the whole concept of the civil state, and who insist on trying to do stuff that is obviously going to be inflammatory to the actively non-religious. Both sides need to, essentially, stop being jerks.

Sometimes the law needs to bow to common sense, and judges have be judicious.

“It all started with marbles in school…”

This is my opinion, too. I am certainly not in favor of the co-mingling of church and state, but sometimes the attacks upon what little overlap exists do strike me as over-zealous and pointless – much like having a 65 m.p.h. speed limit and attempting to ticket every person who goes 66 m.p.h. It may be technically defensible, but what’s the point?

What really bothers me are people who pretend to go along with the seraration of church and state, just to further their own agenda.
There are people in my area who want to put the ten commandments in every schoolroom. First they said that the commandments are just basic rules to live by, and don’t have to be taken as religious. When the absurdity of this was pointed out, they invited other religious groups to post THEIR moral rules on the walls of the school, just to make things “equal”. When it was pointed out that this would leave atheists and agnostics out of the picture, one senator said the blank spaces between the postings would represent the moral rules of the “ungodly” atheists, and that the walls of the toilets would belong to the “satanic” religions!

I am not a member or believer in any established religion. I don’t believe Jesus of Nazareth was what the Christians say he way, nor do I believe in YHWH as Jewish believers do, or adhere to the teachings of the Koran pertaining to Allah as the Islamic folk do, and I am contemptuous of blue-skinned Buddhist effigies, so the stuff most likely to be presented as “religion” in school or acknowledged as “religious thought” by any modern government is not likely to revolve around anything that is personally true for me.

But there exist thoughts about people, society, and how things ought to be. And I don’t approve of censorship that would ban any line of thought simply because it has been dubbed “religious”. I can think for myself, therefore I can reject as ridiculous or blasphemous or downright evil the thinking of any movement or sect or cult or established religion, and have done so and will do so. But I defent vehemently the right for such lines of thought to exist in the American public thinking space, as long as none of them, individually or collectively, are established as constituting religious Truth in any official capacity.

Designated Optional Signature at Bottom of Post

Can you be a bit more specific, please?
Not a flame. I am really interested in examples.

"And I don’t approve of censorship that would ban any line of thought simply because it has been dubbed ‘religious’. "
This seems like an unfair caricature of supporters of separators of church and state (dang, that was a lot of “of”s). It seems that whenever someone objects to a community’s use of governmental authority to advance religion, someone accuses of them of trying to wipe out religion. There is a ** big ** difference between private citizens, or even governmental officials, holding a particular view on one hand, and governmental officials using their authority to promote that view on the other. What a governmental official does when acting as a private citizen is their own business, but I believe that whenever a governmental official acts in an official capacity, he or she has a duty to avoid favoring any religion. Governmental officials don’t represent just themselves; they represent the nation. It is dishonest for anyone to promote their own views while implying that they are speaking on behalf of another person or institution. Anyone who accepts a governmental position agrees to have their freedom on speech limited while on the job. That’s not censorship; that’s just common sense. What company in its right mind would allow its employees to say anything they want while representing the company?

" ‘Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter.’ " -Kurt Vonnegut, * Breakfast of Champions *

For the most part, I agree with furt.

Religion is so deeply intertwined with our history that to demand a the kind of “separation of church and state” which would declare IGWT unconstitutional would deny that history.

Without the centrality of faith, the institution of slavery and the civil rights movement might have stalled. You cannot examine the motivations of many of our most respected leaders, like Lincoln and Washington, without finding a connection to their religious faith. Many of the immigrants to this country founded their families and communities on the freedom to worship, and allowed that worship to shape the fibre of the communities they began. In the darkest hours of war, our people were unified in seeking divine assistance for our nation. All of this cannot be “separated” from what our nation was and is.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not believe our government should endorse a state religion. But freedom of worship and free exercise is as important, if not a more important right than the proscription against establishing a religion. Respect for the right of others to believe and worship as they choose is what set this country apart in the late 18th century. My beef with those who clamor for “separation” is the concept that religion has NO place in government discourse. As C.K. adroitly notes, that can and has led to a moral vacuum in our leadership.

The proper concept of separating church and state must be based on respect for religious (and non-religious) diversity. But the center of that respect must be based in the proper view of what “respect” means. “Tolerance” in the parlance of the politically correct has come to mean that there can be no objective absolutes in religion and morality; that is, no one can be so arrogant as to believe that anyone can “know the answer” to the ultimate concerns of life. This, IMHO, is nonsense. For to be truly “tolerant” in areas of religion is to respect what others believe – including the polite acceptance that the other guy believes his faith and religion are “right,” even when it apparently undermines the foundation of your own (e.g., whether Jesus is the Messiah). It is when this concept has gone awry, when unfair discrimination or overt ridicule and subversiveness has erupted, that life in our diverse society has suffered.

And we’ve had to learn some lessons, sometimes lessons we had trouble learning. Its not fair to use general public funds to pay for busing the children of a paticular faith to and from religious education classes. Its not right to force a child to recite a prayer at the start of the day in public schools, because we might be undermining that child’s particular religious faith.

But total “separation” of faith from public discourse is as wrong as the establishment of a national denomination.

“Its fiction, but all the facts are true!”

I’m not sure what you mean by “public discourse,” SoxFan59, but your points are well reasoned… except one that I may have just misunderstood:

I’m not sure what you’re suggesting here. You seem to be implying that lack of religion in government affairs has led to amorality. I hope I’m just misunderstanding you.

I do not like pickaninnies who read into everything looking for offensive material and filing lawsuits.

That said, there is a danger with things like school prayer and prayer before legislative sessions.

Lets say all of the kids in class save one are christian and say the prayer. They will notice the one kid who does not. THe automatic assumption will be that tat child is godless and therefore immoral. Religious groups are very prone to single out the heathen and demonize them.

Like other constitutional issues, it is not good enough to say that everything is OK now so there is no need be vigilant. It is the potential for danger that should be watched. A religious government historicly exhibits abuses.

CK and Sox, Bill Clinton appears to be an extremely religious person. He goes to church every week with his family, and repeatedly professes publicly his own belief in God and Christianity. Whatever his problem, it isn’t a lack of religion. That argument just doesn’t hold any water.

Come on, Bill Clinton going to church does not make him religious. His actions show that he does not follow the teachings of his religion.

One can say that they believe something, but if their actions speak otherwise, then you got to wonder. I am not Bill’s or anyone else’s judge. God can and will do the judging. I do not think CK’s or Sox’s points were that the political official needs to profess faith to be a good leader, but they do need to show the morality that the Bible teaches. And do not bring up that God told people to kill other people in the Bible so that must mean that I am saying that our leaders should go about killing people. I am talking about the morality of not killing, not stealing, not lying, etc. Not putting the desires of a few campaign contributors over the needs of the people.

Just my opinion. Not to speak for CK or Sox.


Separating Church and State doesn’t mean that we are not allowed to use our religious beliefs to vote our conscience. Everyone who has to make a decision no doubt goes to whatever resources they deem worthy. These may include prayer, meditation, etc. People may vote on religious grounds, that’s not against the law.
With that said, the law can still be totally secular, no reference to a god need be there at all. When things like IGWT are used, or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, it implies a state recognition of a god, and the Christian God at that. Saying that it was meant as a non-demoninational reference was a political cop-out, only to get it passed.
They’re put there to imply a divine guidance to the acts of congress.
Mankind can be secularly moral, we can determine right from wrong, but morality is a personal baseline. There are few, if any, absolutes in morality, context is everything. Do not lie, cheat, steal…these can all be, at times, moral actions. Morality can only be a guideline in a general group sense, it becomes even more fractured on the personal level. Some try to globally dictate morality on a diverse people, but it cannot be done. It just leads to divisions within the community.
The hardest part of government is to determine what it SHOULDN’T regulate.

MR. Z. – pickaninnies?? I can only assume you meant “nit-pickers” and are unaware that “pickaninny” is defined as “a black child – often taken to be offensive.” (Webster’s) I would qualify very often taken as offensive.

I don’t want my position on this question to be misunderstood. I certainly think that the separation of church and state is a good and necessary thing and should be vigilantly guarded and zealously upheld. The question, to me, is not whether we should have a secular government or a religious one, but whether, when we have government that is 95% secular, we should expect or demand one that is 100% secular. And my answer to that is another question: Why?

It seems like people are theorizing that one day they’re opening Congress with a prayer and the next day we’re all being frog-marched to church three times a day by Federal troops. It’s a slippery slope argument and I don’t think it follows. We have always had some minor references to religious principles in our government, and in 200 years we haven’t fallen down the slippery slope to a theocracy. To me, it’s all much ado about nothing. If every single governmental reference to religion or religious principles were prohibited, how would the government be improved? Why should secularism be pursued for its own sake, as it is inherently preferable to religion? If you can show that a detriment of any kind flows from some government action that touches on religion, then by all means strike it down. But in the absence of such a detriment, I see no reason for 100% secularism.