Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Define "Separation"...

So, I've been meaning to write a response to the ridiculous display that was the Larry King Live show a few weeks ago. Enough time has passed now, that I really should just let this one go. But, I can't. That's how much it irked me. The program focused on the same-sex marriage issue. Joy Behar from The View was sitting in for Larry King, so I knew from the get-go I would likely be driven to yelling at my television before the hour was over. And Joy, bless her heart, did not disappoint.

There are so many things that deserve commentary from the hour-long show, it would be impossible to address them all. So, I'll focus on the thing I yelled the loudest/longest at. And that was this inane statement made by her first guest, lesbian/actress/gay rights activist Cynthia Nixon. This statement was made in response to Joy's question about whether the LDS church should lose its tax-exempt status because of its members' involvement in passing Proposition 8. And I quote:

"If they're doing the things they have been doing—if they're making robo-calls in favor of candidates or political positions, yes. One thing we really need to keep in mind here is that we do have a strong separation in this country of church and state. So, once a church starts advocating a political point of view, I don't feel like that's free speech on their part, I feel like that is mixing where they really don't belong."

She reiterated: "Separation of church and state—very important."

So, here...once again, we need to have a history lesson. People love to pull out the "separation of church and state" clause. But do any of the people who use it to defend their positions really have any clue where it came from? Doubtful. If they did, they would stop using it since it doesn't mean what they want it to.

The phrase "separation of church and state" is not, contrary to popular belief, in the Constitution. Rather, it was a phrase Thomas Jefferson used in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. Again, I quote:

"Believing 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 legislative 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."

Thomas Jefferson was merely asserting that there should never be a State religion. In other words, a government should not determine nor define the faith of its citizens. He did not say that religious organizations should not be permitted to encourage their members to advocate a particular side of an issue which arises in the public square. In fact, he supported this.

Few things perturb me more than this claim by so many in our society that religion has no place in politics. When Sarah Palin was named McCain's running mate, everyone was concerned about whether her religious beliefs would influence her choices. OF COURSE THEY WOULD! Just as Obama's and Biden's fundamental religious views (whatever they are) will guide their actions. It would be impossible for them not to.

I love how people who don't consider themselves religious think that their lack of religion doesn't affect their politics...so they shouldn't have to stand for the religious beliefs of any other person or group being "imposed" on them through any established standard influenced by religious values. Do they not realize that their anti-religious views are being thrust upon those of us who consider themselves religious? Do they not realize that everyone has a religion—that the absence of religion is a religion?! There is no neutral ground here, people.

In his talk entitled "A More Determined Discipleship," given in 1978, Elder Maxwell quoted MJ Sobran. Try this on for size:

"The Framers of the Constitution … forbade the Congress to make any law ‘respecting’ the establishment of religion...; and they explicitly forbade the Congress to abridge ‘the free exercise’ of religion, thus giving actual religious observance a rhetorical emphasis that fully accords with the special concern we know they had for religion. It takes a special ingenuity to wring out of this a governmental indifference to religion, let alone an aggressive secularism. Yet there are those who insist that the First Amendment actually proscribes governmental partiality not only to any single religion, but to religion as such.... It is startling to consider that a clause clearly protecting religion can be construed as requiring that it be denied a status routinely granted to educational and charitable enterprises, which have no overt constitutional protection. Far from equalizing unbelief, secularism has succeeded in virtually establishing it...."

Elder Maxwell then said:

"Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain opinions simply because those opinions grow out of religious convictions. Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened. In its mildest form, irreligion will merely be condescending toward those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values. In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to reduce the influence of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. It is always such an easy step from dogmatism to unfair play—especially so when the dogmatists believe themselves to be dealing with primitive people who do not know what is best for them—the secular bureaucrats’ burden, you see. "

This was 30 years ago. Are we there yet?


Whitney said...

THANK YOU. And yes, we're there.

History Matters said...

Nice post! Clearly the metaphor "separation of church and state" has been used to limit religious expression, which was the furthest thing from Jefferson's mind. It was he who wrote the Declaration of Indepence, which says that our rights are given to us by our Creator. Many of the Founders thought faith was absolutely necessary to the survival of our Republic. Jefferson said, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God?”

Even more important is this quote (from this post):

The same Congress that ratified the First Amendment wrote the Northwest Ordinance. According to the United States Code, it is one of the four principle documents on which our nation was founded (Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitution, and Northwest Ordinance). It says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged and established in the Northwest Territory.” [note: it says that religion is one necessity for which schools must be established.]

Congress later required that all territories becoming states must have Constitutions which were “not repugnant to the Northwest Ordinance.” For example, the Ohio constitution says “religion, morality and knowledge being essentially necessary to the good government and happiness of mankind, schools and the means of instruction shall ever be encouraged by legislative provisions.”

Sarah said...

Hi Chelsea!! It was so fun to look at your blog and catch up a little bit! I was home for Thanksgiving Break and saw Sara and Dallin, and got your blog address. We need to keep in touch better. Miss ya! Sarah

Miriam Oh said...

nice job chelsea! i like the thoughts and opinions and especially the history lesson. people frustrate me.

Anonymous said...

awesome post, chelsea. i watched that same program too and was equally frustrated. i love how smart and spunky you are. great history lesson. see? you would make a great teacher:)!