Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Better Understanding of Church and State Separation Is Needed

A lot of people do not fully understand the reasoning behind the church and state violation cases that have made the news as of late. Jumping to the "I'm being persecuted!" claim has made it even harder to talk to people about this subject. There are facts at hand that have been established long before these violations have come to light. That being said, I think a little bit of history is needed to educate both the religious and non-religious.

Did you know that the phrase "wall of separation" to describe the relationship of the church and state was first used by Roger Williams back in the mid 1600s. He and his wife arrived in the "new world" (Boston) at the beginning of 1631.

"His search for the true church eventually carried him out of Congregationalism, the Baptists, and any visible church. From 1639 forward, he waited for Christ to send a new apostle to reestablish the church, and he saw himself as a "witness" to Christianity until that time came."

He strongly believed that "everyone had the natural right to freedom of religion" and thus the church and state must be separated in all aspects. Later in 1802, Thomas Jefferson would use the phrase "wall of separation" that echoed Roger Williams in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.

"In the spring of 1636, Williams and a number of his followers from Salem began a settlement on land that Williams had bought from Massasoit, only to be told by Plymouth that he was still within their land grant. They warned that they might be forced to extradite him to Massachusetts and invited him to cross the Seekonk River to territory beyond any charter. The outcasts rowed over to Narragansett territory, and having secured land from Canonicus and Miantonomi, chief sachems of the Narragansetts, Williams established a settlement with twelve 'loving friends.' He called it 'Providence' because he felt that God's Providence had brought him there. (He would later name his third child, the first born in his new settlement, "Providence" as well.) He said that his settlement was to be a haven for those 'distressed of conscience,' and it soon attracted quite a collection of dissenters and otherwise-minded individuals."

Something most people didn't know or have forgotten is the establishment or creation of the town of Providence. It was created and became a safe haven for various people regardless of their religious views. It was their "like-mindedness" that drew them together. Now the significance of Roger Williams and Providence, RI, in religious history is about to be revealed:

"Williams had himself baptized by Ezekiel Holliman in late 1638. Thus was constituted a church which still survives as the First Baptist Church in America. A few years later, John Clarke, Williams’ compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, established a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. Roger Williams and John Clarke are variously credited as being the founder of the Baptist faith in America."

It's a really good read and we strongly suggest it - you won't learn about him in public schools and probably not in most religious schools outside of baptist ones. I didn't even know about him until Tweenky and Jessica had mentioned him recently. I hated history class in school and I blame 50% of that on the way it was being taught and/or presented, the other 50% was me not being interested since I was taught that "the world was going to end soon" or "we are in the last days". After looking back at the history of most religions, I have found that every couple of generations you see them saying something about being in the last days.

Just want to start off with a couple examples and then the feedback or backlash I've noticed from said examples:

One of the main examples that is continuously being brought up here in the South is "prayer in schools." This isn't just something that happens in the South either as we have all probably heard about events in Cranston, RI. Here in the South most of the school games are preceded by a prayer over the P.A. system or at graduation ceremonies.

The problem is not the prayer that is being said (although it is usually exclusively from one denomination) at the school games or ceremonies. Prayer that is lead by teachers, school faculty or even a local priest, preacher, bishop, or father is in itself an endorsement by the school. That is the violation and what makes it unconstitutional regardless of how long they have been doing it. The U.S. Supreme Court first ruled government-sponsored prayer in the public schools unconstitutional in 1962. Ala,s most southern states have held onto their prayers in school thinking that, "We'll do it until we are told or made to stop," as one school principal said at a faculty meeting in Tishomingo County, Mississippi.

Is the bible belt and other places really that thick in thinking they can just do as they please when it comes to our school systems and, most importantly, our children? Indoctrination at a young age is a must for most these religions - get them young and it's harder to lose them. They become entrenched with the constant reminder of being a sinner or threatened with going to hell.

The other example that seems to make headlines every year is the nativity scene "on public/governement property." This was seen last year all over the country with only a few places getting air time on the news. Athens, Texas, was a huge one that got most the publicity. Rick Perry may have had something to do with that, not sure. This was a case in point of an obvious church and state separation violation.

This whole thing was not about the nativity scene but rather its location on the grounds of the government building. Had they just moved it across the street or down the block to a private property location there wouldn't have been an issue. But it was a long standing tradition and had been there for over 50 years. That just means it has been in violation of the law for the last 49 years.

The backlash from all this was a feeding of the faux news trolls and their so called "Christian persecution". They used it to further claim a persecution on Christians by saying they were trying to "take Christ out of Christmas". No one ever said it had to be taken down and never shown again; they just wanted it moved off public property. Simple, right?

So with that I leave you with the following facts available for everyone to look up and read for themselves:

The phrase "separation of church and state" itself does not appear in the United States Constitution. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The Supreme Court did not consider the question of how this applied to the states until 1947; when they did, in Everson v. Board of Education, all nine justices agreed that there was a wall of separation between church and state.
(Kermit Hall, ed. The Oxford companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2005) pp 303-4)

The decision of Everson followed in 1947, the first incorporating the Establishment Clause.
(Larson, Edward John (2003). Trial and error: the American controversy over creation and evolution (3, revised ed.).)

The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the "separation" or "no aid" interpretation, while the second approach is called the "non-preferential" or "accommodation" interpretation. The accommodation interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Establishment_Clause)

Like any other case that goes before the court, once ruled on they can set a precedent.

The issue at hand is not the fact that this was a religious prayer but that it was displayed on public school property. It is a matter of location, every citizen can display this prayer on their private property to show how religious they are if need be or wear a T-Shirt. That is your private property. If the government were to pass a law that controls what you can and cannot wear or display on your private property, then you will see people unite from all faiths and non-faiths alike.

Again it is a matter of location, the precedent has been set and will continue to be upheld as long as we have the 1st and 14th amendments intact.

We applaud and thank you, Jessica, and the many others religious and non-religious people over the years that have stood up for church and state separation.