Church and State

Has anything been more politicized and skewed then the founder’s idea about separating church and state?

Prayer in school? Sorry, we must separate church and state. Teaching intelligent design along with evolution? Can’t do it. We must separate church from state. A copy of the ten commandments on public display? Nope. We must separate church and state. A nativity scene on public property? Absolutely not. We must separate church and state.

Last year I was asked to participate in a local school’s graduation ceremony by presenting an “inspirational” message. But, oh by the way, I could not use the word “God” or make any direct references to him. The reason? We must separate church and state.

Now I am not hysterical about any of these issues. Banning prayer from schools? How can that really be accomplished anyway? Anyone can pray at anytime- anywhere- including school. But this church and state deal- and I am a long way from being an expert on constitutional law- it just seems to me that it is now being used in ways the founders never anticipated or intended.

A couple of observations:

  • I may be wrong, but it is my understanding that the original motive behind the separation of church and state had to do with protecting our country from coming under the influence of ONE church tradition. Remember they had British roots where the Church of England ruled and European connections where the Catholic Church reigned supreme. So they shaped the separation of church and state ideal to prevent a single church monopoly from overly influencing the process of democratic governing. As a result they created the atmosphere of religious choice and freedom we have traditionally enjoyed.
  • The idea of removing all Christian teaching, symbols and practices from schools was completely foriegn to the founders. Practically all schools, colleges and universities then were started and supported by churches and were- in fact- religious institutions. Prayer in school then was not controversial, it was the norm. The founders were among those who had the ten commandments engraved in public buildings.  Again, they were not trying to escape the influence of Christianity- just the influence of one, single church.

My guess is that they would never have been able to imagine what has happened with their separation of church and state concept. They were about creating a union where all kinds of diverse thinking could co-exist and flourish without oppression.

Somehow, someway this goal is slipping away. The skewing of their idea of separating church and state is just but one example of that.

P.S. I love my country and I love God and his church. But I do realize that God does not need America to accomplish his will. America is only “God’s country” as long as we honor him. Over the centuries he has worked through all kinds of people and nations- and his kingdom has actually flourished in some of the very worst and most immoral cultures in history. So, while I lament that our American culture is now “post-Christian”, I am confident that God’s will is being done even if I cannot mention him in a speech at school.

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14 Responses to Church and State

  1. Donna says:

    well put. I think it is a tragedy that our children can be introduced to every other viewpoint in the world, but not be introduced to the only thing that can truly change their lives.

  2. Royce says:

    Supreme Court judges completely missed the mark on this issue. So far as I know the following is the only statement related to the seperatoin of church and state in the U.S. Constitution.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    This is the first admendment to the Constitution. A high school kid should be able to see that what the court has done is far from the intention of the admendment. Praying in Jesus name before a football game is not congress making a law!

    The first admendment was written to keep the government from establishing a state church and forcing citizens to comply. It was not intended to take God our of the public discourse.

    This is a fine example of why we must elect candidates who understand the importance of seating judges who will apply law, not invent it.

    Royce

  3. Frank says:

    Danny,

    Prayer in our public schools has not been outlawed. What has been forbidden is state-mandated, teacher-led prayer. And I think that’s a good rule. If my family lives in Salt Lake City, and my children attend public school there, I’m not happy with the prospect of the teacher leading the class in prayer, thanking God for the Book of Mormon and for the life’s work of Joseph Smith. That would be the imposition of the religion of the majority, which is part of what the Founders were trying to prevent.

    Students in our public schools are free to pray, read the Bible, hand out religious literature, and talk about their faith with other willing students. I’d say that’s a pretty level playing field.

  4. Jim Sexton says:

    The problem to me stems from the misguided idea that the founding fathers wanted separation of church FROM state, which eliminates church instead of realizing that they are separate but still 2 parts of a whole.

    Kind of like the separation of works FROM grace, which in the same underlying misunderstanding tries to belittle (or eliminate) works from the picture. Instead of realizing that they are 2 parts of the picture, someone has decided that they must eliminate one for the other to function properly.

    Jimbo

  5. Brad Adcock says:

    Great post, Danny. I agree with you. However, the founding fathers, as I believe Royce was trying to point out in his post, never intended separation of church and state as we have it or even as we define it. The only time those words actually appear is not in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or any other official government document. They were penned by Thomas Jefferson in a personal letter to a Baptist association minister who wrote him, concerned that the government would step in and keep him from worshipping as he so chose.

    Frank is also correct. Technically, prayer is perfectly legal in school; it simply cannot be led by a school official or required of any student. However, I would really disagree that the playing field is level. Frightened school administrators crack down on students’ right to express their Christianity almost everyday for fear that they will face lawsuits.

  6. Danny Holman says:

    Thanks Danny; good post!
    I have always wondered why it was you can quote Thoreau, Newton, Shakespeare, even Bono,Brittney, and Elton John speak of theri beliefs about the world… but don’t quote Jesus or Moses. Cite from Greek Mythology, Ceasars’s biography, Homer’s Iliad, the works of Deprak Chokra or the Koran… but not the Bible. Put up a statue to anyone at the courthouse… that’s OK; a picture of any document… that’s OK… as long as it isn’t the 10 commandments. Interesting…

    Thanks again,
    Danny

  7. Darin says:

    Did you give the speech? How did that go?

  8. Scottie says:

    Hey Danny,

    I tend to lean toward the idea that people can pray anytime they want as well. I also agree that unless we give equal opportunity for all faiths (or lack thereof) it is complicated about what to do in a publicly funded institution.

    Personally, I think there is another side to this thing. There are many so-called “Christian” organizations (e.g. Dobson and his crew, Rick Warren, Pat Robertson and the lovely 700 Club, etc. etc.) that have politcal agenda to influence the laws of this land to reflect a very specific ideology. They are not trying to insure that we are free to worship and live as we see fit, but how they see fit. Frankly, most of these groups make me ashamed and saddened that they use the term Christian, because they are some of the most unloving and un-Christian organizations I can think of.

    A lot of this controversy is a direct backlash against these poeple who propose to speak for Christendom in this country. I think that some of the things I had as a kid in school, etc. would still be there if the so-called Christian “right” would get about the business of serving others and leave politics alone. They stir the pot and whip of a frenzy of activity to such a point that sincere people cannot engage in real discourse about the issues.

    Frankly, I don’t care if the 10 Commandments are on a plaque somewhere–I believe God wanted His Word written on our hearts. I don’t care if there is not a school sponsored prayer–I beleive we were instructed to pray without ceasing, and like Danny said, we can pray anytime, anywhere. The real reason our country is slipping has little to do with plaques, or statues, or the other things that some get all excited about. Those distractions are easy targets because they remove responsibility from us. In my opinion, it has to do with the central fact that we have lost (or are losing) our ability to meet the needs of people where they are and show them the love and kindness of Christ.

    I am responsible (not the government) for living a culture of Christ with those around me. As far as what the early father’s wanted, I don’t know. I tend to think they wanted freedom to worship as they chose. Since almost everyone was Christian of some sort in the early early days of this country, I think it impossible for them to understand the diverse country and culture that America is today.

    They were not superhuman or divinely inspired. I can only deal with they did (or did not) write. Just because they may not have written “seperation of chruch and state” doesn’t mean that given the realities of the today they would not have. (okay….a lot of double negatives there) The point I am making is that the founding fathers were politicians–that’s all. It’s tough to think that they could have envisioned the environment we have today.

    my two cents

  9. Gordy says:

    Well said, Danny. What you’ve mentioned about the original intent of the Founding Fathers is correct.

    I encourage everyone to seek “The Silencing of God” by Dave Miller of Apologetics Press. Its pretty long, but the audio version IS free to download.

    LINK: http://www.thebible1.net/audio/silencingofgod/

  10. Brad,

    I agree that school administrators forbid all kinds of religious expression that the Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, does not forbid.

    I have a theory about that. I think that happens because said school administrators have been to church. There, they were told by their pastors that the godless Supreme Court and left-wing judges have outlawed religious expression in public schools. Then, these principals, teachers, etc. go back to school and rule accordingly. In those cases (and there have been many of them) the problem is neither the U.S. Constitution nor the Supreme Court. The problem is religious boys who keep crying “Wolf!”

    Gordy,

    I respectfully disagree with your recommendation of the “Silencing of God Seminar.” I do not doubt the sincerity of the presenter. But the lessons are full of misrepresetation and conclusions that do not follow from the evidence.

    A general observation: Labels and titles say something about what we assume and believe. Here we are discussing “Church and State.” All the while, the U.S. is home to thousands of mosques, synagogues, Hindu and Buddhist temples etc. The fact that we wish the whole world was Christian doesn’t give us the right to disregard the Golden Rule.

  11. jim miller says:

    Thank goodness Jesus lived in an enlightened time when state tolerated a variety of religious beliefs and allowed free expression of all of them. And Daniel……Apostles…..Jeremiah……

    It seems that as Christians we are offended that we don’t have it “easy”.

  12. dannydodd says:

    I gotta say that your comments so far have been pretty diverse- and thought provoking.

    Keep it up! 🙂

  13. D. Meadows says:

    Danny,

    I agree with you when you say that we can pray anytime, anywhere. No one can stop me if I want to pray. I continue to make it known to my students that my life is Christ-centered as often as I can. I do not push them toward “my” religion, only toward God and where He wants them to be. I do not initiate discussions and conversations about my Christianity unless someone unless broaches the subject first. As a public school teacher, I guess I should be a little more careful, but I’ll continue as I have always done from the beginning of my career. I am blessed to work in a school district where many of the school leaders (including our superintendent) are Christians. My own boss is a wonderful Christian example for all of us. Not everyone is so blessed to be in such a situation, but I behaved the same as I do now even when I worked in less ideal situations. I believe, as Scottie does, that we must do all we can to spread the Word so that more of us will stand and defend the cause of Christ at every turn. If we don’t, then those liberal voices will take over and we may not be “one nation, under God” much longer. So we must pray it, live it, and tell it

    (BTW, we have a club at school called Gideon’s 300 that is for students and faculty. Its purpose is to meet to proclaim God’s glory in their lives and to encourage one another. This group meets at school but after school hours.)

    Keep up the good work, bro.

  14. Gordy says:

    Good point, Frank.

    I know that Dave Miller is very sincere about what he has put together, yet I will say that I’m not as much as he. I do still believe that history books have been tampered with in order to propagate things that are ill-informed, though.

    You point about the Golden Rule permeates everything.

    Thanks,

    Gordy

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