T Nation

Separation of Church and State


One thing that I Love about our Country is our system of both Public and Private “checks and balances” that keep not only our Government “in check”, but protects us from ourselves and our tendencies.

Every year, almost every day of the year, someone, somewhere, will “push” the limits of our Constitution. Often it will be with the “Separation of Church and State”.

The Slidell City, Louisiana Court has a picture of Jesus hanging in the building that the ACLU is challenging in Court.

Some points for my “Nation” Brothers and Sisters:

  1. Thinking that this Separation is a good thing DOES NOT make someone “against” religion. Quite the contrary.

  2. The ACLU are far from being my favorite people; but I’m glad they are here.

Question:

After looking around the world, ESPECIALLY the Middle East; does ANYONE seriously think that the Separation of Church and State is a BAD concept?

Let’s discuss.

Mufasa

I think it is a good idea.
I don’t know that there is an official stance on it, other than interpretation.

“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.”

Separation seems to me to be a vague application of that text.

Great point, jp…

BB is more the Constitutional Law expert here; but I once read a summary of an argument that when a State Entity does something like put up a picture of Jesus…it is, in fact, “establishing” a religion for that particular entity DE FACTO.

Mufasa

[quote]Mufasa wrote:
Great point, jp…

BB is more the Constitutional Law expert here; but I once read a summary of an argument that when a State Entity does something like put up a picture of Jesus…it is, in fact, “establishing” a religion for that particular entity DE FACTO.

Mufasa[/quote]

First Amendment law in the area of religion is a morass. We shouldn’t get sidetracked in the mess that it is – we should keep the discussion at the level of what we think it should be. Trust me, you don’t want to know about the distinctions they’ve invented for the various situations that have come up in the caselaw…

Anyway, I think it’s a very good idea that there be no officially established religion, and that people are free to choose to support any religion or no religion.

To the extent that government supports cultural things at all (I don’t think it should, but that’s another topic), I don’t think religion should be a banned category. This will mean some line drawing – for instance, the art doesn’t bother me, and creches and such don’t bother me, but religious instruction in public schools would bother me.

Letting a parent use a voucher for a religious school wouldn’t bother me either, but establishment of a religious school would. I don’t know that I’ve developed any sort of unifying principle that would define the decisions, but any application of religion in situations in which the government uses its coercive powers would bother me.

Thanks, BB!

Question:

These “symbols” (pics of Jesus; nativity scenes, etc) are almost always deemed “unconstitutional” (even though the “10 Commandments” Flap in Alabama went further than any have before; as I recall, the argument was that the Commandments were not really “religious”, but “Codes of Human Behavior” or something like that).

Since these “symbols” are often cited as being “Unconstitutional” by the Courts, do you tend to see any “common thread” to the decisions?

Mufasa

I’m not sure what the problem is…

It is a painting, a work of art…

This is not the Ten Commandments, this is a painting.

The ACLU seems to enjoy taking good ideas and bringing them to the extreme

[quote]Mufasa wrote:
Thanks, BB!

Question:

These “symbols” (pics of Jesus; nativity scenes, etc) are almost always deemed “unconstitutional” (even though the “10 Commandments” Flap in Alabama went further than any have before; as I recall, the argument was that the Commandments were not really “religious”, but “Codes of Human Behavior” or something like that).

Since these “symbols” are often cited as being “Unconstitutional” by the Courts, do you tend to see any “common thread” to the decisions?

Mufasa[/quote]

Well, in the context of symbols, there’s still not a really solid line. For instance, creches are permitted, but only in the context of a broad display that includes menorahs and Santa Clause. And additionally, there’s a distinction between a symbol the government puts up as the government versus one it allows government employees to put up – or one that gets donated to the government (see the case of the Soledad Mountain Cross in San Diego, CA).

The real problem in this area is that the Warren and Burger courts made up a bunch of tests and called them Constitutional – not unlike the problem in some other areas.

This article is a little old, but I think it’s quite good for this discussion, generally:

http://www.law.ucla.edu/volokh/equal.htm

ADDENDUM: Note, this is more about government spending on schools, but it has a good discussion and framework.

This is also good as an overview summary, FWIW:

People should be allowed to do their own thing, during their own time, using their own means, and not have their own personal beliefs integrated into mechanism of governmental policy or process… because the government should serve everybody equally.

Democracy does not mean that the majority shall have the ability to integrate their own religious beliefs into everyones lives… there are other vital fundamental principles that preclude this type of behavior.

In particular, if religion becomes something that much of society starts to drift away from, it is not the job of government to bring the public back to religion or to legislate behavior based on a certain religion.

We the people should be outraged over a Jesus print located inside of a government building? However, the unconstitutional encroachment of the federal government into matters of private property, gun ownership, and taxation/wealth redistribution are ok?

Sloth:

We should be concerned about BOTH.

I don’t see it as “either/or”…

Mufasa

[quote]Sloth wrote:
We the people should be outraged over a Jesus print located inside of a government building? However, the unconstitutional encroachment of the federal government into matters of private property, gun ownership, and taxation/wealth redistribution are ok?[/quote]

Of course they’re ok!!

Joke’s on you! While they’re keeping you busy squabbling over some picture of Jesus and how far the separation of church and state should go… [do nothing] congress has given itself yet another pay raise.

ZING!

Hmm, seems like some folks aren’t even able to rationally discuss the issue at hand.

Does this imply you are against separation of church and state or that you just dislike those that are concerned about such things?

Why are only the issues you are concerned about of importance and worthy of attention and discussion?

Zing.

I guess I fail to see how a reprint of 16th century Russian orthodox art, found in a local courthouse, is an establishment of the Christian faith. I wonder if they swear upon the bible there to “tell the truth…so help me God?”

Is it just me, or is the unconstitutionality of religious icons/themes being present in local courthouses, a rather modern phenomenon? As if at some point lawyers and activists said, “Wait a minute, I just realized…”

Did the founders really mean for us to use separation of church and state to this degree? Removing this print from a local courthouse?

[quote]Sloth wrote:
Is it just me, or is the unconstitutionality of religious icons/themes being present in local courthouses, a rather modern phenomenon? As if at some point lawyers and activists said, “Wait a minute, I just realized…”[/quote]

The fact that something is being considered in new ways does not itself make it suspect.

At one point it was a modern phenomenon to allow women to vote. At some other point it was a modern phenomenon to outlaw slavery. Then again, it was once a modern phenomenon to eliminate segregation.

Perhaps focus on the actual issues more and throw away this type of hazy reasoning.

Whether or not it is new, the issue is whether or not these people have a valid point. Does promoting a certain religion through government funded entities represent a violation of constitutional principles?

By the way, I’m not against separation of church and state. It’s what keeps government from rewarding me or punishing me based upon my religious faith, after all. But, how about some common sense?

Oh, didn’t the ACLU work to keep the Boy Scouts from using government land which is used by other groups? I guess showing this work of art is unconstitutional, but excluding the Boy Scouts because of religious beliefs isn’t?

[quote]vroom wrote:
Sloth wrote:
Is it just me, or is the unconstitutionality of religious icons/themes being present in local courthouses, a rather modern phenomenon? As if at some point lawyers and activists said, “Wait a minute, I just realized…”

Perhaps focus on the actual issues more and throw away this type of hazy reasoning.

Whether or not it is new, the issue is whether or not these people have a valid point. Does promoting a certain religion through government funded entities represent a violation of constitutional principles?[/quote]

I am addressing the issue. The question is of a constitutional importance, right? Now maybe someone has done more research on this, but I get the impression that the establishment clause covering a print of Jesus, or the Ten Commandments, in a local courthouse is a fairly recent notion. If it is a question of constitutionality, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if the establishment clause was meant to be used like this?

By the way, should religious entities be punished, through withholding of government funds and lands? Isn’t that a breach of the establishment clause? Why does the ACLU work to chase off the boy scouts?

[quote]Sloth wrote:
By the way, I’m not against separation of church and state. It’s what keeps government from rewarding me or punishing me based upon my religious faith, after all. But, how about some common sense?[/quote]

Interesting.

So, how would you feel about things if all across the USA government institutions were displaying statues and images of Vishnu, to the exclusion of all other religions.

Also, every day children would read several paragraphs of Hindu scriptures to start their school day?

I think the reason many people complain so vociferously about acting to remove religion from government is because it is their own religion being removed. If it was another, they’d be all for it!

[quote]Sloth wrote:
If it is a question of constitutionality, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if the establishment clause was meant to be used like this?
[/quote]

Societies change over time.

Income tax only came about during the wars… and then it never went away again.

So, anything having to do with income tax and the subsequent spending that was then enabled would potentially never have been explicitly considered before that time.

The issue at hand is the use of government proceeds to promote one religion over others… which the funding available due to taxation has certainly enabled.

Also, it’s very possible that social awareness of the issue simply was not around at an earlier time. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a big issue or not, it’s something that is being addressed now.

Like I said, societies change and new conflicts with old laws arise all the time. Technology is another way that societies adjust into new areas that old laws may not have considered.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Sloth wrote:
By the way, I’m not against separation of church and state. It’s what keeps government from rewarding me or punishing me based upon my religious faith, after all. But, how about some common sense?

Interesting.

So, how would you feel about things if all across the USA government institutions were displaying statues and images of Vishnu, to the exclusion of all other religions.

Also, every day children would read several paragraphs of Hindu scriptures to start their school day?

I think the reason many people complain so vociferously about acting to remove religion from government is because it is their own religion being removed. If it was another, they’d be all for it![/quote]

If a piece of art depicting Vishnu was presented in a manner consistent with our own notions of judgment, I could care less. As far as reading scriptures from any religion, as a means of indoctrination in a “public school,” I’m against it. That’s obviously indoctrination. Of course, I’m not against private religious schools receiving funds through waivers though. After all, the waivers would be used by parents, not the government.

But none of that is remotely like passing by some print with a religious theme. Especially when the religious theme ultimately delivers a rather neutral message on judgment, that hopefully we all can agree on, in a building where judgments are made.

No, this isn’t a fight against the establishment of a religion. It’s either paranoia or a grudge driving this.

[quote]vroom wrote:
Sloth wrote:
If it is a question of constitutionality, shouldn’t we ask ourselves if the establishment clause was meant to be used like this?

Societies change over time.

Income tax only came about during the wars… and then it never went away again.

So, anything having to do with income tax and the subsequent spending that was then enabled would potentially never have been explicitly considered before that time.

The issue at hand is the use of government proceeds to promote one religion over others… which the funding available due to taxation has certainly enabled.

Also, it’s very possible that social awareness of the issue simply was not around at an earlier time. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a big issue or not, it’s something that is being addressed now.

Like I said, societies change and new conflicts with old laws arise all the time. Technology is another way that societies adjust into new areas that old laws may not have considered.[/quote]

So this isn’t a constitutional issue? It’s an issue of “modern sensibilities?”
Which one is it?