Religionists, stay on your path

Church and state parameters

Remember Venn diagrams from high school? Each had two headings and a list of distinguishing features associated with them. A third middle column listed characteristics that were common to both categories.

For example, two categories could be birds and mammals. Only birds have wings and feathers, and only mammals have hair and produce milk. But both have eyes and backbones, and both are warm-blooded.

Imagine a diagram whose titles are church and state (state means government). The church offers worship, prayer and preaching. The state protects life and health, develops infrastructure and safeguards freedom. Of course the two have similarities. Both need money. Both help the poor. Both have flags, rules, mission statements, and behavioral expectations.

These two institutions largely coexisted, largely because Americans accepted the role of each institution. Not so much today. Today, religionists are increasingly trying to extend spiritual values, which are always theirs, to functions assigned to the state.

Separation of church and state

Americans’ freedoms are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The very first is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” There you have it. The first right in the First Amendment states that the state may NOT impose religious beliefs on its citizens or require religious practices from its citizens. (See Lemon v. Kurtzman for a more detailed interpretation.) This may not be the case even if influential religious adherents wish to impose their beliefs on others.

The founders immediately followed with freedom number two: “… nor prohibit the free exercise thereof.” There you have it again. The state should NOT enter the domain of the roles assigned to the church. The state should not interfere with the way Americans worship and pray.

Together these clauses result in ‘separation of church and state’. When religionists claim that the Constitution does not proclaim, identify, or mandate the separation of church and state, they have a serious problem. Either they don’t understand the original clauses of the First Amendment, or they don’t understand how summary judgment works.

They are more likely to use complex reasoning to embed their religious values ​​in the functions of the state or even ignore constitutional provisions altogether. They want their faith to supersede everything else, including the Constitution.

Continuous encroachment

In recent decades, religionists have attempted to extend church beliefs into state functions. They required prayer in schools and at graduation ceremonies. They established moments of silence for prayer time and demanded that schools and other government buildings display the Ten Commandments. When they were rejected, they blamed the ills of society on the prohibitions, as if society had no ills before.

But their efforts never end. They accomplished that in 2022 when a high school football coach was given the green light to pray, at midfield and surrounded by players, after public school-sponsored games. (It doesn’t matter that Jesus told his followers to pray in their closets.)

Texas lawmakers recently revisited the effort to legislate the display of the Ten Commandments in schools. Legislatures in six states tried to require classrooms and police cars to display the motto “In God We Trust.”

Oklahoma lawmaker Tom Woods recently commented on his state’s anti-LGBTQ legislation. “We are a religious state and we are going to fight to keep that filth out of the state of Oklahoma because we are a Christian state. We are a moral state.”

The attempts don’t stop.

Why do religionists only choose the state?

Why do religionists target spiritual behavior at the state? Why not force religion on corporations and commercial enterprises? Why don’t we instruct factory workers to start their shifts with prayer or with shops to display the Ten Commandments?

But how would religionists react if their employer were Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, and the required prayer corresponded to that religion? What if supermarkets, banks and gas stations displayed principles that differed from the creed of a religious self?

Many would say “injustice!” call. They would never tolerate such mandates in labor and economics. Yet they happily push THEIR religion into the realm of the state. Why?

Religious people are the problem

Reflect. Which institution, state or church, invades the domain of the other? Is the state trying to regulate who the church can marry, or is the church trying to regulate who the state can marry?

Is the state trying to write secular documents on church walls, or is the church trying to write spiritual beliefs on government walls?

Does the state require church services to include pledges and anthems, or does the church force the government to open public meetings with prayer?

Is the state trying to censor books in churches, or are religionists trying to censor books in public libraries?

Consider Jesus’ own words. “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but give to God the things that are God’s.” His words work for behavior as well as taxes.

Religionists, stay on your path.

— Community columnist Ray Buursma is a resident of the Netherlands. Contact him at [email protected].