Saturday, January 27, 2007

Separation of Church and State

In a letter dated January 1st, 1802, to the Danbury Baptist Association, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson wrote:
... Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate 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 eternal separation between Church & State....
President Jefferson quotes the United States Constitution, which states that the legislature cannot establish religion nor can it prohibit the free exercise thereof.

The "wall of eternal separation between Church & State" is not however, official doctrine, but just the late President's personal opinion. But since this phrase is so often used, let's take a look at what it actually means in practice.

In general, Church and State are not at all separated.

The State does not impose religious doctrine. That is clearly of supreme importance, and is what most people think what "separation" means. However, man is more than spirit, and religion goes far beyond mere doctrine, unless you are a kind of gnostic.

The State does not create or recognize any official religion. This is also good, considering the state of American religious schizophrenia. However, the State may be doing this sort of thing anyway, as we will consider later.

The State will not oppose the free development of religious doctrine. This at first seems well and good, but in effect it has led to the denial of proper church authority and self-regulation, especially regarding break-away congregations. It has become judicial policy to allow, or even encourage this kind of division.

Church property and income is not taxed. Taxation would indeed be an interference by the State: the power to tax is the power to destroy. However, this lack of taxation is often seen by the State to be merely a goodwill gesture, and not a freedom that the Church is owed. Also, expanded use of eminent domain is being used to take over tax-free property, including churches. Loss of tax-exempt status is threatened if the Church attempts to practice its right to political speech.

The Church must register as a corporation or not-for-profit organization and be granted charters from the State in order to legally operate. The Church existed before the State and will last far after the State is forgotten. This is not Separation between Church and State, for in fact it makes the Church a State corporation.

Church-owned institutions such as hospitals and adoption agencies are regulated in ways that are repugnant to the Church. Conscience exemptions are being eliminated, and the scope of the freedom of religion is being unilaterally changed by the State.

In some places, the Church cannot choose its own clergy. This is seen in recently where an atheist was allowed to keep his pastorate after he sued under the State's employment laws. A State interferes in the ordaining of priests in one U.S. Diocese, under a court order.

The State does not recognize Church Canon Law regarding organization and ownership of parishes. This has led to difficult problems, especially regarding church closings. Canon Law existed long before U.S. Law, and it even is a general principle of much American law that custom and tradition should be recognized and accepted by the State as binding.

The State holds clergy liable under criminal and civil law, even though the Church has a well-developed internal judiciary and legal system. Again, here is a case where Church and State are not separated, since the Church is not allowed to regulate its own members.

The State regulates church properties regarding building and environmental codes. If the Church is not free to regulate its own properties, then Church and State are not separated. I recall one incident where the State, wanting to remove a religious order from a particularly valuable tax-exempt building, demanded that they install an elevator in their monastery, which they could not afford. Environmental laws in the U.S. are particularly pernicious, since they theoretically do not need any guilt of a party for an imposition of liability.

Agnostic materialistic monism is officially taught in the public schools. Although arguably this is a philosophy and not religion, it overlaps considerably with religion in the normal understanding. If the State must not impose religion, it certainly should not impose a metaphysics which interferes with the practice of religion.

If the Church and State were truly separated, then the Church and State would cooperate as equals. The Church indeed may allow the State to regulate things such as building codes, but this would be a free, negotiated agreement between the local Bishop and the civil authorities.

The "wall of eternal separation between Church & State" is built by the State according to its own design, located where the State decides, and is purely for the benefit of the State. The Church has absolutely no influence whatsoever in the matter. If two neighbors build a wall separating their properties, then we say "good fences make good neighbors"; but an unbreachable wall unilaterally built around someone else is called a prison.

However, religious demoniationalism complicates matters thoroughly, since denominations come and go like the breeze. It should be noted that this kind of propagation and splintering of the denominations is almost a governmental policy, as a kind of divide-and-conquer strategy.

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