Separation of Church and State

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Separation of Church and State

Postby pat dangerous » Tue Nov 04, 2008 1:04 am UTC

"Separation of Church and State" is a term that gets bandied about quite a bit in the United States these days. Indeed, it's an important issue, but I think that its real meaning--or, rather, the intention of the phrase when it was originally written--has been perverted in recent times.

The Constitution wrote:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Here we have what is known as the Establishment Clause. It's pretty straightforward. We take it to mean that Congress shall never establish any sort of "state religion," and that Congress shall never outlaw or ban any religion. Easy, right?

The idea of "separation between church and state" originated in Thomas Jefferson's "Letter to the Danbury Baptists," from 1802.
President Jefferson wrote: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 separation between Church & State.

Emphasis mine.

Taken in context, I see "separation of Church and State" as a way of keeping government out of our various religions, not vice versa. I don't believe government should be a godless, entirely secular realm. After all, our country was founded under the pretense that each citizen could practice his or her religion freely. It seems that in government most of all, the various religions (or lack thereof) of our politicians should not only be tolerated, but embraced.

After all, Thomas Jefferson went to Church every Sunday in the United States Treasury building while churches were being built in the District. This sort of thing would create an uproar today.

I think the term is used incorrectly in regards to prayer in public schools, faith-based initiatives, and other such matters.

These are my opinions; this is how the matter was taught to me. What do you think?
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Alias » Tue Nov 04, 2008 1:24 am UTC

I see it as making them completly separate. There is no cause for religion to be used in policy making; it has no base in fact and thus is no source to run a country from
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Minchandre » Tue Nov 04, 2008 1:37 am UTC

First, Jefferson was a hypocritical hack.

:mrgreen:


Now that that's done: I agree that it was very much not the intent of the founders of the US to create a secular republic. Nevertheless, I consider a secular republic to be the best solution to a pantheist one, which was the goal. Due to the different and often contradictory nature of each religion, I feel that the only good way to please everyone equally is to please no one. Obviously, a lot of our laws are based on religion - laws against theft, murder, adultery (in some states), homosexuality (in some states), etc all stem from religion - but you'll notice a lot of the ones that don't agree with the new, "secular", post-Enlightment "basic morality" are getting canned (like adultery and homosexuality laws).

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Jorsh! » Tue Nov 04, 2008 1:46 am UTC

Alias wrote:After all, Thomas Jefferson went to Church every Sunday in the United States Treasury building while churches were being built in the District.

Jefferson may have been a churchgoer, but he also produced the Jefferson Bible. Make of that what you will.

The problem with using religion as a basis for government is deciding which religion(s) become your templates. You can't use them all--there are simply too many mutual incompatibilities to contend with.

More to the point, as soon as religion becomes the governmental standard, non-religious citizens are left in the dust. This would be plenty ironic, since the basic sources of most religious beliefs are very old, very edited, very mythological books.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Kachi » Tue Nov 04, 2008 2:11 am UTC

Unfortunately your theory doesn't hold, OP. If the government adopts a religion, then by mutual exclusion, it excludes every other religion. If this were a Christian nation, for example, it would by definition come at the expense of the persecution of the Jewish, Muslim, etc.

Neverminding that Jefferson is not exactly the epitome of the American ideal, nor do his personal thoughts on the subject have much relevance to the content of the Constitution. Many people signed that document.

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby SabreKGB » Tue Nov 04, 2008 2:22 am UTC

pat dangerous wrote:Taken in context, I see "separation of Church and State" as a way of keeping government out of our various religions, not vice versa. I don't believe government should be a godless, entirely secular realm.


How, exactly would you propose putting religion into government while keeping government out of religion? And, let me go ahead and put out there that government is not anywhere close to being a "godless, entirely secular realm". Get back to me with that quote after we have the first atheist president. Or when proclaiming christianity isn't a practical pre-requsite for high public office in the vast majority of districts in the US.



After all, our country was founded under the pretense that each citizen could practice his or her religion freely. It seems that in government most of all, the various religions (or lack thereof) of our politicians should not only be tolerated, but embraced.


They are tolerated. And used as means of garnering votes (at least if you happen to be a 'devout christian' politician). But, i'm curious...why should they be "embraced"? Do we really want people in charge of the most powerful nation in history making choices because they think God told them to do something...? I mean, haven't we seen how well that works out?



I think the term is used incorrectly in regards to prayer in public schools, faith-based initiatives, and other such matters.


How so?

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby TheAmazingRando » Tue Nov 04, 2008 2:40 am UTC

pat dangerous wrote:I think the term is used incorrectly in regards to prayer in public schools, faith-based initiatives, and other such matters.
So a school (a government institution) sponsoring a religious prayer is somehow not "respecting an establishment of religion?" Maybe they could do a general prayer that's valid in most religion, but it's still making the atheist the "other" and making theism in general a sort of state religion.

I'm a Christian, and I don't see why taking prayer out of schools is an issue, but I see it all the time in rhetoric about the moral decline of our country. I think school sponsored prayer is an absolutely terrible idea. I find a watered down, general-purpose prayer to be almost offensive, and a specifically Christian one to be not only in direct violation of the constitution, but also heavily alienating for any non-Christians. If you want to pray, do it yourself. Having a teacher (who may or may not be religious) lead a prayer for students (who may or may not be religious) seems pointless.

As far as Christian laws in general: Nothing in the Bible says that Christians are responsible to keep non-Christians from sinning. If anything, the opposite is implied, that Christians should not make it their business to judge those outside of the church. Murderers aren't punished for sinning, they're punished for violating the order imposed by society, and from a Christian view, their legal punishment in no way absolves them in the eyes of God. So if a crime is only justified as a crime from a religious standpoint, and it is therefore only an offense to God, and does not violate the order of society, why should society punish it? Society isn't harmed, and the individual is still responsible to God. Even from a religious perspective, no good has been achieved.

Combine this with the tyranny of being forced to adhere to certain tenets of a religion that you don't even follow, especially one like Christianity that holds that merely following those tenets isn't enough to save you from damnation.

People don't hold to the idea of the separation of church and state solely because they think the constitution demands it (though I think that most interpretations lead to it). I'm a Christian, and even if that amendment never existed, I would still be pushing to keep government as secular as possible.

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby apeman5291 » Tue Nov 04, 2008 3:40 am UTC

I think I agree with the OP here.

Alias wrote:I see it as making them completly separate. There is no cause for religion to be used in policy making; it has no base in fact and thus is no source to run a country from.

You're forgetting that the government is more or less democratically elected. We can all agree that the constitution allows people to practice whatever religion they want. It also allows them to vote for their representatives based on whatever criteria they choose. It's perfectly reasonable for someone to vote based on their religious beliefs, if that's the most important thing to them. Religious people who use their beliefs to make decisions will vote for politicians who do the same. In congress, those particular politicians will vote based on their religion, which is the religion of their constituents. When it's all said and done, they're simply representing the will of the people who elected them. It seems perfecly legitimate to me.
Granted, there will be a lot of people who vote based on other things too, I'm just talking about religious based voting here. It all comes down to what the majority decides, which is the point of an election.
SabreKGB wrote:Get back to me with that quote after we have the first atheist president. Or when proclaiming christianity isn't a practical pre-requsite for high public office in the vast majority of districts in the US.

Non-christians don't get elected much in the United Stated because people feel very strongly about their faith and vote for representatives that feel the same way to make decisions for them. Why is that bad in a democratically based system?
SabreKGB wrote:But, i'm curious...why should they be "embraced"?

If people were forced to vote based on things other than religion (which in a lot of cases is something other than what is most important to them), then the will of the people isn't being truly represented. "Embracing" different religions here means simply allowing people to vote based on their faith, and allowing the representatives who are elected to do the same.

All of what I've said, of course, has its limit at making a law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The constitution was intended to set passive limits on the political machine, not active restrictions.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Intercept » Tue Nov 04, 2008 3:50 am UTC

pat dangerous wrote:
The idea of "separation between church and state" originated in Thomas Jefferson's "Letter to the Danbury Baptists," from 1802.
President Jefferson wrote: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 separation between Church & State.

Emphasis mine.


Emphasis mine. You seem to be seeing only the second part.

Ape: Religion shouldn't matter at all. You say people should vote for people who represent their beliefs. The problem is the politician's belief is caused by religion, which is frankly unethical and unamerican in my mind. If you make or support a law because of religious beliefs that is the same as making a law respecting an establishment of religion.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby roc314 » Tue Nov 04, 2008 4:03 am UTC

Anyone ever heard of the Treaty of Tripoli, approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797?

The Treaty of Tripoli wrote:Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby SabreKGB » Tue Nov 04, 2008 4:42 am UTC

apeman5291 wrote:Non-christians don't get elected much in the United Stated because people feel very strongly about their faith and vote for representatives that feel the same way to make decisions for them. Why is that bad in a democratically based system?

That particular snippet was in response to the OP's calling government a secular realm. In theory he's right, in reality he couldn't be more wrong.


If people were forced to vote based on things other than religion (which in a lot of cases is something other than what is most important to them), then the will of the people isn't being truly represented. "Embracing" different religions here means simply allowing people to vote based on their faith, and allowing the representatives who are elected to do the same.

People are allowed to vote based on their faith, as are the politicians they vote into office. That's not what embracing means. Embracing has connotations of affirming that the use of such faith as a voting guide is a good thing. It's not.

Also, when you mention the "will of the people", be careful you don't fall into the trap of advocating the tyranny of the majority.

All of what I've said, of course, has its limit at making a law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The constitution was intended to set passive limits on the political machine, not active restrictions.



Care to explain the difference between passive limits and active restrictions when it comes to the government in this case?

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby qinwamascot » Tue Nov 04, 2008 5:39 am UTC

Part of the reason that was put in the first amendment is because of the history of religious discrimination in our country. The puritans came to get out of the religious persecution of the English. Then they started persecuting others who weren't puritan, so they formed new settlements. The framers were scared of a government that would act for religion and not for political benefit. Some of the framers weren't even traditional Christians--closer to Deism. So they naturally included a provision to keep the two distinct. Where the phrase originated is somewhat irrelevant.

But regardless, I think it is inherently a good idea. I don't think it means that politicians should get rid of religion, but they should keep the two separate.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby roc314 » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:40 am UTC

From http://www.au.org/site/News2?news_iv_ct ... le&id=9061

It takes a nice, long look at America's separation of church and state.

Spoilered for huge.
Spoiler:
Religious Right groups and their allies insist that the United States was designed to be officially Christian and that our laws should enforce the doctrines of (their version of) Christianity. Is this viewpoint accurate? Is there anything in the Constitution that gives special treatment or preference to Christianity? Did the founders of our government believe this or intend to create a government that gave special recognition to Christianity?

The answer to all of these questions is no. The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws "respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and in Article VI, which prohibits "religious tests" for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian.

The Founding Fathers did not create a secular government because they disliked religion. Many were believers themselves. Yet they were well aware of the dangers of church-state union. They had studied and even seen first-hand the difficulties that church-state partnerships spawned in Europe. During the American colonial period, alliances between religion and government produced oppression and tyranny on our own shores.

Many colonies, for example, had provisions limiting public office to "Trinitarian Protestants" and other types of laws designed to prop up the religious sentiments of the politically powerful. Some colonies had officially established churches and taxed all citizens to support them, whether they were members or not. Dissenters faced imprisonment, torture and even death.

These arrangements led to bitterness and sectarian division. Many people began agitating for an end to "religious tests" for public office, tax subsidies for churches and other forms of state endorsement of religion. Those who led this charge were not anti-religion. Indeed, many were members of the clergy and people of deep piety. They argued that true faith did not need or want the support of government.

Respect for religious pluralism gradually became the norm. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, for example, he spoke of "unalienable rights endowed by our Creator." He used generic religious language that all religious groups of the day would respond to, not narrowly Christian language traditionally employed by nations with state churches.

While some of the country's founders believed that the government should espouse Christianity, that viewpoint soon became a losing proposition. In Virginia, Patrick Henry argued in favor of tax support for Christian churches. But Henry and his cohorts were in the minority and lost that battle. Jefferson, James Madison and their allies among the state's religious groups ended Virginia's established church and helped pass the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, a 1786 law guaranteeing religious freedom to all.

Jefferson and Madison's viewpoint also carried the day when the Constitution, and later, the Bill of Rights, were written. Had an officially Christian nation been the goal of the founders, that concept would appear in the Constitution. It does not. Instead, our nation's governing document ensures religious freedom for everyone.

Maryland representative Luther Martin said that a handful of delegates to the Constitutional Convention argued for formal recognition of Christianity in the Constitution, insisting that such language was necessary in order to "hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism." But that view was not adopted, and the Constitution gave government no authority over religion. Article VI, which allows persons of all religious viewpoints to hold public office, was adopted by a unanimous vote. Through ratification of the First Amendment, observed Jefferson, the American people built a "wall of separation between church and state."

Some pastors who favored church-state union were outraged and delivered sermons asserting that the United States would not be a successful nation because its Constitution did not give special treatment to Christianity. But many others welcomed the new dawn of freedom and praised the Constitution and the First Amendment as true protectors of liberty.

Early national leaders understood that separation of church and state would be good for all faiths including Christianity. Jefferson rejoiced that Virginia had passed his religious freedom law, noting that it would ensure religious freedom for "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination."

Other early U.S. leaders echoed that view. President George Washington, in a famous 1790 letter to a Jewish congregation in Newport, R.I., celebrated the fact that Jews had full freedom of worship in America. Noted Washington, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship."

Washington's administration even negotiated a treaty with the Muslim rulers of north Africa that stated explicitly that the United States was not founded on Christianity. The pact, known as the Treaty with Tripoli, was approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797, under the administration of John Adams. Article 11 of the treaty states, "[T]he government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…."

Admittedly, the U.S. government has not always lived up to its constitutional principles. In the late 19th century especially, officials often promoted a de facto form of Protestantism. Even the U.S. Supreme Court fell victim to this mentality in 1892, with Justice David Brewer declaring in Holy Trinity v. United States that America is "a Christian nation."

It should be noted, however, that the Holy Trinity decision is a legal anomaly. It has rarely been cited by other courts, and the "Christian nation" declaration appeared in dicta a legal term meaning writing that reflects a judge's personal opinion, not a mandate of the law. Also, it is unclear exactly what Brewer meant. In a book he wrote in 1905, Brewer pointed out that the United States is Christian in a cultural sense, not a legal one.

A more accurate judicial view of the relationship between religion and government is described by Justice John Paul Stevens in his 1985 Wallace v. Jaffree ruling. Commenting on the constitutional right of all Americans to choose their own religious belief, Stevens wrote, "At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Mohammedism or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all."

A determined faction of Christians has fought against this wise and time-tested policy throughout our history. In the mid 19th century, several efforts were made to add specific references to Christianity to the Constitution. One group, the National Reform Association (NRA), pushed a "Christian nation" amendment in Congress in 1864. NRA members believed that the Civil War was divine punishment for failing to mention God in the Constitution and saw the amendment as a way to atone for that omission.

The NRA amendment called for "humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, [and] His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government." Ten years later, the House Judiciary Committee voted against its adoption. The committee noted "the dangers which the union between church and state had imposed upon so many nations of the Old World" and said in light of that it was felt "inexpedient to put anything into the Constitution which might be construed to be a reference to any religious creed or doctrine."

Similar theocratic proposals resurfaced in Congress sporadically over the years. As late as 1950, a proposal was introduced in the Senate that would have added language to the Constitution that "devoutly recognizes the Authority and Law of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Ruler of nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of liberty." This amendment was never voted out of committee. Efforts to revive it in the early 1960s were unsuccessful.

Today, America's religious demographics are changing, and diversity has greatly expanded since our nation's founding. The number of Jews has increased, and more Muslims are living in America than ever before. Other religions now represented in America include Hinduism, Buddhism and a myriad others. In addition, many Americans say they have no religious faith or identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or Humanists. According to some scholars, over 2,000 distinct religious groups and denominations exist in the United States.

Also, even though most Americans identify as Christian, this does not mean they would back official government recognition of the Christian faith. Christian denominations disagree on points of doctrine, church structure and stands on social issues. Many Christians take a moderate or liberal perspective on church-state relations and oppose efforts to impose religion by government action.

Americans should be proud that we live in a democracy that welcomes persons of many faiths and none. Around the globe, millions of people still dwell under oppressive regimes where religion and government are harshly commingled. (Iran and the former Taliban regime of Afghanistan are just two examples.) Many residents of those countries look to the United States as beacon of hope and a model for what their own nations might someday become.

Only the principle of church-state separation can protect America's incredible degree of religious freedom. The individual rights and diversity we enjoy cannot be maintained if the government promotes Christianity or if our government takes on the trappings of a "faith-based" state.

The United States, in short, was not founded to be an officially Christian nation or to espouse any official religion. Our government is neutral on religious matters, leaving such decisions to individuals. This democratic and pluralistic system has allowed a broad array of religious groups to grow and flourish and guarantees every individual American the right to determine his or her own spiritual path or to reject religion entirely. As a result of this policy, Americans enjoy more religious freedom than any people in world history. We should be proud of this accomplishment and work to preserve the constitutional principle that made it possible separation of church and state.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby qetzal » Tue Nov 04, 2008 6:34 pm UTC

apeman,

I think you're forgetting that the US is not simply a majority rules system. The whole point of the Bill of Rights is to acknowledge certain inalienable rights that every person has, and that cannot lawfully be infringed regardless of how the majority votes.

Majority rules only up to the point that it doesn't infringe on anyone's constitutional rights. Freedom of religion is one of those rights, which is as it should be, IMO.

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:06 pm UTC

roc314 wrote:Anyone ever heard of the Treaty of Tripoli, approved unanimously by the Senate in 1797?

The Treaty of Tripoli wrote:Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.


You have to admit, that's mostly foreign relations propaganda.

I think it's important to note that the words "state religion" existed when our constitution was written. If the writers wanted to forbid a state religion, they could have used those words - they weren't stupid.

Instead, they chose "an establishment of religion", which is way more broad. This is not an accident. The founding fathers didn't want the church, any church, horning in on their gig in any way.

These "christian lobbying groups", the ones pushing to make gay marriage and abortion illegal and such? They're the modern equivalent of the powerful churches our founding fathers were afraid of. People, organizations like that are why we have the establishment clause instead of just, "No state religions".
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Princess Marzipan » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:07 pm UTC

apeman5291 wrote:
SabreKGB wrote:Get back to me with that quote after we have the first atheist president. Or when proclaiming christianity isn't a practical pre-requsite for high public office in the vast majority of districts in the US.

Non-christians don't get elected much in the United Stated because people feel very strongly about their faith and vote for representatives that feel the same way to make decisions for them. Why is that bad in a democratically based system?

It's bad because we end up in situations where that technical majority oppresses the scant minority by virtue of their faith being a de facto moral code. For example, issues of gay marriage, abortion, contraception, sex education. All of these issues are areas where people of similar religion and similar strength of faith in that religion have similar views on those issues, meaning that the motivation for their values and beliefs in these matters is religious, and not secular.

You can argue that the Bible (since we're talking specifically Christianity) outlaws murder, theft, and a slew of other actions that secular society agrees are bad. The difference is that secular society believes they are bad because such actions violate the rights of other members of society - which should be the only types of actions that are specifically legally forbidden.

And a completely different reasoning for why that is terrible: The slightly > 50% majority of Christians in this nation leads to every high official pretty much needing to be Christian to be elected, leading to a federal government of 100% Christians. This in no way represents the actual makeup of the constituency.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Aikanaro » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:28 pm UTC

But what's the alternative? Even if you had, say, a pure democracy, that >50% would still (even if just barely) trump the secular voters on each issue, if they're voting based on what their religion tells them. Unless you get extra-complicated in the voting system and/or determining various options regarding different problems/issues that come up....
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Princess Marzipan » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:33 pm UTC

The alternative is that people stop tacitly ignoring the fact that religion has no legitimate place in politics.

Sadly, if the solution to this problem were possible, it wouldn't be a problem.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby SabreKGB » Tue Nov 04, 2008 7:35 pm UTC

Aikanaro wrote:But what's the alternative? Even if you had, say, a pure democracy, that >50% would still (even if just barely) trump the secular voters on each issue, if they're voting based on what their religion tells them. Unless you get extra-complicated in the voting system and/or determining various options regarding different problems/issues that come up....


The alternative would be...a constitutional republic with a separation of church and state?

You know, a nation that elects officials to public office to run the country and make laws, but which has a foundational document that restricts the power of that government to interfere with the rights of the people.

Hey...that's a good idea! Somebody should make one of those happen... ;)

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Aikanaro » Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:17 pm UTC

Good idea. So go out and convince people to ignore their religion when they vote for political leaders....oh, wait, right, that's the initial problem Nougat brought up, isn't it? Darn....

My point was more that, no matter which means you give people of influencing their government, so long as they don't have to provide a rational for WHY they have certain values/opinions, they're still going to keep working for a government that reflects their values, both secular and religious. With a straight-up democracy, you have people who vote for laws that reflect their religious values. With a republic, the only thing that changes is you've inserted a middleman: People vote for LEADERS....based on who will vote for laws that reflect their (the initial voters) religious values.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:24 pm UTC

Luckily, nobody votes for the judges who strike down laws which are in violation of the constitution. Admittedly, there is some degree of populism that runs parallel to legal ethics and other influences on justices, but the Supreme Court is the constitution's last line of defense for a reason.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby roc314 » Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:35 pm UTC

Indon wrote:You have to admit, that's mostly foreign relations propaganda.
True, but the fact that they would even use it as foreign relations propaganda shows that they were against the idea of a state ran by religion. Propaganda has a habit of becoming true.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby TheAmazingRando » Tue Nov 04, 2008 8:44 pm UTC

The only solution is to convince people that separation of church and state is a good thing, and that they should keep this in mind while voting. We can't politically enforce good voting, but we can still try to convince individuals. There don't seem to be many groups focused on changing the way Christians vote. It seems that, among Christians, there are those of us that accept that government shouldn't be religiously influenced, and those of us that do not. We condemn them as close-minded, they accuse us of sacrificing our values, but there isn't much genuine interplay. Most people seem to let their indignation towards social conservatism get in the way of actual discussion, and until that changes, you can't expect a large block of voters to change their practices on their own.

Also, I think the point of bringing up the Treaty of Tripoli is to show that the idea that we were founded as a "Christian nation" and that this was taken as a given until recently is merely romanticism, and that even the early government was opposed to this idea. It isn't an official edict on the nature of our government, but it's a window into how the concept was viewed, even back then.

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby bentheimmigrant » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:08 pm UTC

There is a difference between separating church and state, and trying to stop politicians from being religious. A person who's religious beliefs dictate their morals can only vote along those moral lines (unless they're a maverick), thus introducing religion to government. The church as an entity, however, should stay out of the state. I don't have a problem with Christians having lobbying groups, since everybody has them, and they're not actually part of the government (and please no sarcastic corrections, we're all aware of the power of lobbyists).

Also, I somehow doubt the founding fathers anticipated the questions of abortion and gay marriage. They kind of complicate a once simply idea. And since the Bill of Rights makes allowances for the people to establish laws not laid down in the constitution, I think that the use of referendums is the way forward in these areas (like with prop 8 ).
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby TheAmazingRando » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:21 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:There is a difference between separating church and state, and trying to stop politicians from being religious. A person who's religious beliefs dictate their morals can only vote along those moral lines (unless they're a maverick)
I guess it depends on what you call a maverick, but I think I explained earlier pretty well how Christians can vote in a way that is not directly connected to their morals, without betraying them.

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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:28 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:There is a difference between separating church and state, and trying to stop politicians from being religious. A person who's religious beliefs dictate their morals can only vote along those moral lines (unless they're a maverick), thus introducing religion to government. The church as an entity, however, should stay out of the state.

What does your theory do if there's a politician whose morals include bringing in the church as an entity into government, or better yet, just outright creating a state church?

Now let's go one step down. What does your theory do if the politician happens to be the leader of a church and he pushes all his faith-based politics upon the government?

One more step. Let's say the politician isn't church leadership but just happens to push the same church agenda.

When does this stop being bad?
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby bentheimmigrant » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:37 pm UTC

TheAmazingRando wrote:I guess it depends on what you call a maverick, but I think I explained earlier pretty well how Christians can vote in a way that is not directly connected to their morals, without betraying them.



And reading my post again, I realize that context only existed in my head. I was more considering a politician in office. For example, a politician whose religion teaches pacifism, when asked to vote on war, would most likely vote against it. And I would expect as much.

Indon wrote:What does your theory do if there's a politician whose morals include bringing in the church as an entity into government, or better yet, just outright creating a state church?

Now let's go one step down. What does your theory do if the politician happens to be the leader of a church and he pushes all his faith-based politics upon the government?

One more step. Let's say the politician isn't church leadership but just happens to push the same church agenda.

When does this stop being bad?


This person can never go against the constitution, and thus (theoretically) can never bring the kind of laws you are talking about.
And last I checked the government is not a dictatorship, so such should not be possible (and yes I'm aware of increased executive power under Bush).

I don't really have a problem with faith based politics. Being a Christian leads me to agree with Obama on most everything except abortion.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:56 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:This person can never go against the constitution, and thus (theoretically) can never bring the kind of laws you are talking about.

It's one thing to be religious and in office, it's another entirely to willfully pass laws that, as a politician, you should know are illegal (because the highest law in the nation, the federal constitution, forbids them).

I don't think it's good for a politician to try to break the law, even if he's breaking a law that won't lead to personal punishment on his part, for their faith.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby mosc » Tue Nov 04, 2008 9:57 pm UTC

I disagree that the intent of the founding fathers was to create a secular state. The word was not used. The idea was to create a state that supported all religions. I know this is hard to differentiate for some and to others it seems completely contrary to the concept entirely but it's an important point of understanding. The idea is that government should not be involved in religion and not necessarily the other way around. The founding fathers were worried about the government dictating matters of faith, not about matters of faith being forced on the government.

Basically, the line was drawn to mean that anything the government does should not be in support of or against a religion. This leaves a variety of "religiously neutral" actions which the government can take which do not support or condemn any particular religion.

The classical example of this concept is theism. Belief in God is not generally associated with any one faith. Therefor you see the concept used in a variety of ways in governmental ritual. It can be argued in the modern world this is a stance against atheists and that point has been brought up to the supreme court numerous times. However, the rulings of the SC have been pretty clear that ritual must be found to directly represent an "excessive entanglement".

The case of Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971 layed out the current interpretation of the law (remember interpretation of the SC really defines the constitution, not the words themselves).
1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:01 pm UTC

mosc wrote:I disagree that the intent of the founding fathers was to create a secular state. The word was not used. The idea was to create a state that supported all religions. I know this is hard to differentiate for some and to others it seems completely contrary to the concept entirely but it's an important point of understanding. The idea is that government should not be involved in religion and not necessarily the other way around. The founding fathers were worried about the government dictating matters of faith, not about matters of faith being forced on the government.

As I noted earlier, why would such vague, and thus much more expansive, wording have been used when they could have made clear that their intent was to prevent a state religion?
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby bentheimmigrant » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:08 pm UTC

Indon wrote:It's one thing to be religious and in office, it's another entirely to willfully pass laws that, as a politician, you should know are illegal (because the highest law in the nation, the federal constitution, forbids them).

I don't think it's good for a politician to try to break the law, even if he's breaking a law that won't lead to personal punishment on his part, for their faith.


They can pass all the unconstitutional laws they want, and they would be struck down immediately. And like I said, the government is not a dictatorship, so it takes a majority in both houses to get these laws passed, not just one person. And then it has to pass the supreme court in the event of controversy. The real trouble comes in the system of appointing justices. I'm starting to wonder if maybe each party should just appoint half the seats. Or some way of making sure that conservative/liberal majority in the court is not a platform for someone to get elected on.

Indon wrote:As I noted earlier, why would such vague, and thus much more expansive, wording have been used when they could have made clear that their intent was to prevent a state religion?


I'm pretty sure "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is not vague.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby mosc » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:10 pm UTC

Indon wrote:As I noted earlier, why would such vague, and thus much more expansive, wording have been used when they could have made clear that their intent was to prevent a state religion?

And Alexander Hamilton would agree with you. That's why he though the Bill of Rights was such a bad idea in the first place. The constitution did not say "the government can create a state religion" so to Hamilton, it was assumed that it could not. The concept of listing things the federal government could not do was not in the original articles of the constitution much at all. Instead it listed what it could do. Getting more on point here, Hamilton's argument was that the vague wording would lead to unforeseen consequences of interpretation and would lead to a general trend where the government could do anything that was not specifically forbidden in amendment. I think both of those fears came true to some extent. You're right, but basically the nature of all the bill of rights amendments is to be vague.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:14 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:They can pass all the unconstitutional laws they want, and they would be struck down immediately.

Unconstitutional laws are not always struck down immediately. Aside from that, willfully passing them is wasteful at best.

bentheimmigrant wrote:The real trouble comes in the system of appointing justices. I'm starting to wonder if maybe each party should just appoint half the seats. Or some way of making sure that conservative/liberal majority in the court is not a platform for someone to get elected on.


I actually prefer a slightly (and only slightly) populist system, personally. It allows for social change to permeate into the court system, but only in time, after it's become well-established.

Mosc; Upon thinking about it, it seems likely to me that the wording was ultimately a compromise between people who wanted only to stop a state religion (Hamilton), and people who wanted to establish separation of church and state (Jefferson). Unsurprisingly, if I'm not mistaken those individuals represented the first major schism in American government.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby mosc » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:24 pm UTC

Indon wrote:
bentheimmigrant wrote:The real trouble comes in the system of appointing justices. I'm starting to wonder if maybe each party should just appoint half the seats. Or some way of making sure that conservative/liberal majority in the court is not a platform for someone to get elected on.
I actually prefer a slightly (and only slightly) populist system, personally. It allows for social change to permeate into the court system, but only in time, after it's become well-established.
The founding fathers did not believe in direct democracy. What bentheimmigrant is proposing is much closer to simply just electing Judges. They were designated for appointment by more than convenience. The founding fathers believed that the will of the masses was fickle and short sided. Also, they feared the "tyranny of the majority". The Judicial being split off as it's own branch of government entirely is an effort to have Judicial Review more independent from the electorate. With today's technology, we're not that far some simply doing popular vote on everything if we wanted to. Is that what you really want though?

Indon wrote:Mosc; Upon thinking about it, it seems likely to me that the wording was ultimately a compromise between people who wanted only to stop a state religion (Hamilton), and people who wanted to establish separation of church and state (Jefferson). Unsurprisingly, if I'm not mistaken those individuals represented the first major schism in American government.
Eh, that's more a history question than a constitution question so I really shouldn't answer (I loved constitutional law but history was a bore) but my memory is that Hamilton basically lost. The anti-federalists (later to be called Democrats) internal debates are probably the source of the wording. Many of the amendments are tied closely to current events of the late 1700s as well that kind of get out of place looking back at it today. Back then the constitution was young and changing it only required a handful of states.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:33 pm UTC

mosc wrote:The founding fathers did not believe in direct democracy. What bentheimmigrant is proposing is much closer to simply just electing Judges. They were designated for appointment by more than convenience. The founding fathers believed that the will of the masses was fickle and short sided. Also, they feared the "tyranny of the majority". The Judicial being split off as it's own branch of government entirely is an effort to have Judicial Review more independent from the electorate. With today's technology, we're not that far some simply doing popular vote on everything if we wanted to. Is that what you really want though?

Actually, I'm agreeing with you (that is, the present system). I was referring to an earlier comment I'd made,

Admittedly, there is some degree of populism that runs parallel to legal ethics and other influences on justices,


Thus my 'only slightly' qualifier.

I like having a part of the government going at way slower than Internet Speed.

bentheimmigrant wrote:I'm pretty sure "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" is not vague.


"Congress shall not establish a state religion" prevents Congress from establishing a state religion. If Congress passes a law establishing a state religion, it gets struck down.

As an example, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" could concievably be used to strike down marriage laws, if it could be established that marriage were not a sufficiently secular establishment.

Was the clause written with that intent? Well, ultimately, it doesn't matter all too much.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby bentheimmigrant » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:53 pm UTC

Indon wrote:"Congress shall not establish a state religion" prevents Congress from establishing a state religion. If Congress passes a law establishing a state religion, it gets struck down.

As an example, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" could concievably be used to strike down marriage laws, if it could be established that marriage were not a sufficiently secular establishment.

Was the clause written with that intent? Well, ultimately, it doesn't matter all too much.



In my mind, that is where the 10th amendment is needed. Such gray areas should be left to the people to decide.

I don't like the fact that the courts can overturn an amendment made by the people - as the people's collective power is the only thing greater than the constitution itself.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby Indon » Tue Nov 04, 2008 10:56 pm UTC

The people of America have the collective power to change the federal constitution, but each individual person is under its' Rule of Law.

Unless and until a majority of Americans completely discard the rule of law, the only way to change the constitution is through its' amendment process.

And, in my opinion, that's a good thing.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby mosc » Tue Nov 04, 2008 11:03 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:I don't like the fact that the courts can overturn an amendment made by the people - as the people's collective power is the only thing greater than the constitution itself.
This is a poor description of the Supreme Court's Jurisdiction. They interpret, they do not overturn the constitution itself. The second an amendment passes, it re-defines what is constitutional and what is not. The Supreme Court cannot simply ignore or overturn ANY amendment. You over-estimate their capability. The Supreme Court is tasked with reviewing cases to make sure the application of the law is in keeping with the constitution (that means the original articles AND the amendments). The only cases it can overturn are ones that violate the constitution.

If you manage to pass an amendment (good luck, haven't passed any in decades) that says "No member of congress can run for re-election", it's pretty cut and dry what that means. There may be some interpretation on mid-term appointments running again or something but it's not like the supreme court can toss it out.

I think you are confusing "Law" and "Amendment". They are in different categories.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby roc314 » Tue Nov 04, 2008 11:16 pm UTC

bentheimmigrant wrote:I don't like the fact that the courts can overturn an amendment made by the people - as the people's collective power is the only thing greater than the constitution itself.
Umm, no. In fact, Constitutional amendments can overturn Supreme Court decisions. For example, the 13th amendment overturned the Dred Scott decision.

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mosc wrote:If you manage to pass an amendment (good luck, haven't passed any in decades)
17 years I believe. We're not quite at that many decades. Yet.
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Re: Separation of Church and State

Postby mosc » Tue Nov 04, 2008 11:26 pm UTC

I always forget about the 27th... the most useless amendment ever. Just because a couple of states got off their ass to ratify it AFTER 200 FUCKING YEARS doesn't mean it changed much.
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