Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Separation of church and state

Separation of church and state is a clear statement and the bedrock our democratic society relies on. Or is it?

Lets take a look at our dear old Constitution

Article. VI.

Clause 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

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.

I would like to point you to this interpretation of the separation of church and state.

Main Stream Coalition
Our Purpose
To preserve the traditional American values of separation of church and state, freedom of religion and speech, pluralism, individual rights, the importance of the family, public education, and tolerance and compassion for all; and

To educate and inform citizens, elected and appointed officials, and political candidates about issues of concern and
attempts to impose religious ideologies upon our governmental and public education institutions.

[Emphasis is mine]

The above statement is a mission statement, now lets take a look at how the Main stream Coalition carriers out this mission.

However, the executive director of the Mainstream Coalition had a different perspective. Caroline McKnight said she saw developing in her community something of great concern to her: "An escalation on the part of the religious community to get into [politics] in a way they never had before."

So in an apparent attempt to make sure churches tow the legal political line, the Mainstream Coalition obtained addresses for every church in the community about 400. According to McKnight the group had done this before but on a smaller scale.

McKnight said in a letter to churches the group wrote, "We are well aware we are coming into difficult (political) times and we encourage your participation in the democratic process. Have candidate forums and do voter registration drives. However, other things may be more questionable and we urge caution. Because we have become concerned over this we will be randomly sending our members to worship in your church."

According to McKnight the Coalition asked for volunteers willing to worship in a church other than their own. This was with the idea of reporting back to the Coalition about any activities they felt were crossing the lines such as actual endorsement of candidates an activity prohibited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

I stand on the side of increasing free speech, not limiting others to increase yours, and that is why I disagree with both McKnight our Preacher man Johnson.

"The growing churches in Johnson County are evangelical and Bible believing," Johnson said. "Everyone associated with the Mainstream Coalition is on the left side of the political spectrum. There is nothing mainstream about the Mainstream Coalition. They need to be censored. [This activity] was so Orwellian and Nazi-esque."

The back ground information is that there is a tax-law which in effect states that non-profit organizations cannot support presidential candidates. Churches happen to be, for the most part, non-profits entities, and as consequence are affected under the tax law. Also, note that is the same law that governs 572's if I am understanding my tax code correctly. So is the Main Stream Coalition helping enforce the law? Yes. Does that make the groups goal correct? That is what I am going to discuss.

For the record, I think that churches should follow the law for moral reasons, but that does not mean they cannot complain about following the law.

Does the constitution draw a line in between the church and state to keep the state out of the affairs of the church or to keep the church out of the affairs of the state? In other words is the separation only in one direction or both? I think at the time it was mainly intended for one direction only, to keep the state out of the affairs of the church(s) and the people. I think the founders figured out something eternal about people, they cannot agree about religion, and wanted to foster that.

Please take a look at this list of different denominations of Christianity in the world. If you scan through the list you will see that the US has 635 different denominations' (and that is just Christian denominations). That number does not mean much until you look at the next closest competitor, which is India with 263 different denominations. Because of the wise forethought of the founders the government has stayed our of the religious lives and has fostered a rich and diverse religious environment.

The Mainstream Coalition's state goal is to keep churches from imposing their "religious ideologies" on the government. Things they are probably for abortion, gay marriages, and murder (I am just kidding). This groups goal is to protect the government from the Church, not the other way around.

It is funny that this groups goal is to protect the government from fulfilling the wishes of the people it governs. I can see an potential argument for doing just that. Once a particular religious group gains power, it will use that power to limit the freedoms of different religious groups. I think that could work in some countries, but not in America where you particular brand of church is one of just 600. That is a a "what if" argument, and does not really work well with me.

At the end of a CNN article about the supreme court case coming up, CNN said, "The Constitution bars any state "establishment" of religion. That means the government cannot promote religion in general, or favor one faith over another."

I don't know if I agree with the "promote religion in general" part, but I do agree with the last part. What about an agnostic, instead of an atheist government? The government has no problems engaging in social engineering activities promoting the well being of children. If religion were shown to have an aggregate positive affect on society as a whole, should the government encourage everyone to find a religion? Entire groups have formed in order to provide for the absolute separation of church and state. Is this any wrong with pressuring the government to respect religion in general and acknowledge that there is a God?



Dave Justus said...

Even if religion were to be shown to have a beneficial effect I do not believe that the government should be promoting it. Just as even if only reading conservative publications were to be shown to have a beneficial effect I would not support the government promoting only reading conservative publications.

At the same time, I consider atheism to be a religion and the government should not be promoting that either, they should be neutral in the debate, favoring neither side. That is my reason for supporting the 'faith based' legislations. I have not researched this a lot, and I don't know how well the laws actually match the rhetoric, but the pricipal that a charitible group should recieve the same government support, based upon their successes, whether or not the group is Christian, Jewish, Atheist, or unconcerned with religion at all.

Similarly I see nothing wrong with a school having a quiet meditation time (five minutes or so) in which the students could pray or daydream or think through all the reasons they have as to why their is no god. I would oppose though a public prayer in schools because that is clearly favoring one point of view on the religious debate.

I certainly think that Ministers should be allowed to endorse candidates as I think the freedom of speech componant of this trumps and disestablishment concerns. Now if it could be shown that a given 'church' was merely a tax shelter to promote a political viewpoint that would be a different thing, but I think we have plently of laws already to make sure that a church is really a church and not a tax shelter.

Your comparison of 527s to Churches is interesting. I assume that their must be some difference in the tax laws for these two things but certainly I am not a tax lawyer and have no idea what they are. I wonder what would happen though if someone decided to organize a church as a 527 group?

Cubicle said...

"Your comparison of 527s to Churches is interesting. I assume that their must be some difference in the tax laws for these two things but certainly I am not a tax lawyer and have no idea what they are. I wonder what would happen though if someone decided to organize a church as a 527 group?"

Oh their definatly is, but both are non profit groups. So i think that although no one intended for churches to have their speech limited, that was the effect.

From what i have read, an minster can endorse an candiate but cannot tell you who to vote for. Though they can tell you what side of an issue you can take.

then again i am not a tax lawyer either. Though if you have people visiting churches and trying to see of the minster fucks up by saying that you should vote for a specific canidate, then their seems somthing wrong with that.