Sunday, June 17, 2007

Separation of church and state: Nothing but dust...

David Carlin is a lifelong Democrat. From 1981 to 1992, he served as a Rhode Island state senator, serving as senate majority leader in 1989 and 1990. In 1992 he was his district's Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. For more than twenty years, Mr. Carlin has been a professor of philosophy and sociology at the Community College of Rhode Island.

In his book entitled "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion," he writes:

"..an excuse that appeals to the 'separation of church and state' seems to be among the silliest rationales for a Catholic's support of the secularized Democratic Party. This separation, so we're told, is enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, and it prohibits the intrusion of religion into the affairs of government. Yet the First Amendment says nothing about keeping religion out of government; it's concerned instead with keeping government out of religion. Its two religion 'clauses' say (1) that there will be no 'establishment of religion' and (2) that there will be no interference with the 'free exercise' of religion. That's it: government must keep its hands off religion; nothing about religion keeping its hands off government.

However, it should be considered that in writing the religion section of the First Amendment, the framers were no doubt remembering the history of England and how the government of that nation, from the time of Henry VIII until what was then the present day (the 1780's), established a national religion and interfered with the free exercise of dissenting religions. This was a case of government controlling religion, but at the same time it was a case of religion controlling government. That is to say, government persecuted, or at least discriminated against, all religions other than the Church of England, but one of the main reasons it did so was because the Church of England, both through its bishops and its lay members, had tremendous influence over government (only members of the Church of England could serve in Parliament or government). In other words, in its competition with other churches, not to mention its competition with outright infidelity, the Church of England used government to put down the church's rivals.

This is the kind of thing people, many of them Catholics, have in mind when they say that advocating laws against abortion or same-sex marriage violates the principle of separation of church and state. They fear that an alliance of conservative churches might someday gain enough governmental power to impose religious values on everybody else, non-believers included. This is what they mean when they speak, as they often do, of the looming danger of 'theocracy.' Behind the moral-conservative political activism of Christian churches they see would-be theocrats, or 'dominionists,' who want to take over America, stamp out abortion, subjugate women, drive homosexuals back into the closet, and enact other items allagedly on the agenda of the Religious Right. Yet this would be clearly un-American, violating the philosophical, religious, and moral pluralism that has long been, and should be, characteristic of the United States.

One obvious and oft-given answer is this: few liberals have made similar objections to the modern civil-rights movement, which was in large measure inspired by religion and based on churches. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Protestant minister - even, it might be said, a Christian martyr. Are the objectors ready to say that the great legislative fruits of this religio-political movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, are illegitimate, that they're instances of the imposition of theocratic values? Will they say that the spirit of American 'pluralism' demanded that the pro-segregation values of the KKK and other racists should have been respected? Of course not. And so it appears that what's at stake for these people isn't a matter of principle (separation of church and state) but a matter of policy. Some policies they like )e.g., civil rights legislation), and some they dislike (e.g., laws restricting abortion). A religion-driven politics is okay when it produces laws they like, but it's very naughty when it produces laws they don't like. And so we may conclude (may we not?) that all this talk about the separation of church and state is nothing but dust they throw in people's eyes." (Can a Catholic Be a Democrat: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion, pp. 129-131, Sophia Institute Press, 2006).

Next we will examine the idea of separation of church and state from the standpoint of Vatican II.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Professor Carlin is right. The myth of a "separation of church and state" clause being in the Constitution has been an instrument of the secularized anti-Christian Democratic Party for years now.

Proponents of this idea want to sanitize religion from the public square so that they may better manipulate public opinion.

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