no-christmas-treeAs a continuation of my last post about atheists, I thought I’d explore the concept of the separation of Church and State. I mainly do this because part of the mission of some atheists is the complete absence of religion from the public square. In particular, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is particularly interested in the cause that bears their name. In my opinion, they are taking the concept of the separation of Church and State well beyond what the original framers of the Constitution intended. But, yet, I am a bit sympathetic to the need to keep Church and State at arm’s length.

The concept of this terminology stems from two place. First is the Bill of Rights. The 1st Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Second is a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:

“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, & 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 separation between Church and State.” (Wikipedia)

The points being:

  • There is no state religion in the United States. In spite of the insistence of some Christians that this is a “Christian Nation,” we are not. Not to say that God and religion did not have an effect on the creation of our nation. It did. But, it was clear that no state religion was established in the US.
  • The government will not infringe on the free exercise of one’s religion. Now, this can be debated as to whether or not the government has placed some restrictions on the exercise of religion. Certainly, we have been told there is a “war of religion” going on now. And groups like the FFRF are actively involved in placing restrictions of certain religious and traditional practices we have had in the country such as Christmas decorations in the town square. And while Jefferson contemplates the “wall” between Church and State, many would argue that the wall has not really existed or it has been very thin.

I am in favor of the maintaining this separation. For example, I am not in favor of prayer in schools, whether voluntary or not. I can only think of one time we were ask to pray in school by a teacher. That was the day that President Kennedy was killed.

On the other hand, in spite of being a different religion growing up, I was never offended by the Christmas displays on public property or the singing of Christmas songs in school. I actually loved singing Christmas carols.

But again, I go back to a statement I made in the last post. If you don’t like it or agree with it, what not just ignore it?

If the US Constitution permits the free exercise of one’s religion, must it always and only be conducted in private or behind closed doors?

Does a Christmas decoration on City Hall constitute the endorsement of a religion or really infringe on a right not to be confronted by religion?

How far do we have to go to reach a reasonable accommodation for all?

Do groups like the FFRF really have a right to try to remove all religion from the public square?