EDITORIAL Poll results turn America’s faith tradition upside down_100404

Posted: 10/01/04

EDITORIAL:
Poll results turn America's faith tradition upside down

A new survey illustrates why our nation's Founding Fathers wisely built our government on a constitution and not public-opinion polls.

The Council for America's First Freedom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting religious liberty, has learned that half of all Americans think the separation of church and state has gone too far.

The council's recent survey revealed 29 percent of Americans believe church-state separation has become "too severe and needs to be less strictly interpreted." Another 20 percent agree "there is really no need to separate church and state" in the United States today.

The passion for pushing down the wall of separation between church and state is both ill-informed and illogical.

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Posted: 10/01/04

EDITORIAL:
Poll results turn America's faith tradition upside down

A new survey illustrates why our nation's Founding Fathers wisely built our government on a constitution and not public-opinion polls.

The Council for America's First Freedom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting religious liberty, has learned that half of all Americans think the separation of church and state has gone too far.

The council's recent survey revealed 29 percent of Americans believe church-state separation has become “too severe and needs to be less strictly interpreted.” Another 20 percent agree “there is really no need to separate church and state” in the United States today.

The passion for pushing down the wall of separation between church and state is both ill-informed and illogical.

Our Baptist forebears and constitutional visionaries such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison must be rolling in their graves.

U.S. separation of church and state is grounded in the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” For more than two centuries, those 16 words have safeguarded religion from government intrusion and protected government from religion run amok.

Now, some Americans think church and state should be allowed to intermingle. Many people would like to see public schools reinstitute daily or other specified prayers, and some would prefer that teachers be permitted to read devotionally from the Bible in their classes. A large number of people favor direct government financial support for church-run charities. If you've paid attention to the news the past few years, you can think of other examples of circumstances where fellow citizens would like to breach what Jefferson called the “wall” of separation between church and state.

To be fair, any sympathetic listener can understand why folks would like to see a closer relationship between God and government. This is a scary and immoral world, and it's getting scarier and more immoral by the minute. We who believe prayer provides direct access to God and soothes the savage breast would like to see more prayer. We who believe the Bible provides the answers to moral, ethical and social ills, as well as spiritual needs, would like to see God's word proclaimed.

But the passion for pushing down the wall of separation between church and state is both ill-informed and illogical.

For example, much of the clamor regarding religion in schools is based on ignorance. The Supreme Court did not “throw God and Bible reading out of the schools.” Besides reflecting bad theology (Who could possibly “throw” God anywhere?), such statements are just plain wrong. Students can pray in school; they can read their Bibles in school. Teachers can't lead them, and students can't interrupt ongoing school functions, but students can pray and read the Bible on their own. If other non-academic groups are allowed to meet on campus, student religious clubs can meet on campus. Students can't be expelled for mentioning Jesus or for presenting their faith in academic projects. The overwhelming preponderance of case law supports voluntary–student-led–religious expression in schools.

Similarly, government can legally fund an array of benevolence functions operated by faith-based organizations. For decades, denominationally related children's homes and hospitals have used government grants or functioned under government contracts to provide specific services. They are not churches, but legally incorporated agencies. And they take steps to ensure that government funds do not underwrite evangelistic endeavors, or what the government would call proselytizing. And that's only fair. Think about it: Would you want your tax dollars to fund a Muslim charity that tried to convert people to Islam?

The push to knock over the wall of church-state separation proves illogical on at least two points, which history and current events demonstrate. Of all the nations, whose religious heritage is most vibrant? Whose citizens demonstrate the highest degree of religious activity and say faith matters most in their lives? The United States. Contrast this with two other kinds of nations.

Many countries of Western Europe provide state support for churches and religious functions. Their measures of religious involvement are among the lowest in the world. Their people are the most secular. And, as a rule, their churches are the most anemic. (This points to a sub-irony: The people who push most for a closer relationship between church and state are the very ones who trust government the least. The religion-botching of the European governments should send them running the other way.)

And then look at the countries where religion and government are welded together. These are the countries where anyone who is not Muslim does not have a right to worship God. These are the countries where Christians and others have been persecuted and killed for dissenting from the state-run government. These are the countries exporting terror around the world. You may say, “But that's another kind of religion.” Yes, but never doubt that such absolute power could corrupt “Christian” governments, too.

A dozen years ago, columnist Cal Thomas advised fellow conservatives to quit seeking answers to spiritual problems through political solutions. He was right. Such endeavors always fail. Religion always suffers.

But faith is strong. Our faith should enfuse all we do. But it should be persuasive, not coercive. For while we need Christians involved in government at all levels, we don't need “Christian” government.
–Marv Knox
E-mail the editor at marvknox@baptiststandard.com

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