“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” – John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli, 1796
In the United States, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from creating any laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause was put into place with the thought that it prohibits governments from supporting religions; however, in response to the recent coronavirus pandemic, Congress has approved a huge payout to small businesses and nonprofits that allow funding for clergyman salaries. This direct payment of tax dollars for a core religious group that would have been unthinkable in previous decades.
So, what’s happened, or, better yet, why does it matter?
To start with a disclaimer: I am not trying to attack any religions personally. These are simply my opinions and observations.
When you look at the “why they should be separated” argument it’s not that hard to see why church and state need and should be separated. For starters, there are a lot of religions in the world; somewhere between 4,200 and 4,300 according to Quora, and those estimates are low-balled because of un-contacted religious sects, cults, etc. That’s a lot of people that will feel underappreciated when their government decides to support one religion while condemning others.
Let’s look at another quote from former president Ronald Reagan:
“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.” – Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States of America
Now, this quote sounds quite patriotic and would make any proud Christian American feel good inside; however, the reason this quote also stems problems is, simply put, because the former president is saying you can only have freedom when the rule of God becomes law. That can come off strangely if you’re, say, Islamic, Hindu, or a devout follower of any religion not under the moral umbrella of the Christian God. Or, any god for that matter.
This quote is not the first time that a president of the United States has attempted to bend that separation of church and state law, and it’s clear from the Congress-approved payout that he is not the last. It seems the strongest fighters for the separation was the founding fathers, who were devout Christians, but they lived during the Enlightenment age of the world and, thus, were rationalists. For them, God did set the universe into motion, but would rather not get involved in human affairs. They can get a little messy, so I don’t blame God for that.
The founding fathers took parts of their Christian faith, and through rationalism, kept what seemed reasonable; logical; and rejected anything irrational. Remember, they had just won their independence from Europe, who had been grappling with religious freedom for a long time. They wanted to mold a government that was separated from that kind of turmoil and work to build a stable and rational governing body, which didn’t include special treatment for any religion. The earliest colonists were Puritans, remember, who fled their government because of religious restrictions. Now, we’re back to doing the same things that the government our founders ran from and fought against were doing.
Back to the issue at hand, I’m not saying that Christianity is anymore the problem than other denominations in the country, but they are arguably the biggest and most outspoken about wanting their God’s law hand in hand with the Constitution. In recent years, there has been a blurring of the separation between church and state that’s only gotten more blurred with President Trump’s obliteration of a basic constitutional principle.
On the other hand, more and more new voters are coming to the polls with either a love for God and a desire for a country without the church’s grip around its neck, or no religious affiliation to speak of. More and more people are beginning to notice and question the parts of our country that are entangled with religion, and especially Christianity. One question that I’ve seen popping up over and over again is why a presidential candidate cannot get elected unless they are a devout Christian or a Christian denomination. Sure, we’ve seen in the past where this isn’t true (JFK was Catholic), but nearly all have been Christians, and almost half have been either Episcopalian or Presbyterian. Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.
I’d like to repeat myself, once again, that I am not attempting to tear down any religious walls or keep anyone from believing what they want to believe. In fact, I encourage everyone to find a moral compass that works for them. The thing is, we don’t all think alike, and that’s where problems arise. Humans are flawed and biased toward ourselves most of the time, and that’s why a separation of church and state is so important. We need a rational and unbiased system that protects every citizen because without it we will always be split from each other, and it will be the end of us.
We should take a moment to reflect on what has happened and to reconcile with a new constitutional structure that has the government supporting the central mission of all religious practices, but holding the larger scale of the country’s needs above them. This entanglement between church and state will inevitably cause problems: efforts by religious groups to control the government, and also the government’s efforts to control religious groups. Be on the lookout for religious favoritism and debates on religion vs. nonreligion in the very near future, but don’t be afraid to voice your opinions or ask your questions on the topic. That’s how issues ought tot be debated. Not by shunnig differences, but discussing them and looking for compromises.
So, love your God, have your prayers and your holidays, but don’t allow for discrimination and isolation from other people. This pandemic has made things harder and scarier for everyone, but we cannot turn on each other by fighting over who is the majority in charge. I love this country (as hard as it is to type that these days), but we all need to understand how ridiculously large this country is, and how many millions of people live here. We’ve all lived different lives and have different perspectives, so there’s no point in trying to fight anyone that’s different from you because that’s everyone that’s not you.