Separation of Church and State?

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Separation of Church and State?

So the Nobel Prize winner President of Liberia says she won't decriminalize homosexuality because of her Christian principles. This is not a new thing in Africa, since Uganda has been saying the same thing for a while now. Many North American churches support this intolerance.

As right wing politics in both Canada and America have been veering even more to the right, one issue that comes up repeatedly is “separation of church and state.” (In Canada, we may use different terminology, but the fact is, Harper has a fundamentalist church agenda.) One side of the debate claims that this is a principle our country was founded on, while the other side claims that the Founding Fathers wanted Christianity as the national religion. One side points out that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not in the Constitution. The other side points out that it does include a phrase meaning exactly the same thing.

Who is on which side of the debate also varies. If a church is coming under some government regulation, the pastor will likely demand that church and state remain separate. But if there is an election, that same pastor may encourage his congregation to support a good Christian candidate who will go pass some Christian laws.

Both sides are right. The original colonists did not advocate separation of church and state. They came to America to establish a colony where the required state religion was Puritan-Calvinist Christianity. When a couple of early Baptists objected, they were expelled from the colonies (in the middle of winter) and had to go and build their own place on Rhode Island. After a lot more of this inter-denominational squabbling, Christian minority groups got the upper hand and freedom of religion became fashionable.  At this point the Constitution was written.

Of course, the people that wrote it could not envision what the world would be like a couple of centuries later. Nobody thought that America would become home to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and so on. Nobody even thought that Hispanic immigrantion might make Catholicism a dominant Christian denomination. Nobody envisioned that our religious beliefs might become so varied that middle ground might be really hard for lawmakers to find.

Also, early America was libertarian heaven. People had no idea of how much the government would come to play a role in our lives.  I happen to think that government-provided health care and education are a wonderful way to spend



Comments [12]

Marcie Bianco's picture

i think a separation is

i think a separation is possible, if one understands religion to be an ideological institution ... ethics can (and should) guide constitutional legislation ... can't quite agree that a morality should, though.

thoughts, Conlite?

Conlite's picture

How are you defining morals

How are you defining morals and ethics?  My definitions are:

Ethics = defining what actions are good and bad.

Morals = defining why those actions are good or bad.

Given these definitions, I find it tricky to separate the two.

Government is composed of people who will each have a religious ideology (even if it is atheism or agnosticism - an "anti-religious" ideology if you like).  This will influence their decisions, since people won't vote against their conscience (unless they are so crooked they don't have one).  I belive in big issues it is usually possible to find a neutral place of separation, but in smaller details, not always.

One common issue is prayer in schools.  If Christian kids are allowed to hold a lunchtime prayer group at school, the use of school resources (ie. a classroom) can legally conflict with separation of church and state.  However, Muslim kids suffer discrimination if they can't pray to mecca periodically throughout the school day.  And if kids of any faith are banned from private prayer groups in school, isn't that the state interfering with freedom of religion?

Marcie Bianco's picture

ah, the difference for me is

ah, the difference for me is a combo of Spinoza and Nietzsche:

ethics = good and bad are values by the individual for the individual AFTER an act is performed

morals = a hierarchical, prescribed way/modes of living. 

ie,

ethics = good and bad

morals = right and wrong. 

Conlite's picture

Question: Are you then saying

Question: Are you then saying ethics can determine punishment for criminal behaviour after a crime is committed, but morals would be prescribing a mode of living to children (or adults) where you say it is wrong to commit crimes and right to do your civic duty.  Isn't this what education and government are supposed to do?

Marcie Bianco's picture

conlite, i haz confusion

conlite, i haz confusion (syntax)....are you asking me if i think education is responsible for imparting morality? or teaching us to live ethically? 

Conlite's picture

Tee hee! Now we are both

Tee hee! Now we are both confused!

It seemed like you said ethics are instruction/punishment after the action and morals are instruction before any action is considered.  In which case, I would hope education included morals.  Surely you are not against teaching children that rape is wrong and civic duty is right before they do these things themselves?

Since your definitions were confusing in this regard I was wondering if you had in fact clearly said what you meant?

Marcie Bianco's picture

Oh no no no. My bad. Ethics

Oh no no no. My bad. Ethics cannot be prescribed, at all. That's the difference in my understanding. A person can only determin her ethics based on what she feels to be good or bad to her. There is no right or wrong in ethics, for me, because ethics and morality are distinct. So, ie, i'll be a muff muncher because it's good for me - I like it ... A lot. Ethically it is good for me, even if someone, who feels the need to impart their morality, says it is " wrong." nothing that I like or that I feel benefits my person is wrong - for " wrong" is an exterior/external designation by someone outside of my self.

 

So my hope is that schools teach kids to think critically and independently in order for each of them to figure out what the like and dislike.

Grace Moon's picture

the President of Liberia's

the President of Liberia's views on gays really bums me out... the way the liberian women ended the civil war and Sirleaf's election was nothing short of inspiring and miraculous.

on the topic of sex ed, if kids don't learn about it at home -- which apparently many don't -- and they don't learn about it in school who will teach them?

tweet tweet @gracemoon

Conlite's picture

Being both a biology teacher

Being both a biology teacher and someone who had parents who didn't talk about "that stuff" I am an extreme advocate of effective school sex ed programs.  Anything else is destructive to society.  So I think both those women are wrong, but their agreement provided a useful illustration.

Maybe I should blog about sex ed sometime?

Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

i had no sex ed at school (in

i had no sex ed at school (in southern new jersey) and the extent of 'the talk' with my mom went something like this, when i was 11 yrs old...or 12, i can't remember:

"marcie, come here!"

[walks into bedroom and hops onto bed]

"there will be a time when a man wants to stick his penis into your vagina. and you just say no, ok?"

[dives under covers]

traumatizing, but terribly effective. GOLD STAR, BABY! 

Conlite's picture

So you listened to what your

So you listened to what your mother said?

Smile

Marcie Bianco's picture

let it be noted -- 'tis the

let it be noted -- 'tis the only time i ever listened to her!