UYLESS BLACK: Separation of church and state in jeopardy

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One of the provisions in the tax bill that is being written by Congress would invalidate a 1954 law that bans churches (and other nonprofit organizations) from making political speeches or participating in other political pursuits. As of this writing, it is not known if this provision will be part of the final bill as the two branches of Congress have yet to reconcile their two versions. But the subject still warrants examination.

Before offering my opinion on this matter, here are a few words about my religious background. I grew up as a Southern Baptist. During that time, some members of my church would have been considered to be evangelical. So, please keep these facts in mind if you happen to disagree with my comments in this article. It is only through discussion that issues can be resolved.

I believe that most religions in America are beneficial to this country. Having been reared in a small country community, I was a witness to (and participant in) activities by the churches in this town that aided the community and helped bond its citizens together. Today, I see the fine work my wife and her church accomplish in northern Idaho communities, as well as the many charitable causes that are taken up by religious groups.

Conversely, I am aware that many of the wars and other pillages that have taken place throughout human history have come about because of religious differences among humans.

Finally, and the focus of this article: Even though our nation has a deep Christian heritage, I am an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state. Granted, America was mainly created because of humans fleeing religious persecutions that were taking place in Europe.

In addition, during the 1700s, our forefathers held their meetings regularly in churches. They started off their sessions with a prayer. The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence mentions God.

Finally, while I do favor the separation of church and state, as did our founders, I think this issue has been taken to the extreme in America.

I see no harm in displaying mangers on courthouse lawns during the Christmas holidays as part of America’s Christian heritage and tradition. If other religions wish to put up their displays as well, fine. Just obtain permission from the courthouse lawn-keeper in order not to over-run the shrubbery.

Prayer in schools? Display of the Ten Commandants on government property? They were part of my younger life, and I’m still spiritually intact and piously independent. In hindsight, I found them harmless.

But permitting these routines and displays could prove to be unwieldy. If Southern Baptists can do it, so can Catholics. So can Muslims, Buddhists, etc. It could cascade beyond control, and could interfere with the operations of education and government.

It is better to say, “Hands-off religion. Stay out of government business.” While adding, “Hands-off government. Stay out of the religious business.”

The founders of this country had experienced the dire consequences of co-mingling religion and politics in Europe. However, the specific idea of the separation of church and state does not appear in the Constitution. U.S. Courts and U.S. laws have made it the practice in this nation. (The First Amendment forbids Congress to make any law prohibiting the establishment of religion, but that is the extent that religion is discussed in this document.)

Then, where does the danger lie in joining religion and the state? This question is addressed in the second part to this article.

• • •

Uyless Black is an author, researcher and frequent Press analyst and commentator. He and his wife, Holly, reside in Hayden.

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