Understanding the Wall of Separation

It has been said that religion and politics don’t mix, and that both topics should be avoided in discussions if at all possible.

67HThere are those that would say that there is no easier way to clear out a room then by talking about one or both of these supposed controversial topics.  Lord Hailsham said it this way, “The introduction of religious passion into politics is the end of honest politics, and the introduction of politics into religion is the prostitution of true religion.”

The Brutal Truth

Here’s a brutal truth about life… uncontrolled emotion leads to disagreements, arguments, and fights.  It doesn’t matter what the topic of discussion is.  Husbands and wives argue about money and intimacy more than they do anything else.  Sometimes couples fight about things as silly as why the towel was left on the floor.  Friends feud over sports, jobs, cars, and even other friends.  Congress debates just about anything, unless they are on recess.

What made this nation great was that a dedicated group of individuals believed that politics and religion do mix.  In fact, politics and religion were two of the most important discussions at the time of our nation’s founding.  What about the First Amendment?  Doesn’t it note the importance of the separation of church and state?  Isn’t it true that the church should be separate from the state?

What is Separation of Church and State?

The phrase “separation of church and state” is not even mentioned in the First Amendment.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  The First Amendment was written for five clearly defined reasons…

  1. To ensure that the state would not force one particular religion on its people
  2. To protect our religious liberty, not infringe upon it
  3. To protect freedom of speech for the press
  4. To protect our right to gather peacefully
  5. To petition the government in order to resolve an unconstitutional act

The Actual Intent

Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1st, 1802.  The paragraph that contains the popular phrase reads, “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 & State.”  It is clear that Jefferson actually endorsed the relationship between humans and God.

It is also clear that the First Amendment was never intended to restrict churches or religious freedom.  Instead it was supposed to restrict the state and federal government from intruding on the church.  However, there is still a societal illusion that dictates the removal of religion from state entities.  Perhaps this illusion is connected to the societal belief that politics and religion should not be discussed.

We have created a mental wall that has kept us from speaking the truth about two extremely important life topics.  We will not experience more freedom by avoiding discussion over religion and politics, which are the two things that allowed for so much freedom in the first place.  It can be argued that the less we talk about them, the closer we are to oppression.  We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these things.  We should control our emotions.  It’s time to tear down that mental wall that has led to fear of speaking the truth.

What’s holding us back now?  What’s holding you back?

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