Articles From the August 1995 Unification News


Separate Church from State?

by Haven Bradford Gow

A professor of government at American University, Dr. Greg Ivers tells us in his new work To Build a Wall: American Jews & the Separation of Church and State (University Press of Virginia): "Although consensus on the proper constitutional boundaries between religion and the state remains elusive, there has been no shortage of efforts by organized interest groups, whether religious or secular, to influence that relationship through active involvement in Supreme Court church-state litigation. Moreover, the Court has promulgated in clear and convincing terms that religious organizations possess rights equal to those of their secular counterparts to participate in public affairs."

In the 1970 case of Walz v. Tax Commission, the Supreme Court pointed out that "adherents of particular faiths and individual citizens have (the) right...(to) vigorous advocacy of legal and constitutional provisions." In other words, as Dr. Ivers makes clear, "Far from engaging in a departure from the intent and text of the First Amendment religion clauses, the Court thus recognized through constitutional adjudication the enumerated right of religious organizations to advocate their views on politics and public affairs in the public square, both to advance the interests of their constituencies and to engage the broader debate within the polity."

"The separation of Church and State" is the terribly misused and misunderstood phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a group of Baptists. This phrase has been misused by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Congress, to grossly mislead the American people regarding the thinking of the Founding Fathers concerning the proper role of religion in public life.

Jefferson's phrase clearly has been taken out of context, for right after saying in his letter that "the First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between Church and State," Jefferson quickly added that "the wall is one directional. It keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will never be separated from the government."

Yet, anti-religious groups have used the phrase "separation of church and state" to argue for the extirpation of religion from American public life. Thus, as social critic Frederick Mohl of Sarasota, Florida, points out, "In the name of church-state separation, Christmas and Easter have been dropped from public school calendars. Christmas trees and Yuletide carols are banned in school as well along with menorahs marking the Jewish festival of Hanukkah...; the Ten Commandments have also been barred from public schools and other government venues."

According to attorney Mathew Staver, author of Faith and Freedom (Crossway Books) and executive director of Liberty Counsel (Box 540774, Orlando, Florida), many students in the public schools have suffered a loss of their right to religious freedom and right to freedom of expression (religious expression). For example, a 4th grade student Joshua Burton brought his Bible with him to school so he could read it during free time; but school authorities confiscated his Bible and told him not to bring it to school with him again.

Amber Johnston-Loehner wanted to distribute religious literature to her friends at the public school she attended; but the principal took the literature from her, scolded her and then threw the literature into the garbage, saying, "I will not have religious literature on my campus."

At her public school, Jennifer Green spoke up for the religious freedom and free speech rights of students who wanted to pray at graduation; she had to endure the vehement hostility of school authorities who branded her a "trouble-maker."

Clearly, then, religion and religious freedom are coming under vicious attack in the United States today. To rectify this disheartening state of affairs, we must return to the original thinking and wisdom of our Founding Fathers, who recognized that our nation was built upon a Judeo-Christian moral and religious foundation. Consider:

*John Adams: "Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people."

*Benjamin Franklin: "Whoever will introduce into public affairs the principles of Christianity will change the face of the world."

*George Washington stated: "Take away religion, and the country will fail."

*Patrick Henry declared: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly...that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Was America built upon a Judeo-Christian moral and religious foundation? Did the Founding Fathers have a favorable attitude toward religion and religious freedom? From their graves, and to their everlasting credits, our Founding Fathers answered both questions with a firm and resounding Yes.

Mr. Gow is a columnist who has published more than 1,000 articles and reviews in 100 magazines and newspapers.


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