The Connection of Church and State

I am a big fan of the separation of church and state. I do not believe that it is appropriate for the government to privilege any religion, or impose any set of religious beliefs on its citizens. I don’t think that anyone’s religious views should be allowed to determine who may or may not get married. I don’t think that anyone’s religious views should be allowed to determine laws around abortion or access to contraception. I don’t think that we need to set aside time in schools to pray, and I don’t think that “under God” should ever have been inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. There is no reason at all to teach “creation science” in biology class, as if any science were involved in the religious stance that all the overwhelming evidence for evolution should be set aside because the Bible says something different. It is not the place of a free, democratic government to impose the religion of some set of people on other people who may not share those views.

On the other hand, I’m absolutely in favor of people making political choices based on their religious views. How would you not? If your religion matters to your life at all, surely it has to inform your decisions about what laws and which individuals will work for the things that matter to you. If you follow the one who said “ For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me….Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” then surely you will vote for the candidate who seems the most likely to provide for the poor, care for the ill and have compassion for the immigrant and those in prison.

If you call yourself religious, it is your job not only to hold a core set of values that you understand to be at the heart of your religion, but also to go out and practice and advocate for those values in the world.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I would say that freedom is a central value among my religious peeps. But it’s not at the very center. At the core, the value we hold most dear is ever and always love. That’s why you see UUs in bright yellow t-shirts that read “Standing on the Side of Love” at rallies in favor of marriage equality and compassion for immigrant families. Love is where it’s at for us. When I vote, it’s on the basis of the practical application of the principle of love. Love for our neighbors, love for citizens of the wider world, love for the planet which we share with so many non-human beings. I am Voting on the Side of Love.

What values are at the very heart of your religious life? Where do you see those values taking shape in the political sphere? How will you vote for the heart of your religion?

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conservations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

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  • Heidi & Atticus

    Terrific post and completely agree! Our government cannot be run with bias towards one religion or another. Although, we have a slew of congresspeople who are doing their best to skew our societal beliefs towards their religious beliefs. We have multiple congresspeople on the science and technology commission who don’t even believe in science!

    I love that you use Jesus’s words to illustrate the disconnect.

    Heidi & Atticus

  • Chris

    While I agree with many of the issues you have discussed – religious freedom and tolerance, that our faith should guide the political decisions we make – not being from the USA, I have different experience of the separation of church (or should we say faith) and state.
    I was born in the UK but was raised in South Africa. I am citizen of both countries. During Apartheid, the Dutch Reformed Church (NG Kerk) in SA was called the National Party at prayer (The Nats were the primarily Afrikaans party that rules from 1948 to 1994) SA was officially a Christian country (but which acted in a most unchristian way) although the DR Church was never the official denomination. Prayers were said at the start of every day in parliament, and yet, parliament made decisions and imposed laws that were evil.
    Fortunately, there were those in the Church (and in other faiths) who opposed Apartheid – Anglicans like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev Trevor Huddlestone, Catholics like Sister Bernard Ncube and Archbishop Denis Hurley, Rev Frank Chikane of the SA Council of Churches, and even the former “crown prince” the Dutch Reformed Church in SA, Rev Beyers Naude, who virtually lost everything when he declared he opposed apartheid. (There were many Jewish South Africans who joined the ANC, like Ronny Kasrils, and Helen Suzman was once the only voice against apartheid in parliament)
    Sr Bernard Ncube recently died. She was a nun, anti-apartheid activist and member of the ANC. She had survived a number of assassination attempts by the Security Police and was held for more than a year in solitary confinement. She appointed an ANC member of parliament in 1994 (against the wishes of the Vatican) and she remained true to her principles – For example, she supported the Termination of Pregnancy Act ( legalizing abortion) as she said she had seen too many cases of lives ruined through failed back-street abortions.
    Since 1994 South Africa is a secular state, although Christianity does hold an ascendant position (in much the same way as English is the favoured language even though we have 11 official languages) We do not have (and never have had) a pledge of allegiance like the USA. However, we do have schools – state and private – that reflect a religious ethos. Like the UK, there are specifically Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Muslim, and Jewish schools. (This stems from the role the churches played in providing education, including mission schools, in the 19th century) Faith-based schools, however, make up only a small proportion of schools – most are secular. (In fact, my wife currently teaches at a private school that in its attempt to be seen as secular has become hostile to any show of religion, despite having many students who are Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu)
    While there are expensive faith-based private boarding schools based on traditional British public schools, there are also rural and township schools operated by churches, particularly the Catholic Church, which may charge minimal school fees. Faith based schools are not exclusive and are required open to students from outside the community, but who must respect the fact that they are in a specific faith environment. These schools receive state funding. For me, rather than violating the separation of church and state, this is instead the state allowing and enabling the role of religious life and giving room for different faith communities, this allowing religious diversity and tolerance.
    Of course, in the UK there is no separation of church and state. Well, sort of…The Church of England (Anglican Church) is the official church – but only of England. The Anglican Church is split in the UK into the Church of England, Church in Wales, Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Church of Ireland. For example, the Church of Scotland – the Presbyterians (not the Scottish Episcopal Church) is the official denomination in Scotland, the Church in Wales split from the CofE and was “disestablished” and the Church of Ireland (which represents Anglicans in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic) is neither the official church of the north or the south.
    While the position of the CofE is favoured (the British Monarch is, of course, its titular head) and its gets a lot of tax breaks from the state, it doesn’t receive any direct funding, and the people of England are not required to be Anglican: In fact, much of the UK is agnostic and atheist and definitely post Christian. There are large Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities, and I understand there are now more Catholics and possibly Evangelicals than Anglicans (that is high church, low church and broad church Anglicans) and there are even those in the low church wing of the CofE who would like to see its disestablishment. So definitely things have moved on since the 17th and 18th centuries when those who left the UK – be they Quakers, puritans, Catholics, and other dissenters – for America in search of religious freedom…

  • Chris

    And I just though of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – A leading light of Australia’s Christian Left (yes, it does exist!) he is one of the leaders of Australian’s inter-denominational parliamentary prayer group.

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