Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton promises that if elected she will defend the separation of church and state.
Clinton was speaking at a townhall meeting in Las Vegas last week when Daniel Little, a college student and a member of the Secular Student Alliance, asked the former secretary of state her opinion on the separation of church and state.
Clinton replied that she supports the separation of church and state, and promised to defend it if elected. The following is a transcript of the question and answer via Friendly Atheist:
Little: Hello. My name is Daniel Little and I’m at CSN currently — the College of Southern Nevada. I’m a current political science major. And I’m a part of the Secular Student Alliance. Have you heard of that? Okay, basically, it’s a group of freethinkers and skeptics in schools. And currently — there’s a little fact here for you — in a few states, their Constitution has it written… that it is illegal for a nonbeliever to hold public office. With that, I wanna know: What are your current opinions about the separation of church and state.
Clinton: Well. I am very supportive of the separation of church and state. I think it’s good for both the state and religion. And we have so much diversity of thinking in the country, and part of the reason why this American experiment has lasted is because there’s a lot of different ways for people to express themselves, to believe what they want to believe, or choose not to believe, so I think the separation of church and state has served us very well, and I will certainly defend it.
(Audio available on C-SPAN)
Supporting the separation of church and state should not be a controversial issue. However, many Republicans, and many conservative Christians, dispute the existence of the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution, because the words “separation of church and state” are not found in the U.S. Constitution.
However, the sentiment and meaning behind the phrase “separation of church and state” is contained within the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
The actual phrase “separation of church and state” is derived from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper soon thereafter. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:
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.
Yet despite these historical facts, many Republicans refuse to acknowledge and seek to abolish the separation of church and state. GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum has even gone so far as to make the absurd claim that the separation of church and state is not an American idea, but a communist idea.
As for Clinton, in a fiery speech delivered last April at the sixth annual Women in The World Summit, Clinton made a powerful argument that deep seated religious beliefs must be changed so that everyone can enjoy full participation in every aspect of society. After discussing the pressing social justice issues of domestic violence and women’s reproductive health, Clinton said:
Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.
By daring to state the obvious, by daring to support the separation of church and state, and daring to say that deep seated religious beliefs must be changed, both in the U.S. and around the world, Clinton is taking a bold stand for social justice, and the progressive, secular values upon which this nation was founded.
Bottom line: the separation of church and state is central to the U.S. Constitution and the secular values upon which this nation was founded. Any presidential candidate who refuses to support the separation of church and state is not qualified to hold the office.