Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Separation of Church and State

The so-called “wall of separation” between the State and religions is one of the most misunderstood metaphors in recent history.

Recently I received an email from the American based Alliance Defence Fund - - a legal fund-raising and strategy group involved in religious liberty cases. The email quoted an Attorney affiliated with the ADF in relation to a case involving the freedom of religion. The case had been victorious. My concern wasn’t with the result of the case - - favourable for religious people, but with the comments of the Attorney.

He is quoted as saying “…. we celebrate the removal of yet another brick in the wall of separation between Church and State.” Really? Should there be no wall between the two?

I think there should be a wall - - but one with clearly marked and regularly used doorways in it. Cooperation between Religion and the State is essential; strict separation - - meaning “no cooperation” is simply anti-religion by another name.

The separation of Church and State, properly understood, is a good and necessary thing.

Wrongly understood, the “separation” amounts to a secularistic attack on religion since it hides an agenda to remove religion from any public relevance. That kind of “separation” is unjust and a thing to be resisted by every possible means.

Rightly understood, however, the separation of Church and State should be embraced. The key, therefore, is to understand what is a proper understanding.

Basically it is this: the State should not run religions and religions should not run the State. That is all that the Separation of Church and State should mean.

The legal beagle above, however, shows the worrying tendency to use the State to advance the purposes of religions - - just like Calvin’s Geneva, the Taliban and the Catholic Church before it wised-up and developed a deeper understanding of the proper relationship between Caesar and God.

In a coin toss between Caesar and God who gets to shout “heads?”

That is the question. But the answer is certainly not any simplistic abolition of a wall that is necessary but needs to be properly “understood.”

Iain T. Benson ©