Separation of Church and State

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States begins with: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  This was the vary first sentence in the Bill of Rights written by the original authors of the Constitution because of its importance. Many people such as the Pilgrims came here to escape religious persecution by the Church of England which was part of the British Royal Crown.

This clearly established that the church must play no role in government legislation, likewise that the government cannot meddle in the affairs of religious institutions that do not violate the rights of others.  In other words our Government must stay religiously neutral.  Religious moral values should play no role in law.

The question is how important is the separation of church from state in the context of today’s world as many fundamentalist Christians want their moral and religious values legislated into law.  All developed nations now have adopted similar laws.  Many of our earlier laws originated from cultural norms founded in religious values.  When is it inappropriate to continue upholding such laws?

Many religious values which have become integrated into our social fabric and laws have their origin in sexual conduct which has over time become an American obsession.  One such institution is the law governing marriage.  Marriage was previously the union between one man and one woman.  But this has recently been changed to between couples regardless of sex due to the LGBT movement which has gained broad social acceptance.  However there are a few places in the United States where men still practice polygamy or bigamy, a felony where one can still serve prison time.  It is one of those victimless crimes that does no harm to another.  Another such crime is prostitution.  In the state of Nevada prostitution is legal and controlled by the state, but in most other states it is still considered a crime even though it is a victimless crime.  Homosexuality was illegal until the last few decades when these laws were declared unconstitutional and last year the Federal government made it openly legal in the armed forces.  So should all such victimless sex crimes be considered unconstitutional?  There is a Christian basis for this, the doctrine of free will.

Christians are taught that God created man with the free will to do good or evil as illustrated in the story of Adam and Eve eating of the Fruit of Knowledge: original sin, and the story of Cain killing Able.  So it seems that God by design meant that man should have the freedom to sin.  Otherwise God would have immediately struck down any sinner.  So if God did not compel man to do good why is it right that man should have the right to force others to do it?  Are fundamentalist Christians saying that God allows them to deny others the free will God himself has given man the right to?

The First Amendment does not deny Christians the right to practice and even preach their moral values.  But laws should uphold the Constitution to maintaining order in society and must be religiously neutral.  Morality should be taught in the home and at non-public institutions, not legislated into law.  Even among Christians there are a large range of accepted moral beliefs, and there are other religious groups and those of no particular religious persuasion to consider in fairness as well.  The Separation of Church and State seems very appropriate for a Free nation such as the United States, otherwise it is not free by denying man the right to exercise his free will.  Most certainly it would be unacceptable to be governed by a single religious belief such as exists in areas of the Middle East.

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