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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On "The Separation of Church and State"

I found it very interesting that in my humanities 399-class textbook there was a reference to "the separation of church and state" and how that idea has allowed for an open religious market in the United States. My interest was peaked once again when, in the lecture section, the same ideas were repeated using the same terms.
The last time I checked the phrase "separation of church and state" is not used in the constitution, which was the source cited for the reference. I know that this has been a topic of some discussion by many other people, but the link between that and the "open religious market," meaning the freedom to choose from a variety of religions, was interesting and worth noting.
I think that what most people are actually referencing when they mention "the separation of church and state" is the first article in the amendments which states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." It seems that a lack of establishment has been interpreted to mean separation; the two are not the same. A lack of establishment simply means that the government will not impose a particular religion on people, whereas a separation implies a complete division. Lately, the latter interpretation seems to have been the prevalent one, and this is somewhat disturbing. After all, if we can interpret the constitution in any way we see fit, what purpose does it actually serve?
The idea that there is a free market for religions in the United States is also interesting. Though I basically agree with that idea, I disagree with the idea that it arose from a separation between church and state. Rather, it seems to have arisen from a free dialogue between people and that is allowed by a lack of established religion. I also wonder if religion actually could be considered a market, since many of the ideas that we apply to markets are difficult to apply in the situation of religions.
I hope that there is a way that we can return to a more careful interpretation of the constitution, especially when it used in an educational context. It is slightly disturbing when a professor makes what I would consider a factual error, simply because they hold certain opinions. If the constitution is to remain a useful document, it needs to retain a certain amount of integrity of meaning when it is interpreted.

Comments:
I agree that the lack of an established religion in the US has made it a country with a "religious market," if you will. I disagree slightly that the first amendment does not explicitly call for a seperation of church and state. I think that because the government did not establish an "official religion" there is a kind of de facto seperation. However, I also believe, that for better or worse--depending on your views of government and religion--that this de facto seperation was meant to keep government out of religious affairs and not necessarily the other way around. I don't think anyone would deny that the religious beliefs of both citizens and representatives does play a role in debate and legislation.
 
I'm curious about the meaning of "a kind of de facto separation."

One reason I'm not sure what this might mean is because I know that at the time the Constitution was ratified at least 2 states had established government religions. Further, President Washington's public speeches often appealed to religious understanding. Even President Jefferson used his executive powers to declare national days of prayer and thanks to God. Some historians have apparently called one of President Lincoln's speeches the greatest political speech ever, and the speech was premised on what seems a Christian view of God.

I don't see such actions by our elected leaders to be inconsistent with the Constitutional words "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." But, I also think such actions would not be consistent with the idea of "separation of church and state." So, I guess I think the 2 distinct clauses, if found in a constitution, would have to mean distinctly different things regarding what government can and cannot do.

What do you think?
 
I think that if separation was meant, then separation would have been used. It seems logical to assume that the writers of the Constitution wrote what they meant. If they had meant separation, why didn't they use the term? That is where I am coming from on the issue, though, as we have seen, there is some issue over interpretation of the Constitution, and I don't see that ending any time soon.
 
I’m also enrolled in the University’s HUM 399 course required for LAS graduation. The course subject is religion and popular culture. The purpose of the class is to examine the sacrilization of the secular: the phenomenon whereby religious themes and questions are presented to or perceived to exist by audiences in secular popular culture.

Unfortunately I am having a hard time taking anything taught in this class seriously because the first two of the required readings, Secular Steeples by Conrad Ostwalt and Film as Religion by John C. Lyden, have stated that the sacrilization of the secular has resulted from “the separation of church and state in the United States.”

Thanks for the post! The Constitution does NOT establish a separation between church and state! Rather it prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion or prohibiting the free exercise there of. Both Ostwalt and Lyden neglect to address this tidbit of information and simply incorrectly assert some separation exists.

This is where the problem comes in for me and raises a few questions about the academic integrity of the authors chosen by the HUM professors. If these authors have not even taken the time to fully evaluate and understand the relationship between church and state in the US, what else have they neglected to take time to research? How am I supposed to approach the rest of the texts? Should I take what is written as good and academically sound information, or as possibly incomplete and inaccurate information? Don’t professors have a responsibility to their students, and in the case of state subsidized universities, to tax payers, to teach using sources presenting thesis based on definitive information? I suppose this also begs the question: What is the purpose of state subsidized universities? Which framework of the role of government justifies such expenditures?
 
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