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  • April 14th, 2011

Keep ’em Separate

By Joel M. Vance

Let me quote several statements and see which one(s) you agree with.
1. “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”
2. “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
3.  The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretense, infringed.”
4.  [T]he Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…
And finally,
5. “It [the social philosophy] will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.
If you subscribe to the last statement and are angered by the other four you probably lean extremely right, hang tea bags from your NRA ball cap and think Obama is a communist Muslim born anywhere but the United States.
The last statement belongs to Adolph Hitler, 1933.
The first three belong to James Madison, called the Father of the Constitution (No. 3 is his original wording for the First Amendment).  No. 4 is from the Treaty of Tripoli, approved by Congress and John Adams in 1797.
Understand I am not espousing any alternative religion (i.e. Muslim) or making a plea for secularism, agnosticism or atheism.  Just a Madisonian plea for separating church and state, no matter the church.  The state is the United States of America, no other.
And, yes, I am well aware that we are one nation “under God” and “in God we trust.”  Muslims say, “God is great ” and the militant among them reinforce that with bullets and bombs.  I have no objection to the Pledge of Allegiance reference to God, nor to spending money with trust in God printed on it.
Just as long as the government does not mandate that I sally forth armed with lethal weapons and presumably operate under God’s banner.  Imposing what churchy folks have interpreted as God’s will has caused more heartache than any other cause in the history of Christian nations (think the Crusades, the Inquisition or the Ku Klux Klan).
The right wing is fond of saying we are “a Christian nation” and trumpeting the values of a “nation founded on Christian principles” and the unlamented president George W. Bush was the champion of “faith-based initiatives” which amounted to giving government money (i.e. your money and mine) to religious groups.
Religious groups do wonderful work.  The Salvation Army is what charitable groups all should be.  They do it with the dollar bills that we all (I hope) religiously drop in their red buckets come Christmas time.  They don’t do their many good works with tax money.
To my simple mind “Christian principles” is summed up in the Golden Rule and if that has merit, then why are there so many intolerant, bigoted and mean-spirited S.O.B.s parading their Christian virtue?
Separation of church and state…it’s an old idea whose time has come and is in danger of being gone.  Increasingly a candidate’s church habits mean more than his or her ability to govern.
When Barrack Obama was running for President most of the attacks against him had a religious base—either his choice of preacher or the claim that he is a Muslim.  It has gotten so if a guy (or a girl, Hillary) doesn’t wear his religion like a uniform he or she is unfit to be President.
When did religion become a qualification for high office?  John Kennedy had to proclaim that he, not the Pope, would make decisions if he were elected, but that’s the first time I remember anyone worrying about how faithful the President was when the church bells tolled.
All our presidents have been religious to some extent, some more than others, but when George Bush started claiming that he got his directions from God, it was puzzling—God wasn’t on my ballot.
Almost every president has asked for help for the nation from God and that’s fine.  Many said that without God the nation could not function.  That also is fine.  That’s asking for help, but that is not the same as letting any religion dictate the course of events, policy or laws.  Iran is a theocracy and it’s doubtful any Christian, no matter how religious, would lobby for a Christian counterpart in this country to Iran’s Muslim-dominated government.
Abraham Lincoln was urged by the equivalent of the Christian right in his day to free the slaves immediately to which he replied, “These are not, however, the days of miracles, and I suppose it will be granted that I am not to expect a direct revelation. I must study the plain physical facts of the case, ascertain what is possible and learn what appears to be wise and right.”
He reserved the right to make Presidential decisions, not wait for God to speak to him.  Obviously he chose the right course—but he chose it, although he may well have prayed through long nights for Divine guidance.
It wasn’t so long ago that Jews in this country were discriminated against and considered unfit for country club membership or in many other areas open to Christians.  Now Jews are integral to the community and Israel is our primary ally in the Mideast, supported with money and political zeal.
This is not because of any sudden tolerance for the Jewish religion, but because of the shifting winds of politics.  We still tolerate Saudi Arabia, from whence came most of the 9/11 terrorists, not because we endorse their religion but because so far we haven’t had to go to war with the Saudis….and they have a lot of oil.
International politics and various religions are a crazed spider web like that spun by a spider on LSD.  We can’t do much about the realities of the rest of the world, but we should be able to control our own system when it pertains to government and religion.
As long as the Tea Party fruitcakes dominate the right and as long as the right has the clout it currently has grabbed we are in danger of losing the fundamental separation of church and state.  Deep six that historic element of our country and you might as well give up individual liberty and other fundamentals of our freedom.  The camel’s nose is firmly in the tent.

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  1. Jeff Frischkorn

    April 15th, 2011 at 6:55 am


    I cannot leave my Christian faith or values on the sill of either the front or back door, Joel. They are a part of me and thus they are me. As for going forth to battle Christian values being the greatest dealer in death, that’s am oft-said but totally false view… Just in the past 100 years the not-so-Christian Hitler, Stalin and Mao have killed tens of millions of people; far more than by so-called Middle Age Christian zealots or even adding latter day supposed Christian leaders… It’s an oft-used fiat statement made by folks who subscribe to the social gospel of good works alone…

  2. Laura Filbert Zacher

    April 18th, 2011 at 7:55 pm


    My sentiments exactly, Joel; thanks for elaborating. I like living in a country run by laws and a legal system built on constitutional law and precedents that can be challenged. I trust this system and believe it is the best chance for justice for those who do not have power, money, or other resources for securing justice.

    • joelvance

      April 19th, 2011 at 8:26 am


      The Founding Fathers intended for church and state to be separate and for anyone to have the right to worship by choice–but far too many ignore the literal meaning of the Constitution and interpret it as meaning we should incorporate church into our legal and political system–selective blindness. Thanks for understanding.

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