Letter: Doctrine doesn’t call for divorce from religious principles
The Sept. 30, 2010 issue of the Gazette-Journal had a note titled "Editor’s Copy" regarding the influence of the Tea Party on this year’s election cycle. What caught my attention was the following excerpt that notes:
"But to hear Glenn Beck and others talking of God and a political agenda as connected, disturbs some who believe separation of church and state is one of the greatest strengths of this country."
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States begins:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …"
When the amendment spoke of "an establishment of religion," it was a narrow prohibition upon the state establishing its own church. I cannot speak to experience above the Mason-Dixon line, but here in Virginia, memories were fresh of the injustices perpetrated upon the public by the state church, the Church of England, before independence. The intent of this part of the First Amendment is not to protect the state from religion, but as the next phrase states, to protect the "free exercise thereof" of religion.
That is the doctrine of separation of church and state. It is decidedly not a doctrine requiring a complete divorce of religious principles and observance from the public arena, including politics. It is simply a prohibition upon the state setting up its own "politically-correct" church to monopolize religious expression.
If we are to have principled, informed political discourse in this country, then all parties have an obligation to be principled and informed. The historical record amply supports the interpretation of the "separation" doctrine I have stated above. Few in the 1780s would have interpreted "separation" as a protection of the state from the church because "the church" before independence was as much an appendage of civil government as it was a religious institution. The colonial church could and did discriminate against Baptists, Methodists and any other denominations that did not adhere to Anglican doctrine.
I would suggest to the editors of this paper, and the public at large, that there exists a need for people to be better informed about constitutional principles they wish to discuss.