Top 10 Reasons Why Separation of Church and State Matters

Does the nativity scene in your town square bother you? It should. In subtle but real ways, The Church influences our secular world, and sometimes not in a good way. Here’s why you should care about this abstract concept:

1. It’s in the Constitution. First part, first sentence, First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”

2. Theocratic nations are culturally backward. Think Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vatican City.

3. Religion is bad for business. Although many churches, synagogues and mosques operate essentially as non-profit businesses, they don’t pay property or sales taxes. Community tax bases suffer. And overtly religious enterprises tend to scare away high-tech employers. Would you want to locate a bio-tech business next to the Creation Museum?

4. Religious displays on public property are offensive. If a nativity scene seems harmless, ask yourself how you would feel about a tribute to Islam in your town square.

5. Calling an organization “faith-based” is a way to rationalize discrimination. Denying leadership roles to women and gays is not an American value.

6. Your reproductive rights are at stake. If you have ever thought about having a baby or not having a baby, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will most likely have a say in what contraception you are “allowed” to have and how much it costs. Their unprecedented influence on Congress means fewer women will receive insurance plans covering family planning services.

7. Your kid won’t get the education he/she deserves. Pity the small town of Mount Vernon, Ohio, where Christian activist and public school science teacher John Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk, preached against evolution and burned crosses into student arms with a Tesla coil. His firing cost the school board half a million dollars and years of stress.

8. Prayer before public meetings is unnecessary. And not inclusive.

9. Science-denying makes for poor public policy. If you care about life-saving stem cell research, for example, separation of church and state should be your battle cry.

10. Atheists should not have to fake belief. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

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Posted by on November 27, 2011. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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17 Responses to Top 10 Reasons Why Separation of Church and State Matters

  1. Michael John Scott

    November 27, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I am beginning to think we are sliding backwards, culturally, as we slide down the slippery slope that is religion in government. Good post!

    • Liz Putnam

      November 27, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks, Mike. I should add that there’s lots of religious art and architecture that belongs in public squares for its historical significance.

  2. The Heathen Republican

    November 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    What happens when the separation of church and state directly interferes with an individual’s right of religious expression, which is also protected in the Constitution?

    There are legitimate tensions between the two, so how do we both protect individual religious rights yet keep religion out of government?

    • Michael John Scott

      November 27, 2011 at 4:36 pm

      I don’t see religion as a valid reason to interfere with government. Religion, while it may be a right, should be practiced in privacy, or in churches, not in the halls of congress.

      • The Heathen Republican

        November 27, 2011 at 5:36 pm

        What kind of right is it to do something in private only? Do you stand by that statement with regard to homosexuals? Clearly a right to religious expression means both public and private expression.

        I also don’t want the government and church to mix, but we have to be careful that the limitations don’t result in infringement on individual expression.

        Using #4 above as an example, “Religious displays on public property are offensive,” it’s important to define the public property. A state house or government building, yes, it crosses the line. But a group of individuals who get the proper permits to put up a manger scene in a public park has nothing to do with church and state.

        Public parks are also public property, and every one of us has the right to get a permit and make use of that property. To forbid individual expression that is done lawfully in a public park is just as much a violation of the First Amendment as a state sanctioned church would be.

        • Serratedteeth

          November 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

          “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

          I don’t see anything in there about a freedom to express one’s religion. It talks about how Congress can’t prevent you from attending a specific church. Congress can’t ban a specific religion. It states how Congress can’t support one religion over any other.

          And I don’t remember anywhere in the Bible where it says God commandeth that thou puttest up a Nativity Scene in public every year during the holiday ye stole from older religions and celebrations.

          I’d recommend reading past the bold script on #4, “If a nativity scene seems harmless, ask yourself how you would feel about a tribute to Islam in your town square.” Unless you’re perfectly fine with that occurring, or a pagan idol, or any symbol from any or every other religion out there, your argument is invalid.

          • The Heathen Republican

            November 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm

            If we can’t even agree on basic facts, I don’t think there’s anything we can discuss rationally. Let me help:

            “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

            • Fuzzy Logic

              November 28, 2011 at 12:54 am

              You seem to be missing a line:

              Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…

              If you want basic facts, you don’t need to get past the first line. It says right there, congress can’t make a law that respects an establishment of religion as well as not restricting it. Please, this isn’t the bible, where you can pick and choose what you want at the detriment of others, just because some parts make you uncomfortable.

              • Zukey Badtouch

                November 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

                It’s cute how they both have basically the same viewpoint, but insist on arguing about it anyway, to the point of agreeing to disagree, on a subject they are essentially in agreement on.

                • Michael John Scott

                  November 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

                  LOL! How very true. Missed that earlier.

            • Michael John Scott

              November 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

              …..I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Thomas Jefferson.

              Works for me. I read once that fences (walls) make great neighbors.

          • Michael John Scott

            November 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

            Exactly right serrated!

          • Rebekah Bowers

            July 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

            I think we should have nativity scenes and menorahs set up every where during the holidays. However nativity scenes should not have the three wise men with them because that is inaccurate.

  3. liz

    November 28, 2011 at 6:33 am

    To me the most aggregious violation of separation of church and state principles is the Catholic Church’s meddling in the health care debate (#6). These celibate men has no business telling me what I can or can’t do with my uterus.

    • Michael John Scott

      November 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm

      YES!!!!!!!!!!!! Not that I have a uterus but I sure as hell get the point.

  4. Bartow-Joe

    December 21, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Even as a younger man, I believe that we have more openness in society. I think the fact that these bible thumpers are trying so hard to solidify thier ideals shows that thier power over the people in waning. Yes, Michelle Bachman scares me on many levels. But, I don’t think there is a chance in hell that she will ever live in the white house. Why do you think McCain picked Palin as a running mate. He intended on losing so he wouldn’t be blamed like Obama for everything going wrong right now. In the process, he showed that the percentage of US citizens who would support a gun toting bible thumper do not decide the rule.