February 2016: How Separate Should Church and State Be?

February 2016 Inter-Belief Conversation Café

How Separate Should Church and State Be?

Monday, February 15, 2016
7 – 9 p.m.
Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul
1671 Summit Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105 (View Map)

IIn 1802 President Thomas Jefferson wrote to Danbury, Connecticut Baptists that “a wall of separation” had been built between Church and State by the First Amendment to U.S. Constitution. The Baptists were aggrieved by a Congregationalist state church. Since founded by Roger Williams, the denomination opposed government sponsored churches which sometimes persecuted them. If separation of church and state was proclaimed by our founding fathers and supported by the religious, how could it possibly be controversial now?

Doesn’t separation help religion? A larger percentage of Americans go the church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or similar facility of their choice than European countries with established some supported by government subsidies. With a multitude of Christian denominations, divisions of other faiths, and occasional persecutions of the less popular, isn’t the only fair approach to keep the state out of religion. Who wants Congress to legislate creeds or statements of belief, see executive orders on qualifications of clergy, or the Supreme Court deciding if there is a trinity or not? These folks can’t even balance the budget.

But does separation mean a “naked public square” with nativity scenes banned from public parks and Ten Commandments monuments dismantled from state capitols. And how can the monument be constitutional at the Texas State Capitol and unconstitutional at the one in Oklahoma, Kentucky courthouses, and the Alabama State Supreme Court? When will the mural of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments be removed from the Minnesota State Supreme Court Chambers and Moses himself be taken off the East façade of the U.S. Supreme Court Building? At what point does this become discrimination against religion?

What about all the entanglements we are used to? (OK, maybe just some of us.) Since 1864 coins and currency have stated “In God We Trust”. Since the 1950’s the Pledge of Allegiance has stated that we are “one nation, under God”. Or are these examples just religion as security blanket? When fighting a Civil War, we need to be clear God favors us not the Confederates and when opposing the world communist conspiracy, it should be explicit that the deity supports us not the Godless reds. Is it comforting to know that these issues may be decided by a supreme tribunal whose proceedings begin with “God bless the United States and this honorable court”?

But should the children of atheists and Jehovah’s Witnesses be forced to recite or even listen to a Pledge of Allegiance which invokes God? Is freedom from religion as important as freedom of religion? And what of efforts of some religious (opposed often by other religious) to make Creationism, Intelligent Design, or similar approaches part of the biology curriculum? Or are evolution and scientism ideologies which raise concerns as well? Was Muslim poet and inspirer of Pakistan, Muhammad Iqbal, correct when he proclaimed separation of Church and State a blunder which led to atheistic materialism and world war?

On February 15 from 7-9 PM at Interfaith Action for Greater St. Paul, 1671 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, Inter-belief Conversation Café will consider how much space should exist between the government and religious belief. All anyone has to pledge allegiance to are the agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality. We may not come to a decision, but we will have treats!