Friday, April 2, 2010

Church and State

Last week it was reported that the Civil Rights Commission of Davenport, Iowa was seeking to rename or remove Good Friday from city calendars citing that they were in violation of the Constitution and separation of church and state. Davenport Civil Rights Commission chair Tim Hart said, "Just call it something else to respect the diversity of the people of Davenport."

This past Tuesday, I was talking to another mother about this and she shared a story from last Christmas. She had taken her children to the local public library. The library had its "holiday" books on display...Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but no Christmas. When she asked, the librarian told her, "Well, that wouldn't be right." Fortunately, she persisted and the Christmas books were eventually displayed with the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books.

Why are Christians not included in diversity? Why does this false interpretation of separation of church and state apply only to Christians and finally, why do people believe that separation of church and state is part of the US Constitution?

The first amendment says simply, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". At the time, many states had official religions. This part of the first amendment was added to keep the federal government from interfering with the states and to avoid the establishment of a national church such as the Church of England.

God was central to the founding of the United States. The phrase separation of church and state actually comes from an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists. I found some interesting history here. Basically, Jefferson wrote the letter to address his critics who were calling him atheist for not supporting proclamations of fasting and thanksgiving. Jefferson was opposed to these things not because he was anti-religion, but because to him, they represented a British practice that he feared could lead to a British-style monarchy in the new republic.

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent insight! Jefferson and his vision for the US, in my opinion, was largely constructed on tenents and morality that were God-based.

    Many court battles have ensued about the presence of a cross on public properties. Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, CA was one such battle that I watched with horror. Making the property private appeared to be the solution but did not satisfy detractors.

    Why do we use case law and/or opinion rather than the exact language of the constitution to rule us? We have certainly been derailed and need to find our way back. It worries me that our country may fail during my lifetime, in part due to the wall of separation between God's laws and our secular laws.