Separation of Church and State; Fact and Fiction
An article was recently published in the Tioga County Courier (30 Nov. 2005) entitled: “Separation of church and state; why it matters” by Duane Palmiter, Sr. The article is not only misleading, but also inflammatory. It was based on the lecture held November 16 in Owego at which Ms. Maura Stephens of Theocracy Watch attempted to enlighten the citizens of the community regarding the takeover of our government by the radical right.
Ms. Stephens and Theocracy Watch apparently believe that our government, through the Republican Party and the current administration is attempting to do away with the Constitutional separation of church and state and replace our current democratic government with a Theocracy (rule by God). I would like to make several points regarding this bizarre accusation.
First and foremost, the principle of the Separation of Church and State is part of the earliest documents of our government and clearly stated in the first amendment to the United States Constitution, which says: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” The Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth (later, Massachusetts Bay Colony) had originally come from England where they had suffered persecution at the hands of the Church of England – the State or government church. Our government was established with the principle of separation of church and state to ensure freedom to worship (or not to worship) without interference from the government. Christians and conservatives (today often referred to as the “radical right”) are as interested as any in protecting this freedom.
Second, Ms. Stephens’ statement: “Church-state separation does not mean hostility toward religion… but that the government will remain neutral on religious questions, leaving decisions about God, faith and house of worship attendance in the hands of it’s citizens.” is exactly right. This is what our forefathers intended. If Ms. Stephens and Theocracy Watch truly believe this statement, why then are they so hostile to Christians speaking out on religious, political and moral issues. Ms. Stephens seems to be absolutely paranoid that Christians are trying to take over our government. Granted, our president is a professing Christian. However, if you look back at past administrations, every president in recent memory has claimed to be a man of Faith. All publicly worshiped and attended church at least occasionally and most regularly consulted with Christian Clergy and leaders, often inviting them to the White House. Have any, including the current administration, attempted to proclaim that their personal faith should be established as a “state” church or to ban any other form of worship? -- Of course not!
Ms. Stephens’ lecture included many supposed examples of how Christian leaders are trying to take over our government and replace our democracy with a Theocracy. All of the statements she gave as examples were taken out of context and greatly misconstrued. How is Pat Robertson’s statement: “your town has turned away from God, so don’t bother asking for his help” show a desire to take over the government? Robertson was making a personal statement reacting to what he saw as a bad decision on the part of a community. Dr. D. James Kennedy urges his followers and all Christians to exercise their constitutional right of free speech and their right to vote to have an influence on our government. Dr. Kennedy urges Christians to sign petitions and to contact their elected officials to express their opinions on political, moral and social issues. Is this not a right of all Americans? Why should Christians not enjoy the same rights as other Americans?
Ms. Stephens also objects to the distribution of voter guides. What’s wrong with voters knowing where candidates stand on issues that interest them? Many organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, the National Education Association, labor unions and others distribute similar guides telling their members where candidates stand on various issues. To not allow churches to distribute such guides or to not allow church pastors to speak freely about political issues would be to deny Christians the same rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Americans through our Constitution.
Other statements made by Ms. Stephens appear totally unfounded. For example, she reportedly stated that “three current United States Supreme Court justices believe there should be no separation between church and state” and that Judge Sam Alito also believes there should be no separation. Readers should be wary of any broad, general accusations stated as fact without any supporting documentation. Ms. Stephens didn’t even name the Justices she was referring to.
Mr. Palmiter concluded that Ms. Stephens’ lecture presented information to those who attended. True, information may have been presented, but was it true, factual, information or simply anti-Christian propaganda? I urge readers to carefully consider what they read and hear and look for facts and documentation rather that just blindly accepting everything they see and hear.
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