Whatever Happened to the Separation of Church and State?

March 1, 2012
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It has recently struck me that perhaps the politicians and political leaders of history were enlightened to something that has become marred in our modern world: common sense.

The race for the White House in this 2012 year has shown me that the ignorance of political figures truly knows no boundaries sometimes; especially when that ignorance is fueled by the most extreme sides of the country. And so I’d like to ask the question, just what did happen to the separation of church and state in the United States? And when did faith become a qualification for the office of the presidency?

It’s right there in the United States Constitution after all. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution which so famously details the freedom of speech, religion, etc. also provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...." and in addition to that, Article VI holds up the former argument and specifies that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." So why is it that this election year it seems as if many people in the country have thrown that idea out the window?

Of course, the main culprits in this heated debate are the conservatives on the Republican ticket. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with Republicans, for they are as much at fault for the political discord in Washington D.C. as the Democrats, but for some reason, it seems as if the Republican Party’s newest slogan is “anyway you can be religious, I can do better.”
During a Sunday (Feb. 26) interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum stated: "What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up."
Santorum then went on to comment upon a very famous John F. Kennedy speech in which the former president stated: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.... I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
Santorum’s response: "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is antithetical to the objectives and the vision of our country.... Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision, saying, 'No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.'"
Perhaps though, it would have served Senator Santorum better if he had read the speech in more detail first and taken the time to fully digest Kennedy’s words. In no way did President Kennedy ever say he wanted to ban religion, or keep god-fearing men and women from serving in the public office. All President Kennedy stated is that he believed that the White House and other political bodies in the U.S. should make their decisions based on the welfare of the people versus the demands of the denominational leader(s) political figures might respect and be influenced by. He believed in a government uncorrupted by the demands of people of faith, not a government without people of faith. And everything the former president stated coincides with the First Amendment almost word for word.

But Santorum is not the only perpetrator in the presidential primaries this year. As reported by the Huffington Post, former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney said Tuesday (Feb. 21) that “President Barack Obama's administration has ‘fought against religion’ and sought to substitute a ‘secular’ agenda for one grounded in faith.” Romney has certainly been less outspoken about his beliefs than the famously feisty Santorum; and naturally so as he is a Mormon in a race where the Conservative side is made up of Evangelical Christians who often denounce Mormonism as a “real” Christian church. Santorum too has made remarks about President Obama’s religion going so far as to call it a “phony theology.”
So back to square one and the question still remains; why has the notion of the separation of church and state seem to be all but naught this election year? I as a high school student simply cannot understand it, and I have the feeling that most of America cannot either. I live in a conservative area made up of mostly Christians, and for the most part, even they think the Republican’s have treaded a bit too far over their boundaries. Of course, some think that Santorum is the best thing since sliced bread, but they are much less common than the majority who think he’s off his rocker.

Why should faith even be a considering factor in the electing of our nation’s leader? As an American student I can tell you that I personally could care less about whether the president (or any other political figure for that matter) wears a cross, turban, or yarmulke. I could care less about whether he and/or she believes in God, Allah, Yahweh, ghosts, the yeti, Santa Clause, reincarnation, or even the Force as long as they can get their job done. And their job is to run the country. Does being religious change how you can work the economy? No. Does being religious change how you can change education? No. Does being religious change how you can improve the living standards of the country? SPOILER: the answer is “no.” I mean, every time I hear the name “Santorum” on the daily “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” podcast on my way to school it’s more often about a controversial statement regarding faith or faith-related matters than it is about what he would do as the president! Am I the only one horrifyingly amazed by that?! I certainly hope not. I can’t even be sure that I don’t like Rick Santorum’s economic policies because I’ve hardly heard a thing about them!

Bill Maher was interviewed on “Piers Morgan Tonight” a few days ago, and I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement to the following statement that he made: ?"Faith is just an opinion, which gets us back to Rick Santorum who seems to think that it's more than just an opinion. He said very clearly that he doesn't believe in the separation of church and state, and that's absolutely ridiculous, that is unacceptable in this country. It is just your opinion (and you are allowed to have your opinion). You're allowed to have the opinion that a Palestinian 2000 years ago walked on water and did magic tricks and he's really still his own father and all that stuff. And that's fine; and you can have whatever opinion you want; and the fact that a billion other people believe it gives you a lot of strength and credence. But I also have the opinion that that's ridiculous, anachronistic, and that this is the 21st century. I'm not saying that anyone's opinion should be outlawed in the public realm, I'm just saying that it is your opinion and don't tell me that 'this is my faith' as if it somehow means something more than my opinion because it doesn't mean anything more than my opinion. My opinion is just as valid as your opinion, and my opinion is that you're nuts!"
So is Mr. Maher right? Is faith just an opinion? That’s a topic for another day, but I do agree with the fact that a candidate saying “this is my faith” as if it should make them a more valuable candidate than another is completely irrelevant in the race for the nation’s most demanding job. I would just like to graduate college without being indebted until the day I die, be able to find a job, be able to someday buy a house for a reasonable price, retire at a reasonable age, and all of those are things that the president of the United States has a role in shaping. And frankly, it wouldn’t matter to me what the president believes in or doesn’t believe in as long as they can help me and the rest of the country from a recession/depression like the one we just got out of. In addition to that, there is absolutely no excuse for any of the presidential candidates attacking the president on something like faith which is a personal matter, and in many ways that is extremely hypocritical because aren’t they the ones who think the current president is waging a war on their faith? Guess nobody on their campaign staffs really thought that one through.
So it seems as if I was right, the minds that built this country such as Thomas Jefferson had the right stuff, and that “stuff” is common sense. They seemed to understand that religion had no place in what made a nation work or a political figure great or not so great. But at the same time, they had the common sense to make sure that the right to have religion was protected for years after they would be long gone. I think that that idea of personal freedom on private matters and common sense in general are lost mediums in this election race, but it is high time that somebody brought them back.

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