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Freedom of Religion (Separation of Church and State?)

Posted by Chance on June 20, 2006

I found a good article at Probe Ministries by Kerby Anderson titled Wall of Separation. I have previously discussed another of Kerby Anderson’s articles titled “A Biblical View of Economics” in a previous post.

This article takes a good look at what Separation of Church and State really means, and it also examines the wording in Amendment 1, and how it came to be, which is

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The article mentions different ways of viewing the relationship between the church and the government: separation, sponsorship, and accommodationon. In Anderson’s view, separation actually means a government atmosphere hostile to religion, sponsorship means a government promoting a particular religion. Anderson sees a middle way, calleaccommodationon, which he explains.

Between these two views is accommodation. Proponents argue that government should not sponsor religion but neither should it be hostile to religion. Government can accommodate religious activities. Government should provide protection for the church and provide for the free expression of religion. But government should not favor a particular group or religion over another.

He gives some examples

Proponents would oppose direct governmental support of religious schools but would support education vouchers since the parents would be free to use the voucher at a public, private school, or Christian school. Proponents would oppose mandated school prayer but support programs that provide equal access to students. Equal access argues that if students are allowed to start a debate club or chess club on campus, they should also be allowed to start a Bible club.

I think this accommodationon view makes sense (but I could see variance of opinion on the voucher issue), and it seems to go along with the wording of the first amendment, in which government does not establish a religion, nor does it prohibit the free exercise.

Personally, I have never liked to use the wording “separation of church and state”, because it may not always have the same meaning, and may even have a contrary meaning to what the First Amendment states. When the phrase “separation of church and state” is used, I think it causes people to be overzealous in removing any possible religious activities or references from anything remotely connected to the government or state. For instance, a child drew a picture of Jesus on a poster for a class project that was related to saving the environment, and they didn’t want to display his poster (I tried finding a link that had the actual news story, but I was bombarded with editorial links, I usually like to link only to the facts in this case). Now, under the view “separation of church and state”, this could actually be acceptable. Remove any reference of religion or spiritually from the government funded and controlled classroom. However, looking at the wording of the First Amendment, the kid should have been able to display the poster, provided it did not violate any non-religious class policies (profanity, too big, sometimes these issues are involved as well, but not reported). The government, in this case, was prohibiting the free exercise of his religion. However, was the establishment clause being violated? From what I have heard regarding this story, no school employee pressured him to include Jesus in the poster.

I admit other issues are not so clear, such as some of the issues with the Ten Commandment monuments. Personally, I don’t have issues with these displays, because I don’t think it does enough to actually establish a religion, but is primarily a display of a historical artifact, but I understand the concerns that some people have. Not every issue is so clear. Fortunately, the state does not encompass more areas of our lives where these things come into conflict. But I think accommodationon is a good policy, in which government neither prohibits nor actively promotes religious practices. This seems to go along with the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment.

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