Monday, October 20, 2008

Separation of State from Church, Yes; Church from State, No.

The issue of the "separation of church and state" is back in the news. Especially, it seems, here in Dallas, where pastors of several denominations have promoted certain views from the pulpit, and have even endorsed candidates. This seems to happen every election, and it's getting annoying.

The "separation of church and state" does not mean that churches do not get to have an opinion about political issues. Quite the contrary. Insofar as the church covers the realm of ethics, and governments do things within that realm, churches have a right and obligation to make it clear what is right or wrong in the realm of governance. This so-called separation of church and state, then, does not cover churches being involved in informing their parishioners about how they should vote, whether that be in general terms, as the Bishops of Dallas and of Forth Worth have done, or to specifically endorse a candidate. The 501(c)(3) status of churches prohibits the latter, but it is still done anyway -- and to my mind, it points out a flaw in the nonprofit system that churches are prohibited from engaging in political endorsements. The state should not prohibit the expression of a pastor's opinions in any way, and 501(c)(3) status has been turned into a way to do that. A different category should be made for churches so that the pastors of churches can be allowed full religious and political expression without fear of the government. It is the lack of fear of government by the churches that the 1st Amendment s designed to address, so that the state cannot set up a state-recognized and -supported church, thus prohibiting other religious beliefs. The state is not to enter the realm of the church, according to the 1st Amendment, but that same Amendment does not in any way, shape, or form prohibit religious leaders from being involved in the political process, including explaining to their parishioners what the church supports ethically, meaning, politically. To deny that is to deny one's 1st Amendment freedom of speech, and to impose a lack of religion on all discussions regarding politics, which for most people means removing ethics from politics. Certainly many would like for that to happen, but when it does, we end up with brutal governments with no boundaries. This is certainly not what we want in and from government.
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