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Separation of Church and State 101

Issues, People, and Arguments

What is the separation of church and state? What does it mean for religion, religious organizations and the
government? Does it really mean anything for people personally, or is it only a function of large groups?
What does it mean to be a separationist, accommodationist, or non-preferentialist?

What is the Separation of Church and State?


Misunderstood and Maligned
From Austin Cline

What is the separation of church and state? That is a very good question — the separation of church and
state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today’s political,
legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully
misinformed.

The separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is
probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon — their
reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key
constitutional principles in American history.

Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a
simplified phrase.

What is the separation of church and state? That is a very good question — the separation of church and
state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today’s political,
legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully
misinformed.

The separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is
probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon — their
reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key
constitutional principles in American history.

Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a
simplified phrase.

There is, after all, no single “church.” There are many religious organizations in the United States taking
different names — church, synagogue, temple, Kingdom Hall and more. There are also many corporate
bodies that do not adopt such religious titles but which are nevertheless controlled by religious organizations
— for example, Catholic hospitals.

Also, there is no single “state.” Instead, there are multiple levels of government at the federal, state, regional
and local level. There is also a great variety of government organizations — commissions, departments,
agencies and more. These can all have different levels of involvement and different relationships with the
aforementioned religious organizations.

This is important because it underscores the fact that, in the “separation of church and state,” we cannot be
talking about a single, literal church and a single, literal state. Those terms are metaphors, meant to point to
something larger. The “church” should be construed as any organized religious body with its
doctrines/dogmas and “state” should be construed as any governmental body, any government-run
organization or any government-sponsored event.
Thus, a more accurate phrase than “separation of church and state” might be something like “separation of
organized religion and civil authority,” because religious and civil authorities are not and should not be
invested in the same people or organizations. In practice, this means that civil authority cannot dictate to or
control organized religious bodies. The state cannot tell religious bodies what to preach, how to preach or
when to preach. Civil authority must exercise a “hands off” approach, neither helping nor hindering religion.

Separation of church and state is a two-way street. It isn’t just about restricting what the government can do
with religion, but also what religious bodies can do with the government. Religious groups cannot dictate to
or control the government. They cannot cause the government to adopt their particular doctrines as policy
for everyone, they cannot cause the government to restrict other groups, etc.

The biggest threat to religious freedom is not the government — or at least, not the government acting
alone. We very rarely have a situation where secular government officials act to repress any particular
religion or religion in general. More common are private religious organizations acting through the
government by having their own doctrines and beliefs codified into law or policy.

Thus, the separation of church and state ensures that private citizens, when acting in the role of some
government official, cannot have any aspect of their private religious beliefs imposed upon others. School
teachers cannot promote their religion to other people’s children. Local officials cannot require certain
religious beliefs on the part of government employees. Government leaders cannot make members of other
religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular
religious beliefs.

This requires moral self-restraint on government officials, and even to a degree on private citizens — a self-
restraint which is necessary for a religiously pluralistic society to survive without descending into religious
civil war. It ensures that the government remains the government of all citizens, not the government of one
denomination or one religious tradition. It ensures that political divisions not be drawn along religious lines,
with Protestants battling Catholics or Christians battling Muslims for “their share” of the public purse.

The separation of church and state a key constitutional liberty which protects the American public from
tyranny. It protects all people from the religious tyranny of any one religious group or tradition and it protects
all people from a government intent on tyrannizing some or any religious groups.

[http://atheism.about.com/od/churchstate101/a/what.htm]

THE PLAYERS:

Separationists and the Separation of Church and State


Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline

As a general rule, separationists are those who support the separation between church and state. The level
of support will vary, however. The strictest of separationists advocate separation in every way and on every
level. They deny that the federal government has absolutely any power over religion whatsoever, and as a
consequence, they argue that the government should not have any involvement with religious organizations
whatsoever.

Other separationists do not go quite as far. Although they may also argue that the government should not
have any positive or negative power over religion, they do not conclude that the government also should
not have any power over religious organizations. On the contrary, they may argue that governmental
separation from religion requires some involvement with the regulation of religious groups — for example,
preventing fraud and ensuring that they follow civil laws.

Generally speaking, the separationist attitude is what dominated court rulings during the last half of the 20th
century.

Whatever the actual case in question, separationists interpret the First Amendment broadly, believing that it
prevents the government from having any authority to either help or hinder religion in any manner — this
includes not just specific religious groups and denominations, but also religion generally. That is a key issue
which distinguishes separationists from other people in the debate over the separation of church and state.

Separationists, then, will oppose any attempt by the government to provide funds or aid to religious groups
or schools “without preference” — that is to say, to all groups equally, which favors religion over irreligion.
Some specific cases which separationists oppose:

Government funding for religious schools


Government organizations encouraging, discouraging or organizing prayers
of any sort in places like schools or town council meetings
Government funding for religious displays (creche, menorah, Ten Commandments)
Government preference for specific religious holidays

Separationists are frequently accused of religious bigotry or, at the very least, of advocating hostility toward
religion. This charge is based upon the premise that a lack of government endorsement of religion generally
or of religious groups specifically creates a “hostile atmosphere.” This hostility, in turn, is itself a violation of
the separation of church and state. The paradoxical conclusion is that true separation can only be achieved
once strict separation is abandoned and government support of religion is permitted.

It is also commonly assumed that separationists are all secularists and non-religious people, opposed to
Christians on the other side of the debate over the separation of church and state. This is not actually true —
there are many Christians who support separation (even the strictest form of separation) and there are non-
Christians who are opposed to separation in various ways.

Nonpreferentialists and the Separation of Church and State


Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline

In the debate about the separation of church and state, the perspective known as nonpreferentialism is best
understood as a subset of accomodationism. Like accommodationists, the non-preferentialists also oppose
the recent legal trend which has emphasized stricter separation, and advocate instead a closer relationship
between religious groups and the government.

Where nonpreferentialists differ from accommodationists, however, is that nonpreferentialists oppose any
government “accommodation” which might tend to favor one religion or religious group over any other. They
believe that the Constitution permits the government to support religion generally over non-religion and to
encourage religion over non-religion, but not in a manner which would be discriminatory.

Thus, nonpreferentialists support government encouragement of prayers in public schools, but not if the
prayers are sectarian in any manner.

The government can only encourage prayers in principle, not in detail. Non-preferentialism also encourages
government funding for religious schools — but only if all religious schools are supported equally.
Nonpreferentialists also support the use of the phrase “In God We Trust” as the national motto and “under
God” in the Pledge of Allegiance because, according to them, these are such general expressions that they
exclude no religion.
In this manner, nonpreferentialists agree with the argument made by separationists that the government
must be “neutral” with regards to religion — but they modify it by saying that it means that the government
must aid religion neutrally and can be partisan when it comes to the difference between religion and
irreligion. In practice, this means a “benevolent” neutrality which involves supporting religion whenever
religious groups request.

Nonpreferentialism has gained ground in legal circles over the last twenty years and it has been endorsed
by a number of judges across the country, including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William
Rehnquist. In his dissenting opinion in the 1985 school prayer case Wallace v. Jaffree, he wrote that
“Nothing in the Establishment Clause requires government to be strictly neutral between religion and
irreligion.”

Not all judges, however, have been swayed by the non-preferentialist position. In the Lee v. Weisman
decision of 1991, Justice Souter wrote:

In many contexts, including this one, nonpreferentialism requires some distinction between
sectarian religious practices and those that would be, by some measure, ecumenical enough to
pass Establishment Clause muster. Simply by requiring the enquiry, nonpreferentialists invite the
courts to engage in comparative theology. I can hardly imagine a subject less amenable to the
competence of the federal judiciary, or more deliberately to be avoided where possible.

Souter's comments here fit in with the idea that separating church and state means, at its heart, separating
religious from secular authority. Government bureaucrats, elected politicians, and judges simply don't have
the authority to intrude on religious matters — in part because being part of the government does not confer
competency on religion, theology, etc.

Accommodationists and Separation of Church and State


Who Are They? What Do They Believe?
From Austin Cline

The accommodationist approach to the separation of church and state opposes the separationist approach
which has been dominant in the courts. According to accommodationists, the First Amendment should be
read much more narrowly than it has been in recent years. Some go so far as to argue that the First
Amendment prohibits the government from doing nothing other than creating a National Church —
everything else is permitted.

Such accommodationists will also tend to argue that, when it comes to religious matters (just as with other
issues), “majority rule” should be the guiding principle. Thus, if the majority in a local community wants to
have particular sectarian prayers in schools or during town council meetings, then that should be permitted.

Most accommodationists, however, do not go quite so far.

As the name implies, the main principle upon which accommodationists base their position is the idea that
the government should “accommodate” religious needs and the desires of religious institutions whenever
possible. When it comes to the separation of church and state, there should not be quite so much separation
and a bit more interaction.

Generally speaking, accommodationists favor:

Government funding for religious schools


Government organized and encouraged prayers (even sectarian) in public schools
Government funded religious displays (Ten Commandments, creches)
Government preference for particular religious holidays
Accomodationism was more common in the United States before the Civil War. During that time, there was
much less separation of church and state because government at all levels took an active role in supporting,
or at least endorsing, religion — specifically, Protestant Christianity. Such support was assumed as a given
and was rarely, if ever, questioned by religious minorities.

This began to change after the Civil War, when many groups tried to make the government endorsement of
Protestant Christianity more explicit and extensive. This galvanized religious minorities, in particular Jews
and Catholics, to become more assertive in their demand for religious equality.

Around the end of the 19th century, the public assumption of the validity of accomodationism began to erode
as Jewish leaders advocated an end to Bible readings in public schools, the elimination of Sunday closing
laws, and the repeal of laws designed to enforce Christian morality.

Theocrats and the Separation of Church and State


Who Are the Theocrats? What Do They Want?
From Austin Cline

The most extreme position opposed to separationism in all of its forms is held by those who can be called
“theocrats,” these are people who wish to create a theocratic government in the United States. To state it
plainly, the theocrats consider even the most conservative Christians in the Religious Right to not be “godly”
enough. Sometimes arguing that a theocracy was intended for the United States from the very beginning,
theocrats believe that any sort of compromise would be invalid.

The theocracy they want would, of course, be entirely Christian in nature. Theocrats oppose the “neutrality”
among various religious groups which is advocated by non-preferentialists, and they even oppose the more
extreme views held by some “accommodationists” which would allow for local communities to impose some
particular religion on minorities (because in some communities, the majority might be non-Christian).

Despite their extremism, however, theocrats have a lot of support from the rest of the Religious Right for
many of their basic principles.

For example, their arguments that the United States is a “Christian Nation” is echoed by many who would
not otherwise admit to wanting to replace American democracy with a more repressive system.

One way of understanding this phenomenon is to consider the label “Christian Nationalism” (also sometimes
referred to as "Christianism," an analogue to the label "Islamism"). For Christian Nationalists, America is
God’s chosen country which he has blessed beyond all others for our faith and belief in him. American
leaders are directly empowered by God to do his work here on earth. Anyone who opposes the work of
American leaders must, therefore, also be opposing the will of God. This makes them simultaneously
blasphemers and traitors.

As should be evident, such an ideology conflates America and Christianity to a great extent — a Christian
Nationalist is quite unable to differentiate between American Patriotism and Chrisitan Dogma. They portray
America as ever being under attack by enemies — whether enemies of the body politic or enemies of God
(rhetoric usually starts out by describing someone as belonging to one of those two categories, but by the
end they become a member of the other as well).

Christian Nationalism owes a great deal to Christian Reconstructionism — and, in fact, can probably be
regarded as a form of Reconstructionism. They share with Reconstructionists the idea that American laws
should be modeled on biblical laws. The primary difference seems to be that whereas Reconstructionists
emphasize in their writings the Bible and biblical laws, Christian Nationalists give equal weight to American
patriotism and the Bible. Reconstructionists might actually argue that the Christian Nationalists are making
idols out patriotic symbols like the American flag, but in the end the goals of both groups are largely [??]
Corporations, Churches, and Free Speech
Understanding the Role of Individuals
From Austin Cline

Should corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, or is their status a “fictional” people
such that they can be more tightly regulated? A recent Supreme Court decision suggests that the stanards
should and will be different — but what are the implications for churches and other religious groups?

California Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in her decision in the case:

When a corporation, to maintain and increase its sales and profits, makes public statements
defending labor practices and working conditions at factories where its products are made, those
public statements are commercial speech that may be regulated to prevent consumer deception.

Corporations are not human beings — they are fictional persons, creations of the law for legal and pragmatic
purposes.

The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of the California court’s decision, finding that First Amendment
protections for free speech do not apply to corporations like Nike in the same way that they apply to real
human beings. A corporate executive can certainly say whatever she likes when acting as an individual, but
when conducting the business of her company and acting as an instrument for company policy, different
standards apply.

To a large extent, that seems to be a very reasonable position. Commerical speech does appear to be
different from other speech and if such a distinction is valid, the only way to maintain it is to make a
distinction between those engaging in the speech: private individuals or for-profit businesses seeking
commerce.

But what about organizations which aren’t for-profit businesses seeking commerce? Take for example the
Roman Catholic Church: does a sermon made by a priest qualify as individual speech covered by the First
Amendment, or is it commercial speech that can be more tightly regulated? As another example, consider
an official statement issued by a bishop — which category does that fall into?

Most people, I think, would be inclined to categorize such acts as free speech that is protected by the First
Amendment, but what makes them different from a press release issued by an executive of Nike or Coca
Cola? Well, the former do invovle a religious organization and religion does receive special protection by the
First Amendment, so perhaps we should consider a different example.

What about a non-religious non-profit corporation, like the United Way or the Boy Scouts? If they issue a
press release about their organizational policies, is that free speech which is protected by the First
Amendment? Once again, this sounds perfectly reasonable — and even if the press release is less than
truthful and contains little more than propaganda, it would still be protected. But why?

It seems that the issue here is the expression of a “point of view” — an opinion which may or may not be
true, but which we certainly believe. When we express an opinion in an effort to get someone to buy a car,
we are doing something slightly different from when we express an opinion in an effort to get someone to
“buy” our ideas on religion or politics.

This is a very subtle distinction, however, and it may not always be easy to maintain in practice. After all,
religious organizations and non-religious non-profit groups do solicit money, either as donations or in
exchange for goods and services. Why should they get privileges unavailable to Coca Cola or General
Motors?

Nike’s statements may or may not have been truthful; they may or may not have been propaganda. Why is
“commercial propaganda” held to different standards than “religious propaganda” or “political propaganda”?
Granted, commercial propaganda is designed to help a corporation sell products and secure a profit, but is
lying in pursuit of that worse than lying in pursuit of political office? Corporations that lie are fined and sued;
politicians who lie simply put a spin on things and end up getting elected.

Perhaps we are looking at his incorrectly. If we find that this inconsistency is unacceptable, perhaps the
solution is not to grant commercial speech the same protections as other forms of speech; maybe it would
be better to hold the other forms of speech to the same standards as commercial speech?

This is ethically dubious because it would surely weaken important free speech principles. It is pragmatically
problematic because with commercial speech it is often possible to identify clear damages from fraud which
would not be easy to find when it comes to religious or political speech.

Different standards is probably the best way to go, even if justifying them is difficult. We should understand
at least why it would be too problematic to hold all of them to the exact same standards and what the
implications are for each. Sometimes, sound ethical reasoning requires not being shackled to consistency
above all else — while it is an important principle, it can’t necessarily be the one that overrides all others.

PRIMARY AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS:

James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance


Index of Documents

There is a lot of disagreement and debate in America over the meaning and value of the separation of
church and state. Some hold it to be inviolate while others deny that it does or should exist. In the arguments
over Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation," however, the concerns of James Madison, who wrote the
First Amendment, tend to be lost.

Presented here, along with some introductory background material, is Madison's Memorial and
Remonstrance - his most decisive and important explanation of his feelings on religious freedom. His
Remonstrance is particularly relevant in today's generally pro-voucher climate, because it was aimed
precisely at the collecting of taxes for the purposes of underwriting teachers of "Christian education."
Madison, as shall be seen, was against even one cent being collected for such purposes.

Memorial and Remonstrance: Background


James Madison believed firmly that, under the Constitution, 'there is not a shadow of right in the general
government to intermeddle with religion' and that 'this subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and
unshackled. The Government has no jurisdiction over it. . . .' This is the most concise and the most articulate
statement of the views of the First Amendment's author concerning what is 'an establishment of religion.'
Here most of all we can see that he had in mind much more than simply creating national churches,
something which some ideologies of the Religious Right would have us believe.

James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance


Background and Introduction

There is a lot of disagreement and debate in America over the meaning and value of the separation of
church and state. Some hold it to be inviolate while others deny that it does or should exist. In the arguments
over Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation," however, the concerns of James Madison, who wrote the
First Amendment, tend to be lost.

Presented here, along with some introductory background material, is Madison's Memorial and
Remonstrance - his most decisive and important explanation of his feelings on religious freedom. His
Remonstrance is particularly relevant in today's generally pro-voucher climate, because it was aimed
precisely at the collecting of taxes for the purposes of underwriting teachers of "Christian education."
Madison, as shall be seen, was against even one cent being collected for such purposes.

James Madison was born March 16, 1751, the first of ten children born to a slave-owning family in Orange
County, Virginia. In a remarkable coincidence, Montpelier - the family estate on which he was raised - was
only about 30 miles (a day's travel at the time) from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate. Zachary Taylor,
Madison's much younger second cousin, was also born in Orange County, but his family moved west while
he was still an infant. Taylor later became a hero of the War with Mexico and the twelfth President of the
United States.

James Madison had a long history of working for religious freedom and tolerance. Along with George
Mason, he wrote the religious clause in Virginia's Declaration of Rights of 1776.

These two changed it from a mere statement of the principle of tolerance to the first official legislative
pronouncement that freedom of conscience and religion are inherent rights of the individual. At this same
time he also worked to have the Declaration of Independence condemn the existing Virginia establishment
alongside the other injustices which the colonies suffered, but the forces supporting religious establishment
were too powerful.

Later, as a member of the General Assembly in 1779, he labored to push through Jefferson's historic Bill for
Establishing Religious Freedom; and after Jefferson left for diplomatic duties in Europe in 1784, Madison
became the bill's prime sponsor. Enactment failed every year it was introduced, from June 1779 until it was
finally adopted in January, 1786. During this time his efforts to secure religious freedom continued in other
ways, one of the most prominent being his battles with Patrick Henry.

The climax of these efforts in general and the differences between Madison and Henry in particular came in
the struggle of 1784-1785 over the Assessment Bill. This bill of Henry's was nothing more nor less than a tax
for the support of religion.

At first, it singled out a particular sect for preference and so incurred both hostility and opposition from
various religious groups; later it was broadened to include all Christian sects, with the result that some
ended their opposition - at least temporarily. In its final form, the bill allowed each taxpayer to designate
which church should receive his share of the tax. In the absence of such a choice, the legislature was
authorized to apply it "pious uses."

Henry's speeches supporting this bill have been lost, but Madison's notes from legislative sessions give
evidence as to what he must have said. Henry apparently felt that the measure was necessary to forestall an
alleged decay of civility, morality and piety in the state, and he described a bleak future if the measure failed.
It is surely no coincidence that these are the same reasons used today by people seeking government
support for religious organizations.

Madison never wavered in his opposition to this measure, fighting against it both when it was aimed at
helping just one sect as well as when it was aimed at helping all. Because support for the bill was very
strong, Madison and his followers moved to have a vote deferred; and before the Assembly reconvened, he
had written and distributed his historic Memorial and Remonstrance . First, however, he managed to have
Henry elected governor, where he could no longer work in support of his bill.

This is Madison's most exhaustive explanation of what he considered religious liberty to be. It is a general
attack upon all forms of 'establishment' of religion - not just those which are selective, but also those which
are general and 'nondiscriminatory.'

This is also the most concise and the most articulate statement of the views of the First Amendment's author
concerning what is 'an establishment of religion.' Here most of all we can see that he had in mind much
more than simply creating national churches, something which some ideologies of the Religious Right would
have us believe.
Helping to create a storm of popular protest, the Remonstrance played a key role in killing the Assessment
Bill . Support for the bill varied among different religious groups. Quakers and Mennonites were immediately
skeptical, which is not surprising since Virginia had recently considered a special tax on them because they
were exempt from serving in the militia.

Presbyterian ministers and leaders initially supported the bill, but the laity came out strongly against it,
especially after the publication of the Remonstrance. Baptists came out immediately against the bill, stating
clearly their support for a full separation of church and state.

Of course, Madison's was not the only effort to kill the bill: there was also a popular uprising against it, with
numerous petitions and over 10,000 signatures submitted to the legislature before the vote. Some were
based on religious principles while others were explicit in their secularism, even going so far as to reject the
idea that religion is at all necessary for public morality.

With the defeat of the measure, the way was cleared for the passage of Jefferson's Bill for Establishing
Religious Freedom. Madison promptly drove it through in January of 1786, seven years after it was first
introduced. This dual victory substantially ended the fight over establishments, settling the issue against
them. It was in the very next year that Madison became a member of the Constitutional Convention, working
to secure religious liberty for the entire nation.

Madison believed firmly that, under the Constitution, 'there is not a shadow of right in the general
government to intermeddle with religion' and that 'this subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and
unshackled. The Government has no jurisdiction over it. . . .' Despite this, he promised that he would work to
see a Bill of Rights added to the Constitution - one which would specifically guarantee religious freedom.
Virginia and other states ratified the Constitution partially on the strength of such promises.

It is worth noting that at no point is he more unrelenting than in his opposition to state support or aid to
religion by taxation. Not even 'three pence' contribution was thus to be exacted from any citizen for such a
purpose. Madison and his compatriots made no exceptions or abridgments to the complete separation they
created.

Their objection was not to small tithes (taxes to go to churches) - instead, it was to any tithes whatsoever:
"If it were lawful to impose a small tax for religion the admission would pave the way for oppressive levies."
Not the amount but 'the principle of assessment' itself was wrong. For Madison, his struggle was as much to
prevent 'the interference of law in religion' as to restrain religious intervention in political matters. He
recognized that these were two sides of the same coin.

Thus, it should be clear that the battles and debates over religious liberty in Virginia are vital to
understanding the nature of our tradition of religious freedom. Madison's life and ideas are a unifying force
through both, and it is through his words that we can learn more about what why religious liberty was
important at the time - and also why it is important today.

Even as early as 1878, in Reynolds v. Virginia, the Supreme Court had recognized the importance of this
piece to understanding the First Amendment. Numerous Court decisions have since cited it, used it, and
even quoted it in its entirety.

In this field the authors of our freedom would not tolerate 'the first experiment on our liberties' or 'wait till
usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents.' Why should
we?

For more information on James Madison's religious beliefs and struggle for religious liberties in the United
States, read James Madison on Religious Liberty, edited by Robert S. Alley. This is an extensive collection
of essays on many facets of Madison's ideas and political work.

Memorial and Remonstrance: Text


Full text of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, written in response to Patrick Henry's
Assessment Bill, a bill designed to collect taxes on behalf of Christian churches.
Assessment Bill: Text
Full text of Patrick Henry's Memorial and Remonstrance, designed to collect taxes on behalf of Christian
churches in order to forestall an alleged decay of civility, morality and piety in the state of Virginia.

Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom: Text


Full text of Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, enacted in Virginia largely due to the
efforts of James Madison in 1786 while Jefferson was attending to diplomatic duties in Europe.

THE ISSUES:

Secular vs Religious
Where Should the Line Be Drawn?
From Austin Cline

Where should we draw the line between “religious” and “secular?” How can a religious symbol or ritual
become secular? These might appear to be odd questions, but their importance is slowly and silently
growing. We cannot afford to ignore them — our answers will have a profound impact on the course of our
society and the nature of church/state separation in America.

There are at least three current issues, two of which are very new, that will test our society’s ability to
distinguish between what is religious and what is secular — and the dilemma facing us is at least as trying
for theists as it is for atheists.

The first involves the Ten Commandments — a set of ten laws allegedly given to Moses by Yahweh on
Mount Sinai and revered not simply as exceptional moral rules, but also as one of the most important
instances of direct communication from God to humanity by both Jews and Christians.

Are these Ten Commandments religious or secular in nature?

Traditionally, Christians and Jews have regarded them as self-evidently religious. They were supposedly
handed down by God. They are included in holy scriptures. They are treated as direct commands for human
actions. As God’s commands, they are beyond question or reproach. The first four involve the duties of
humans towards God, rather than towards each other. The very first declares that “Thou shalt have no other
gods before Me.”

Does any of this sound secular? Well, to some people, it apparently does. There are numerous efforts
around the country by active members of the religious right to have our government display those Ten
Commandments officially in government buildings and on government property. One of the most immediate
is taking place in Haywood County, North Carolina where those commandments are carved into the wall of
one courtroom of their courthouse.

Our courts haven’t always been sympathetic to this misguided effort, but some certainly have — especially
when it comes to the argument that those commandments could represent “secular” ideas. Evidently, some
believe that they can be used as part of a “secular” display representing the development of legal codes in
Western Civilization.

Granted that the Ten Commandments played a role in said development, should we then immediately
disregard the fact that they also currently play an active role in the religiosity of a significant percentage of
American citizens? Isn’t it worth considering that these efforts don’t really have anything to do with erecting
genuinely secular displays about “legal history” for the edification of students or the public? Isn’t worth
considering the possibility that all of this is a ruse to insert a particular religious ideology into our
government, such that our government effectively endorses the religion of a particular segment of society?
So what do we do? A very good question — but I view any such efforts coming from
conservative/evangelical/fundamentalist circles with a great deal of suspicion. Justified suspicion, I think.
Such people have rarely displayed an interest in the secular education of American citizens, preferring
instead to focus on their religious indoctrination.

Can those commandments be considered secular in any sense of the word? I really doubt it. I am thinking of
the first four, and in particular the very first commandment — there is nothing secular about them. In the
case of the Haywood County courthouse, Haywood County brought in an expert who has testified that, since
the wording of the commandments does not exactly match what is found in the Bible, then they are not the
commandment of “any known religion.”

According to this expert, Dr. Walter Harrelson (former dean of divinity at the University of Chicago and
Vanderbilt), since they are a “popular rendition,” then they have already been “secularized” and
“Americanized.” Even the very first commandment, which “might at first blush” seem to be religious in
nature, really only means “Do not have more than a single ultimate allegiance.”

I don’t buy any of that. It’s little more than a lame, transparent rationalization for pushing Judeo-Christian
rules in a government building. American citizens will not view their display on a court house wall as a
“secular” representation of the history of Western legal codes or as an “Americanized,” nonreligious moral
framework for a secular society.

The commandments will properly be viewed as the display of the religious code of one part of the American
public — and Americans who do not follow that religious code will justifiably feel excluded. Should our
government realistically tell citizens that they have second-class status because they do not obey an
officially endorsed religious code?

Secular vs Religious
Secularizing Christmas: Where Should the Line Be Drawn?
From Austin Cline

One interesting issue in the debate over where the line between the secular and the religious involves the
Christmas holiday. Many Americans look forward to getting a day off on December 25, a day which has
traditionally (and almost certainly erroneously) been celebrated as the birth day of Christ. What’s wrong with
that? Nothing, really — except possibly the fact that it is a holiday which is legally recognized/mandated by
our government.

It appears as though our government is officially endorsing a holy day of one particular religion and that
would be unacceptable. Privileging one religion cannot survive even superficial scrutiny under the principle
of church/state separation. There is one recourse for those who wish to maintain the status quo: declare
Christmas to be a secular holiday.

If Christmas is a religious rather than a secular holiday, our government should treat it like holidays in every
other religion.

Christians may not like the idea of not automatically having Christmas off from work, being faced with the
prospect of actually having to use one of their own vacation or personal days in order to be home with their
families, but that this is exactly the situation which has always faced the members of other religions.

The state has traditionally privileged Christians at the expense of other religions — and since that has
persisted for so long, many Christians now expect it as their right. A similar situation has existed with other
cases of Christianity losing its special, officially sanctioned status: school prayer, bible reading in school, etc.

What if our courts declare Christmas to be a secular and not religious holiday? If Christmas is declared a
secular holiday, to whom will that be binding? To society? the courts? Christians? I have seen signs at
Christmas declaring “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” — these people won’t agree that Christmas is
secular, and if they don’t, why should anyone else? Why not let them have it as their holiday? Why should
the rest of society co-opt it and decide that it is no longer religious?

Reality isn't quite so simple, though. Christmas has been celebrated for so long and in such an official
capacity in America that it is now common for non-Christians to celebrate it. Thus, we have to admit that
Christmas has secular significance alongside its religious significance. If it can be treated as both secular
and religious, can our court system arbitrarily declare that it is secular, thus effectively excluding those who
think it is religious? Evangelical Christians have complained — usually without justification — that our
secular society has become anti-Christian. In this instance, if Christmas were declared to be “secular,” they
might actually have a point.

Christmas as a secular holiday would put one more nail in the coffin of the pretentious and presumptuous
assertion that America is a Christian nation, based upon Christian values and celebrating a Christian life.
Most have begun to realize that this is the case, but many refuse to face facts and hope instead to keep
America in a perpetual state of 1950s idealism.

If Christmas is declared a religious holiday, then fundamentalists lose because their holiday will be treated
just like any other religious holiday. If Christmas is declared a secular holiday, then fundamentalists lose
again because our courts will grant recognition to the fact that American society has moved beyond our
history of Protestant Christian domination to a more multicultural and multireligious society where holidays
which are celebrated on a national level are secular in nature.

A final, but not minor, example of this trend may be the progenitor of it all: religious displays on government
property during the Christmas holidays. Such displays have been common in American history, but only
because America has traditionally been dominated by American Protestants who would never have
challenged government support of their religious beliefs.

There have been increasing efforts to justify religious symbols by including them with secular symbols —
thus “secularizing” the entire display. But does anyone really buy that? Does anyone believe that a crèche,
depicting the manger setting with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, suddenly becomes “secular” because a
statue of Frosty the Snowman stands nearby? Many Christians find that idea ludicrous, but it is part and
parcel of the increasing effort to justify religious expression as “actually” being secular in nature.

Are they so desperate to have the government support their religion they are willing to castrate their beliefs,
eliminating their religious essence? Instead, they should stand up and proudly declare that their symbols are
profoundly religious. They should also stand up and accept the consequences of the religious nature of their
symbols: that the government of everyone cannot provide support or privilege to the religion or religious
symbols of some.

Public Truths vs. Private Truths


The Politics of Public Religion
From Austin Cline

To what extent is it legitimate to use religion as a basis for political decisions on public policy? Many people
believe that such a use of religion ultimately results in violations of the separation of church state, and thus
other people’s religious liberty. Many religious believers, however, argue that it is wrong to exclude religion
from public debates and that such a policy effectively constitutes discrimination against religion and religious
believers. Who is right?

In a way, both perspectives are “right” — it would be a mistake to assume that only one is valid and that the
other must be wrong. Nevertheless, it must also be pointed out that former position is ultimately stronger. So
long as it is not taken too far, it is the position which must serve as guiding principle.

There are a number of reasons why this is so, but perhaps the most fundamental and important is the fact
that there is no one single religious perspective on the world or on questions of public policy.
No matter what issue you might consider, even the existence of gods, there are a variety of religious
positions on it.

What this means, then, is that it simply isn’t possible for the government to “take the religious perspective”
into consideration — there is no one “religious perspective.” The government also can’t take every religious
perspective into consideration because there are simply too many for that.

For the government to adopt any particular religious position as a basis for laws or policies, though, would
mean treating the religious beliefs in question as true — or at least as more true than the religious beliefs
that have been excluded. All other religious beliefs that have something to say on the matter are treated as if
they were false, or at the very least as worthy of less consideration. This is a genuine example of religious
discrimination which cannot be tolerated in a democratic, tolerant society.

To understand how this might be so, we can look at any number of examples from the headlines today:
capital punishment, abortion, cloning, war, etc. What is the “religious position” on such issues? There are
some especially vocal religious perspectives involved, but in no case is there a single religious perspective
that we can consult. If those vocal religious views obtain a prominent role in the shaping of public policy
when it comes to something as contentious as abortion, other religious views must be ignored — and that
isn’t fair.

But why isn’t this the case any time the government adopts one basis for laws rather than other? The
difference is that religion is based on what might be called “private truths” — ideas, beliefs, and “truths” that
rely upon divine revelation. Such “truths” are a personal, private conviction which cannot claimed as creating
obligations for others.

Non-religious arguments, however, can be based upon what might be called “public truths” — ideas, beliefs,
and “truths” that rely upon public arguments and publicly accessible perspectives available to everyone,
regardless of their religion. When public policy is based upon such public truths, then everyone is a part of
the debate; but when private truths are used, then a great many people who do not recognize that particular
divine revelation are automatically excluded.

Richard John Neuhaus on Public vs. Private Truths


Richard John Neuhaus, a conservative Christian, explained the nature of public and private truths when he
wrote:

The religious new right . . . wants to enter the political arena making claims on the basis of private
truths. The integrity of politics itself requires that such a proposal be resisted. Public decisions must
be made by arguments that are public in character. ... Fundamentalist morality, which is derived
from beliefs that cannot be submitted to examination by public reason, is essentially a private
morality. If enough people who share that morality are mobilized, it can score victories in the public
arena. But every such victory is a setback in the search for a public ethic. ... A public argument is
transubjective. It is not derived from sources of revelation or dispositions that are essentially private
and arbitrary.

An example of a private truth would be the idea that murder is wrong because God commands it.

This may be a true statement — but it has no normative force in terms of public policy because even those
who believe it cannot reasonably expect the public assent of their fellow citizens who have not experienced
this revelation, who do not share a religion which teaches it, and who are unwilling or unable to accept such
religious teachings on faith.

An example of a public truth would be the idea that murder is wrong because it causes suffering in other
human beings. Even if such an argument were wrong, it would be “public” because no one has to
experience a personal revelation from a god in order to understand or believe it. It is “publicly accessible” in
that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, the terms, inferences, and conclusions can be comprehended,
critiqued, and accepted by anyone at all.
Of particular importance is the fact that the idea that murder causes suffering can actually be demonstrated
(or, at least in theory, refuted) empirically. This is a major difference from either the existence of a god or the
idea that a god actually wants us to do anything.

Does this mean that people shouldn’t personally believe that murder is wrong because God commands it?
No, this isn’t an argument about what individuals should themselves believe. Rather, this is an argument
about what grounds may be legitimately used to coerce other citizens to avoid certain behaviors and engage
in other behaviors.

In a theocracy, it would be expected to base public policy and public laws on religious doctrines and divine
revelation — that is, after all, what makes a political system theocratic. If a theocracy is what someone
wants a nation to be, then they should by all means advocate that position openly and be forthright with their
goals.

In a liberal democracy, however, where freedom generally and freedom of conscience in particular are
valued, neither religious doctrines nor divine revelation are legitimate sources of public policy. It is, after all,
public policy that we are talking about — and in such a context, only public arguments are legitimate.

Whatever private reasons a person might have for following a certain course of action, they cannot expect
others to necessarily share those reasons unless they are publicly accessible. Most of the time, this means
that the arguments will be secular rather than religious — pure appeals to religious tradition or divine laws
must be rejected.

Sometimes religious arguments may be employed, but in such a case “religious” will be descriptive more of
the origin of the position rather than the structure of the argument itself. Thus, a person might believe for
religious reasons that every human being has an essential dignity and, from that, argue that abortion or
capital punishment is wrong.

Such an argument could be legitimate because it doesn’t necessarily matter (for the terms of public
discourse) why each human has an essential dignity or even why a particular person believes it — what
matter is how well the premise can be sustained and what conclusions might be derived from it outside of
purely private revelation. We might then be able to make a case for the idea that insofar as a religious
position can serve as a basis for public policy, that may only happen if the position does not require a
particular theological support structure.

Believers may not personally choose to disentangle their theological beliefs from their arguments — and
there is nothing wrong with that when it comes to what they believe privately. Yet if such disentanglement is
possible for the purpose of public policy debates, then their arguments may be legitimate.

Religion's Place in the Public Square


Does The Separation Of Church And State Violate Religious
Freedom?
From Austin Cline

Quite often, debates about the appropriate relationship between religion and government involved the
appropriate place of religion in the so-called “Public Square.” This public square might be meant literally, as
in a public location open to all citizens, or it might be meant metaphorically, referencing the public spaces,
events, and occasions where we all come together. Sadly, those who favor greater intermingling of religion
and government fail to understand the nature of the public square.

A good example can be found in a recent article by Alan Sears for the Baptist Press News:

America was founded on the pursuit of religious liberty, including the liberty to acknowledge God
and to pray in the public square. ... Those principles demand a place for religious expression in the
public square. Unfortunately, radical advocates have long been trying to rewrite the Constitution by
making the First Amendment say something it doesn’t.

What Sears fails to understand — or, worse, simply fails to mention — is that there is absolutely no effort to
prevent individuals from acknowledging God and praying in the public square, literally or metaphorically.
Anyone can walk into any public square or public area and start to pray (just don’t interefere with what
others are doing). Individual Americans have a great deal of freedom of religious expression in the public
square. There is nothing to lament.

What is restricted is the ability of the government to acknowledge God and to “pray” in the public square.
This is not an infringement of our First Amendment liberties because the First Amendment does not give the
government any freedoms — it gives us freedoms against government power. Indeed, the fact that the
government can’t pick some particular religion to express, some particlar god to acknowledge, or some
particular god to pray to is precisely why we have those religious freedoms. Does Sears not understand this,
or is he engaging in a snow job to confuse his readers?

A free and just society recognizes that freedom of speech and religion applies to public religious
expression as well as to private.

Either Sears is deliberately being ambiguous about the public/private distinction, or he just doesn’t
understand what he is talking about. One public/private distinction is between what we as individuals do in
the privacy of our own homes, away from the view of others, and what we do out in plain view of everyone. It
is true that free and just society must protect free expression in both cases.

There is, however, another public/private distinction — the one that is really at issue: private, as in what
individuals do (whether in their homes or in the street) and public, as in what the government does (public
funds, public housing, etc.). A free society must protect the religious expression of the former (individual
citizens) but not the latter. The government has no “right to free speech”.

Which does Sears mean? Does he even know? Or is he being deliberately ambiguous, making it look like he
is saying the former (which everyone will agree to) when he really means the latter (which is actually the
point being debated when it comes to things like government-funded displays of the Ten Commandments)? I
think that as the president of an organization that is supposed to be dedicated to relgious liberty, he has a
responsibility to his readers to be clear about such things, don’t you?

The First Amendment plainly forbids the creation of a national denomination, because that would
be an “establishment of religion.” It says nothing about the so-called “separation of church and
state.”

This is a tired old argument often used by those who think that religious liberty in America only applies to
Christians and, therefore, governmental promotion of “generic, ecumenical Christianity” (whatever that is) is
entirely appropriate so long as no single Christian denomination is singled out for special treatment. True,
the Constitution doesn’t mention the “separation of church and state,” but it also doesn’t mention a “right to a
fair trial” either. Those principles are interpreted from the words that are there.

Why? Because the rights that are granted don’t make sense otherwise. A right to a speedy trial and a jury of
one’s peers would be meaningless if the government could make it unfair in some other way. A right to
“freedom of religion” would be meaningless for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims if the government legislated
doctrines and principles of some “generic Christianity.” The separation of church and state preserves the
independence of religion from government control and the government from religious control — something
which serves the interests of both.

Naked Public Square


Does The Separation Of Church And State Violate Religious
Freedom?
From Austin Cline

One common complaint raised about the way strict separationists read the First Amendment is that it leaves
the public square “naked,” by which it is meant that the public square is now “bare” of religious speech. This,
in turn, is believed to foster and encourage public hostility towards religion, something which is actually
forbidden by the First Amendment. This view has been widely popularized by Richard John Neuhaus, a
Catholic priest and regular critic of the separation of church and state.

The problem is that this complaint is based upon false premises. The fact of the matter is, religious speech
has not been excluded from the American public square; quite the contrary, religious speech is very
common and very public throughout the country. Religious groups enjoy the exact same freedom (no less,
but sometimes more) as every other organization when it comes explaining and promoting their perspectives
to the public.

Religious groups also exert a great deal of influence at all levels of American government and society.

The real problem is that traditionally, Christians and Christian groups occupied a position of privilege which
was not accorded to any other religious tradition in America. Today, however, more and more of that
privilege is being lost, and even if they are not able to consciously articulate it, many Christians are acutely
aware of that loss and aren’t happy about it. Unfortunately for them, there also isn’t anything which they can
do about it, at least so long as they remain committed a free nation.

Attorney Ronald A. Lindsay put it thus:

What is going on here is whining: whining by individuals and groups who have been deprived of the
truly privileged position they once enjoyed. For most of this country’s history, theism, in particular
Christianity, has enjoyed favor. Those who are thirty-five years or older (somewhat younger if one
grew up in the South) will have no trouble remembering the evidence of this privileged position.
Organized prayers were a matter of routine in public schools. ...Textbooks extolled the virtues of
religion. The symbols of ...Christmas and Easter were displayed on public property at public
expense.
The courts have put an end to some, but certainly not all, of this collaboration between church and
state. In doing so, the courts have upset many who assumed that this was the proper way of doing
things, the American way of doing things, and who did not see anything coercive, let alone
unconstitutional, about such practices. Not unnaturally, they have interpreted the courts’ actions as
an attack on religion, when in reality they were simply an attempt to put an end to the privileged
position that religion enjoyed.

The loss of this privilege for Christianity is not unlike the trauma experienced by Americans when whites lost
their privileged status — but it is a necessary trauma if society is going to grow, mature, and become truer to
the principles upon which it was founded. Many Christians are aware of this and are quite willing to work
with other religious traditions in order to help create a more positive society, but quite a few continue to
object and agitate for a return to the time when they had a higher status, when others were expected to
accommodate Christian desires.

Unfortunately, they fail to see the great values which lies in having a “naked public square” — at least, when
“naked” refers to a lack of government sponsored displays supporting religion and religious beliefs. Many
believers see religion as something which unites, but at best it only unites people with the same beliefs —
and the more people examine their beliefs, the more they find to disagree about. In the end, religion does
quite a lot to divide and separate people; this is a primary reason why religion was removed from the
authority of our government. So long as the government does not involve itself with religious matters, it is
harder for the public to become politically divided on religious questions. As conservative columnist Paul
Greenberg has written:

An empty public square is a useful thing. It allows us to stay apart together. Start filling it up with
granite monuments and counter-monuments, and our attentions are diverted, our loyalties split.
Our public spaces become like a Roman pantheon full of competing gods. And we turn on one
another, sneaking our favorite symbol into the forum under cover of night and daring them to
remove it. What ought to elevate and unite us divides us and reduces faith to a rhetorical contest.
Demeaning Religion
Which Demeans Religion: Strict Separation Of Church And State,
Or Accommodation?
From Austin Cline

One of the common arguments raised by those who object to the limitations placed upon how the
government accommodates religious beliefs is that such limitations are an expression of hostility. A good
example would be the case of Sechler v. State College Area School District, where David Warren Saxe
argued that a lack of explicitly and overtly Christian symbols and content at a "Winter Holiday" program
amounted to government hostility towards religion.

Normally, such arguments are aimed at secularists and nonbelievers, but this masks the fact that there is
another, equally important issue at hand: the search for secular justifications for religious displays leads to
the secularization of religious symbols and content. This, in turn, is seen as demeaning to religion, which is
at least as bad.

Curiously, by resorting to secular arguments, accommodations who are unhappy with a strict separation of
church and state are actually aiding the mass secularization of society.

Christmas has become secularized. Easter has become secularized. Good Friday is becoming secularized.
They argue that the Ten Commandments is sufficiently secular to withstand court challenges. Do they really
want nativity scenes to become secularized? What's next, a secular crucifix?

Could accommodationists really be so desperate to have the government acknowledge and support their
religious beliefs they are willing to castrate those beliefs, eliminating their fundamentally religious nature?
Wouldn't it make more sense for them to stand up proudly declare that their symbols are profoundly
religious? They should also stand up like adults and accept the consequences of the religious nature of their
symbols: that the government of everyone cannot provide support or privilege to the religion or religious
symbols of a few.

An interesting perspective was offered by the National Council of Churches following the Supreme Court's
decision in Lynch v. Donnelly. In this case, the Court ruled that a nativity scene with a creche was permitted
so long as it was accompanied by more secular symbols, like a plastic Santa Claus and reindeer (thus the
origin of the "plastic reindeer rule"). The NCC complained that this ruling put Christ "on the same level as
Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" — and they were right.

In the related case of County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties Union, an amicus brief from the
National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. argued that "government acceptance of a creche on
public property ...secularizes and degrades a sacred symbol of Christianity." People should heed these
words from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District:

It is not only the nonbeliever who fears the injection of sectarian doctrines and controversies into
the civil polity, but in as high degree it is the devout believer who fears the secularization of a creed
which becomes too deeply involved with and dependent upon the government. It has rightly been
said of the history of the Establishment Clause that "our tradition of civil liberty rests not only on the
secularism of a Thomas Jefferson but also on the fervent sectarianism ...of a Roger Williams.

The Christian Right often tries to portray legal conflicts over the separation of church and state to be a
conflict between atheists and religious believers, but that really isn't true. The fact of the matter is that these
legal battles are all-too-often conflicts between far-right Christians and coalitions of atheists, members of
other religions, and members of other Christian groups.

Baths for Baptisms: Bribing Soldiers in the Desert


From Austin Cline,Your Guide to Agnosticism / Atheism.

Army Chaplain Abuses Authority


As reported in the Miami Herald, an Army chaplain in Iraq has used a supply of clean water to bribe soldiers
into being baptized. Josh Llano of Houston, a self-described ''Southern Baptist evangelist,'' will allow soldiers
to use some of his 500-gallons of pristine water - but at a price. They must attend one of his hour-and-a-half
sermons in his dirt-floor tent and then receive a baptism which itself involves an hour of quoting from the
Bible.

Every day he seeks out potential converts: truck drivers, tank drivers, computer specialists, fighting soldiers
in combat zones, and combat support soldiers who keep soldiers supplied. According to Llano, ''You have to
be aggressive to help people find themselves in God." If portable showers are installed, he has a back-up
plan: ''There is no fruit out here, and I have a stash of raisins, juice boxes and fruit rolls to pull out."

Llano's goal, then, is to get as many soldiers converted, even if just superficially, to his brand of Southern
Baptist Protestantism. He'll offer them needed water, he'll offer them needed food, and he'll bribe them with
whatever else he thinks they might need badly enough to consider changing their religion. He's not seeking
to convince them with rational arguments about his religious beliefs and he's not trying to inspire in them a
change of heart when it comes to religious feelings. All he is doing, in reality, is paying people to listen to him
preach and to be baptized - except that he is paying with water instead of money.

The question all of this raises is: are the actions are Army chaplain Josh Llano wrong? This simple question
contains several more complicated questions: Are his actions an unethical abuse of authority and power?
Are his actions a violation of the separation of church and state? Finally, do his actions contradict the
principles of Christian ethics and Christian charity? I think that the answer to all three is a resounding "yes".

Bribing Soldiers for Baptisms is Unconstitutional


There are serious legal problems involved when a military chaplain forces soldiers to listen to sermons and
receive baptisms if they want to take a simple bath.

For one thing, if the water was provided by the military, and I can't imagine how Llano would have managed
to get it out there on his own, then it effectively belongs to the military. That means that one member of the
military is providing other members of the military with military provisions upon the condition of accepting his
religion and participating in his religious ceremonies.

That is both horribly unethical and obviously a violation of the separation of church and state. Imagine a
Muslim supply officer not allowing soldiers to receive spare ammunition unless they kneel down and pray
while facing Mecca. Imagine a Jewish cook refusing to feed Marines unless they prove that they are
circumcised - and recieve a circumcision if they haven't already.

Those situations are perhaps more obviously wrong because of the critical need for food and ammunition;
water for bathing obviously isn't deemed as critical by the military so it might not seem quite as wrong at
first. Nevertheless, it surely is also wrong when it comes to water simply because that water isn't private
property - it isn't like a solider selling spare cigarettes to other soldiers. The government cannot allow one of
its representatives condition receipt of government property upon profession of religious dogma and
participation in religious ceremonies.

Another legal issue involves the fact that Army chaplain Josh Llano doesn't appear to be doing his job. He is
there to provide spiritual and religious services for the soldiers in the area. Although there are arguments
against the existence of military chaplains generally, the counter-arguments presume a more limited role like
that just described. Essentially, chaplains are only there to aid soldiers because the government forces the
soldiers to be there - to not provide for their religious needs would effectively violate the separation of church
and state.
Such do not presume, however, that the military is paying the chaplains so that they can actively and
aggressively proselytize. Imagine if that were to become common: we'd have Catholic, Protestant, Muslim,
Jewish, and Wiccan chaplains all competing with each other over the souls and allegiance of American
soldiers and sailors. Even those chaplains not normally inclined to make new converts would be under
pressure to ensure that they wouldn't lose anyone to the underhanded evangelization efforts of the others.

Then other religions would exert even more pressure upon the government to pay for their own chaplains -
again, either because they see good prospects with a captive military audience, because they don't want to
lose members to the efforts of others, or a combination of both. The government, then, would be funding and
even encouraging increased tension among religious groups and taxpayers would be footing the bill.

Bribing Soldiers for Baptisms is Immoral & Unchristian


There are some basic moral and religious questions of whether religious leaders are doing something wrong
when they are bribing people by offering something they really need in exchange for a superficial
acceptance of the offered religious dogmas. On a purely ethical level, the chaplain is abusing his position,
abusing his resources, and taking advantage of those in need.

If Llano really thought that he was there to help the soldiers, then he wouldn't be so anxious to condition that
help on their agreeing with him and joining his religious perspective. That's not altruism, that's rank
selfishness. It may also be judged as 'selfish' to proselytize in this manner to soldiers who are under
tremendous psychological and emotional pressure due to the horrors of warfare. Someone there to
ostensibly help shouldn't be acting to increase the pressures they are experiencing.

There is also a serious conflict between Llano's actions and the the Christian principles one would normally
think he is there to represent and encourage. Supposedly, the Christian message is to help those in need,
not to use their needs as a means to enlist them in your particular religious group. One of the reasons why
the separation of church and state exists is because religion is so often abused in just this manner - and it
wouldn't be nearly such an egregious abuse if it weren't for the existence of a government context.

These soldiers are not receiving baptisms from Llano so much out a deep-felt need for spiritual sustenance
as they are out of a need to just get the dust off. In effect, then, they are false baptisms (except for those
who, presumably, do experience a change of heart during the process - perhaps there are a few, but it is
doubtful that this includes all) - the soldiers are lying to Llano and Llano is lying to himself about what he is
really accomplishing.

That is not the only reason that this is arguably a perversion of the rite of baptism for it to be used in this
manner, both by Llano and by those whom he has bribed. Theologically, baptism is meant to symbolize a
person's Union with Christ and reception of the Holy Spirit which links the recipient in a sacramental bond
with all other believers. That is why baptism must be undertaken by a person who is motivated by strong
faith and strong religious desire. These baptisms, however, are nothing more than the reception of a clean
bath by a person who has become very tried of the dirt.

I suspect that the chaplain imagines himself a model representative of what it means to be a Christian and a
religious leader. He probably even uses all of those faux-conversions in order to bolster that self-image. In
reality, however, he is a model representative of what is often wrong with religion and why religion and
government are better off the further they are separated.