I was quite properly rapped last week by a dozen or more readers for observing that the separation of church and state is “embedded” in the United States Constitution. I now discover it was “read into” the Constitution by the Supreme Court in 1947, creating the mythology that the Constitution’s original framers put it there.
Well, they didn’t, and I am therefore guilty as charged. But where, I wondered, did I get the idea to begin with? I’m ashamed to admit that I picked it up from the Canadian news media.
Why I should have so gullibly believed their version of the American political scene, when I so readily doubt their version of the Canadian one, I cannot explain or defend.
However, this does provide me with an excuse to write again on what Thomas Jefferson (not the Constitution) called “the wall of separation” between church and state.
This concept sits well in the modern secularist mind, whether American or Canadian, because it enables the state to put controls on religion, and thereby evade one specific directive that is very much in the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
By conferring on the individual a civil right to behave in a manner offensive to religious people, then by using the public schools to ideologically indoctrinate children to “respect” and “accept” such conduct, then finally by branding as an act of “hatred” any criticism of it, the state can effectively “prohibit the free exercise of religion.”
This, in both Canada and the United States, it now fervently strives to do. Its endeavors have made great progress in Canada. Teachers have been fired for daring to criticize – not in school but in public debate – certain sexual practices not long ago regarded as criminal; books have been forced into school libraries over the objections of parents and school boards; Christian schools have been forbidden to prohibit activity they regard as perverted at school dances; newspapers have been prosecuted for running biblical verses denouncing certain sexual practices.
If such despotism does not constitute a prohibition of “the free exercise of religion,” it’s hard to imagine what would. It’s the courts that are doing all this. “Our courts,” as one retired judge told me the other day, “are absolutely out of control. They’re running wild.”
They assure us they’re doing all this to effect the “separation of church and state,” something for which no specific basis can be found in the Constitution of the United States, and even less in the constitutional foundation of Canada, which specifically mandates an educational partnership of the state and the Catholic Church.
This endeavor to erect a wall between religious and state authority is dangerous, foolish and will soon prove impossible. The central activity of the state is to pass laws. All laws, even the most unlikely ones, are rooted in some moral principle. The most obvious, of course, are the criminal laws. Every clause in every criminal code says in effect “Thou shalt do this” or “Thou shalt not do that.”
But civil laws rely on the same kind of moral authority. The graduated income tax seeks to express the principle that those who can afford to pay more should pay more, a moral assertion. The traffic laws seek to provide “fair access to” and “safe usage of” the public streets, but “fairness” is a moral matter, and safety can only be achieved by a code of rules the citizen is morally obligated to observe.
Now, the fundamental source of moral authority for nearly all people is ultimately a religious one. We believe we should behave fairly, honestly, truthfully because the Bible or the Church or the Quran or our pastor or priest tells us so. Therefore, our opinions as to what should and should not go into the law will be religiously grounded opinions, because that’s the only source of authority we have for them.
And when a judicial authority rules, as it did in British Columbia, that a school board broke the law by hearing the testimony of clergymen on the acceptability of certain books, then religion and its adherents are being forbidden to participate in the shaping of the law. Probably 90 percent of the country is being disfranchised.
As this becomes more and more evident, the courts will become less and less credible, a dangerous situation. That’s why the separation of church and state is a very bad idea.
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