Robert Meyer
November 5, 2015
Confusing theocracy with church/state separation
By Robert Meyer

Liberals and secularists frequently and haphazardly shoot from the hip, when they claim ad nauseam, that certain activities violate the "separation between church and state," as purportedly mandated by the First Amendment. Unfortunately, many conservatives and Christians aren't much more astute when their response is little more than that the words "separation of church and state" never appear in the Constitution.

If that's your tactic, then be prepared for a response, for example, which asserts that though the phrase "fair trial" never appears in the Bill of Rights, the concept is certainly enshrined in American jurisprudence. While the claim that such words never appear in the Constitution is technically correct, such a response avoids confronting and articulating what the argument is really about.

The real problem is that the historical meaning the of church/state separation concept has at best been misconstrued and, at worst it's meaning has been deliberately revised. The First Amendment creates a jurisdictional and function division between the institutions of church and state. It does not sequester religious belief from influencing public policy. Yet, the latter is the meaning assigned to the First amendment by contemporary militant secularists.

Before George Washington was elected president, he served as president of the committee at the Constitutional Convention, which framed the First Amendment. As such, Washington was well aware of the intent and meaning of the religious clauses contained in that Amendment. Years later, when he departed from office, he spoke to the nation giving his advice on a variety of important subjects in a lengthy treatise which was his Farewell Address. In one paragraph he addressed the relationship between government policy and religious precept.

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

People frequently confuse the idea of church/state separation with a "theocracy." While a theocracy technically means "Rule by God," the main feature of a theocracy is a nationally acknowledged and formal bilateral covenant with the Almighty. It may also include a ruling clerical hierarchy, whereby civil authorities are mere puppets of the ruling clerics. Though American heritage had some of its forefathers dedicating America as a "Shining city on the hill," it was never deemed such in its official founding. God said to Israel "I shall be their God and they shall be my people." Such was never said about the United States despite its robust biblical heritage.

As a consequence, The First Commandment which reads "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:2-3), is an obligation of the heart, but cannot be a civil, legal requirement under the American system of government as it was for ancient Israel.

Having said that, the separation of church and state concept as defined earlier in this piece, can function within a theocracy. Ancient Israel made a distinction between the domains of the King and the Priest, between the palace and the temple, between the Levites and the military officers, etc.

2Chronicals Chapter 26 in the Bible tells the record of King Uzziah being confronted by the priests when he burned incense in the temple. The King was punished by God for failing to desist from the practice that was reserved only for the priests. Here we see a clear functional and jurisdictional delineation between the institutions being enforced.

Post World War II jurisprudence, heavily influenced by militant secularists, has morphed the historical understanding of the religious clauses in the First Amendment, so that they have become antagonistic to public religious expression, rather than the vanguards of free exercise. One way this is done is by pulling the Establishment Clause out of balance with the Free Exercise clause. It should also be noted that the meaning has also been revised by emphasizing "Legal positivist" theory rather than "Natural Law" theory as primary grounding for constitutional interpretations.

Anti-theists have been successful in selling the idea that their philosophies are non-religious and therefore acceptable for the public square, but biblical precepts are "religious," thus having no rightful warrant to influence public policy.

George Washington obviously disagreed.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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