Depending upon which side one stands politically determines how one answers this question. The progressive liberals are claiming that we are fighting a war on women where religious fanatics wish to impose their morality upon the society and deny women of their right to make determinations about their own bodies. The conservative religious people claim that the government is attempting to force religion to compromise their moral standing and provide health coverage for actions which they believe to be abhorrent sins. Needless to say, these two world views have absolutely no middle ground where both sides make some compromises while retaining a core of their political world view. These are diametrically opposing views which society will need to decide which one will be adopted as the policy of the country. Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, we will not be holding any direct election on this question to determine what result we will adopt. On the other hand, the coming national elections on November 6, 2012, will allow us to elect Representatives, one third of our Senators, and a President who will together decide this issue for the entire country. There is even the possibility that the Federal Government will drop this hot potato leaving it for the individual States to decide. In many ways, such a result might actually be the preferred manner to decide this issue as the country is very divided with the divisions being strangely regional. It could be postulated that the only way that we can satisfy the majority of Americans would be to find a method of making this decision as locally as is feasible. But, should Obama Care or some similar national health initiative remain a part of our Federal Government, then this question will be forced to be decided nationally making it vitally important in deciding the future path of the United States. So, how should we address this question and what should be our compass which points our way forward?
Since we have raised this question at the Federal level of our governance, it will likely fall upon the Federal Government to find the solution. This makes finding our guidance much easier. Since any decision which is made will absolutely infuriate one side or the other, we are almost guaranteed that the decision will be challenged and end up in the Federal Courts. Once it falls into the realm of the Federal court System, the decision turns on the Constitution and the Amendments. In this case, the applicable section is the First Amendment which covers anything relating to interactions between the Federal Government and religious institutions. So, let us first take a peek at the wording of the First Amendment and find the relevant sections. The First Amendment reads,
<I><B>“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” </B></I>
That makes the applicable language as, <I><B>“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”</B></I> This is a fine example of one of the greatest properties of the Constitution for the United States, it is written in plain language without resorting to Latin phrases or some forms or variations of legalese and states what it means in language everybody can pretty much understand. Where one can attain a College Degree in constitutional Law, such is not required to understand the main ideas and the intent of the writers who authored each section. So, let’s look at this and see what we can discern.
There are those who take the phrases pertaining to religion in the First Amendment and boil it down to the phrase “Separation of Church and State”. By simplifying everything to this phrase implies that the constitution forbids any interaction in either direction. The Government is denied the ability to establish any Church as the preferred or sole religion for all citizens as was often the case in Europe at the time of the founding of the United States. This idea also makes it plain that the government also is forbidden from outlawing any recognized religion, though it does leave blank how one determines exactly what rules define what differentiates religions from cults. Where we agree on what are the major religions, it has not always been that easy when it came to newer or the less recognized religions, which should be given validation and which were merely some form of cultic practice. There was a time in our history where it was debated whether or not Mormonism was an actual religion or merely a cult. If we were to examine intently every claim ever made for inclusion under the Government definitions for religious stature we would find that the actual definition is actually somewhat liquid. It would also show that as time passed we diluted the definition and requirements to be considered and be classified as a religion. This is not needed for this discussion but it does make for interesting postulations as to where we might be heading in defining religions in our future.
The simplification of the religion sections of the First Amendment to the phrase, “Separation of Church and State” also implies that religious institutions are forbidden from making inroads or even attempting to influence governance. The level of denial of religious influence on governance spans the scale from a complete and total denial of influence to a milder idea that religious institutions and figures may not use their religion or pulpit to force, coerce or influence the way people will vote. Simply stated, the agents of religion are forbidden from supporting candidates or political parties using the powers and influence of the church, the religion. So, we see that many people today who take this definition which was never used in any court documents or decision but actually stems from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 where Jefferson actually wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Jefferson’s actual words have a more traditional and parallel meaning to the actual words of the First Amendment than what they have been used to imply in modernity. So, if the First Amendment does not actually forbid any interactions between the Federal Government or other governmental levels and Religious Institutions, then what does it mean?
Let’s take one last look at the actual phrases from the First Amendment. They state,<I><B> “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” </B></I>The active object in this phrase is the Congress. The passive or recipient object is Religion. So, it directs the Congress to refrain from establishing a State Religion while also forbidding the Congress from taking any steps which might curtail, limit, impinge, or in any way adversely influence anybody from performing actions or observances of a religious nature. That is the entirety and limit of the statements about the relations between our Federal Government and our Religious Institutions. The Constitution places no restraints upon religion or religious institutions from influencing politics or governance. Should a church or religious group determine that all members of their institution or religion be required to vote in a certain way, they are allowed to attempt to have that influence. The restrictions we currently place on our religious leaders that in order to retain their tax exemption they must refrain from making political endorsements or sermonizing as there is a wall of separation between Church and State is erroneous. No such restraint exists within the constitution and if it does exist within the tax codes, then it is unconstitutional and could and likely should be challenged. There is no insistence that we remove religion from the public sphere or that religion must avoid any and all actions within the political sphere. The Founding Fathers fully intended, as is proven in the vast majority of their writings, that G0d, Churches, and Religious Institutions should have as great an influence upon politics and the government as they possibly can. They actually feared that a day would come where we would not allow religion to have a paramount influence on our society or our governance as in such a place morality would suffer and the society would be without the guarantees of common decency which was a product of religious observance. Looking at much we see in our modern world we are witnessing the truth of their apprehensions. Perhaps those men in the silly powdered wigs were not the clowns so many wish to make them out to be. Perhaps, their insistence that G0d and religion should hold a prominent place in both our lives and in the public square might not have been as quaint and outdated as many would have us believe.
Beyond the Cusp