The Secularization of Church & State

The Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms and court buildings are prohibited (although the Decalogue hangs above the Supreme Court). The Pledge of Allegiance's reference to God, verboten. It seems that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State carry on an increasingly successful campaign to rid these United States of any vestige of religion - Christianity, to be exact - from public life. Armed with the ubiquitous but greatly misunderstood phrase "separation of Church and state," these civil liberties crusaders form the vanguard of the strict separationist movement. The Constitution's First Amendment, in particular the so-called Establishment Clause that reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," is continually invoked as if to say, "See, government must go out of its way to avoid religion to the point of being exclusionary." The courts often go lockstep in fulfilling the logical conclusion of a godless public square: freeing government from any dealings whatsoever with religion, exept to avoid offense of the irreligious. Then again, there are signs of a kind of judicial double-mindedness, given recent rulings allowing public expression of faith. It often depends upon the judicial district.

Yet, the religion of secularism remains largely unrecognized for what it is among the ruling elite, especially the judiciary. Does the absence of, indeed the discrimination against, a particular religion a compelling state interest? Is secular neutral? If not, how should the imbalance be addressed? Much has been written and many organizations exist solely to do just that. We make a brief study of some viewpoints informed by a historical, Christian worldview on this hot topic, which promises not to cool down for quite some time.

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Ten Commandments in the Public Square

The Alabama Ten Commandments monument imbroglio, involving the privately commissioned stone sculpture of Alabama Judge Roy Moore, is only one of several such recent controversies. The courts have ruled variously on the cases, offering further proof that the "wall of separation" language is hopelessly unfounded and ambigious and that the infamous Lemon Test regarding funding of religious expression is a real lemon of jursiprudence. We highlight several cases and look at the underlying social and legal value of the Decalogue. Marvin Olasky, well-known as then-Governor Bush's cheerleader for "compassionate conservatism," cautions Christians who disagree on matters like how to respond to the latest crisis, including civil disobedience. He urges a circumspect and uncondemning approach.

Gene Edward Veith also asks the so-far unasked question: Where are the guardians of controversial anti-religious art now that religious art has become a provocative issue?

The Ten Commandments in America
Kerby Anderson (Probe)
The decision against Justice Roy Moore placing his Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Judicial building provided a flashpoint to educate and motivate the public. No longer would the American people be ignorant and apathetic about this latest skirmish in the battle for religious liberty.

Affidavit in Support of the Ten Commandments
David Barton (Wallbuilders)
Constitutional expert David Barton's affadavit, in a case brought by the Kentucky ACLU, in which he "demonstrate[s] that, historically speaking, neither courts nor civil officers were confused or distracted by the so-called 'various versions' of the Decalogue and that each of the Ten Commandments became deeply embedded in both American law and jurisprudence. This affidavit will establish that a contemporary display of the Ten Commandments is the display of a legal and historical document that dramatically impacted American law and culture with a force similar only to that of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights."

Reasoning Together: Alabama Ten Commandments controversy
Professor Marvin Olasky (World)
Professor Olasky urges charity and a non-judgemental attitude among Christians who disagree on the appropriateness of Justice Roy Moore's civil disobedience regarding an injunction to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he placed in the Alabama courhouse.

An offensive work of art
Gene Edward Veith (World)
Cultural commentator Veith asks where all the offensive art proponents are regarding the privately funded Ten Commandments monument causing so much uproar in their court-ordered removal from an Alabama court building. Given the vociferous support for any number of anti-religious works of art, the silence from the same quarters in this case is telling.

Separation of Church & State

The phrase "separation of Church and state" is a fitting example of the quip, "say it long enough and it will become 'truth'." These five words, on which landmark court cases, dubious jurisprudence and, to many, an illegitimate legal bias against the religious and toward the secular, don't even appear in the U.S. Constitution. Never before has a phrase been lifted out of context - the context of a personal letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1789 - and made to carry so much legal sway. It seems to be at the center of almost every major case today, from prohibition of school prayer and the pledge of allegiance to government funding for religious schools and removal of Ten Commandments and other religiously themed displays, no matter their import on other planes. Controversy swirls around blockage of Presidential judicial appointments, as strict separationists balk if an appointee even hints at a less-than-separationist view. In this section, we glance not only at  the phraseology of the Constitution and Jefferson's famous letter, but to the philosophy of how religion should interact with government.

Church and State
Don Closson and Robin Riggs (Probe)
Three prominent views on the relationship and separation between the church and the state are analyzed: anti-religious separtism, Christian nation view and positive neutrality. The authors challenge Christians to express their faith while allowing others the freedom to do the same.

The Separation of Church and State
David Barton (Wallbuilders)
The “separation” phrase so frequently invoked today was rarely mentioned by any of the Founders; and even Jefferson’s explanation of his phrase is diametrically opposed to the manner in which courts apply it today. “Separation of church and state” currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.

A Godless Constitution?: A Response to Kramnick and Moore
Daniel L. Dreisbach
Dr. Driesbach takes issue with the authors of The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness. He writes, "The Constitution was silent on the subject of God and religion because there was a consensus that, despite the framer's personal beliefs, religion was a matter best left to the individual citizens and their respective state governments.... The Constitution, in short, can be fairly characterized as 'godless' or secular only insofar as it deferred to the states on all matters regarding religion and devotion to God."

New Light on an Old Phrase
Charles Colson
Culturual commentator Chuck Colson offers further proof that the original intent of "separation of church and state" was quite the opposite of its current meaning in popular culture and law. The FBI's recent examination of Jefferson's letter containing the phrase provides more compelling fodder for the resurgence of Federalism, a doctrine oriented to state - as opposed to centralized - governance, pertaining to religious and other issues.

Books In Review: Religion and American Education
Elliot Wright (First Things)
Naming his review The Religion-Free Classroom, Wright applauds Nord's serious attempt to offer a solution for the knotty problem of teaching religion in American schools: curriculum neutrality. However, he faults him for ignoring the concerns of school prayer advocates. Nord says in his book, in Wright's words, that "The lamentable result [of previous Establishment Clause review cases] is 'religion-free education' that 'indoctrinates' the young into viewing secularism as the only frame of reference - a state of affairs neither neutral nor fair."

Historical View of Religion and Culture

One underlying assumption of strict separationists - those who interpret the Constitution to mean that no religion should enter into public life, least of all into its governance - is that the American nation was begun by secularists who gave a passing nod to religion, but who intended a secular state. Yet, a plain reading of a plethora of writings by the Founders and Framers calls this notion into question, to say the least. We explore in this section some excerpts from those early American statesmen regarding religious expression, and look to the history of the Church in the United States and its founding colonies. You may be surprised at what you read.

Others, who believe in either a Christian American or in positive neutrality towards religion by government wonder if the increasing and insistent secularization (and sanitation) of all forms of religion from public life and polity foretells the decline and eventual fall of our culture. We look to past cultures for similarities and warnings in a review of the book When Nations Die.

The Founders on Public Religious Expression
David Barton (Wallbuilders)
Constitutional expert David Barton uses primary sources and lots of quotes from America's Founding Fathers to make a strong case that legislative chaplains are not in violation of the Establishment Clause when they make religious expressions. On the contrary, Congressional testimony given during a similar controversy in 1852, Supreme Court statements and opinions of the Framers all support the institution.

When Nations Die
Kerby Anderson (Probe)
Anderson highlights the book When Nations Die by Jim Nelson Black, which traces the parallels between the social, cultural and moral decay in the U.S. and other civilizations that have declined and fallen. He urges a societal decision for America: renew and reform or implode.

Books in Review: The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers In Our Religious Economy
Walter Sundberg (First Things)
One might well ask, Is the Church in America in decline? Reviewer Sundberg writes, "In mainline theological schools, divinity students are told a familiar tale about the church in modernity that goes something like this: The present age is 'secular' or 'post-Christian' and the church is in decline. In order to be responsible, Christians must get used to their straitened circumstances as a community in 'exodus.'..." Yet, "The story of American Christianity, assert the authors, is the triumph of upstart sectarian groups.... The triumph of Evangelicalism has been the most important factor in what Finke and Stark call 'the churching of America.'"