“Separation of church and state.” It’s one of those phrases that gets thrown around the political arena endlessly, and permeates almost all talk involving the role of religion in government (and really, vice versa as well).
But what exactly does (and should) this mean? That’s where the conflict starts arising.
The phrase itself isn’t actually found in the Constitution, but instead in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote about said document, in which he praised the American people for building a “wall of separation” between the church and the state in the form of the First Amendment.
A number of conservative Christians claim that “separation of church and state” is found nowhere in the Constitution, but it seems crystal clear that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment doesn’t want the state to influence the church, and especially doesn’t want the church to influence the state, at least outside of the normal voting rights of members of the church. “No law respecting an establishment of religion” seems pretty black and white to me.
And yet, as usual, there’s conflict. The issue from the typical Christian’s viewpoint though, is that God unilaterally supersedes government, no matter what. I hope it’s as obvious to my readers as it is to me that this is an incredibly dangerous way of thinking, at least from the perspective of the general public. The religious right is already adept at insisting that all members of American society should adhere to their definition of what is right. In doing this, they are both invoking and revoking the First Amendment simultaneously.
Let me explain what I mean by this. The religious right (and, to a lesser extent, the majority of the evangelical Christian movement) is invoking their First Amendment right to freedom of religion, refusing to let the government repress their religious expression, which is a good thing. But at the same time, they’re essentially saying that all citizens of the US must respect their establishment of religion. Laws that are brought into being out of religious conviction are inherently un-Constitutional, as they turn the state into a vehicle of whichever religion those convictions sprang from (mostly Christianity).
So many evangelical Christians (I’m sort of zeroing in on this one religious group, I know. I give no excuse for this, having been one in past) have such a strong “God over government” mentality that they don’t hesitate at all in their willingness to trample the rights (and sometimes humanity) of others to do the “godly” thing. In a democracy, disdain for the authority of government in some ways shows a disdain for the rights and authority of the governed, because the authority of said government is derived from the consent of the governed. The laws and protections afforded by the government don’t just reflect the desires of the president or Congress, they reflect the desires and needs of the people under said government. And if the religious right thinks that that government, the one whose job it is to protect religious and ideological minorities (no matter how much disagreement the evangelical Christian community raises), is still beholden to a homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic God (just to give a few religious right examples), then they will stop at nothing to mow down the institutions of that government that they don’t think their God would agree with.