Thursday, October 06, 2011

Imaginary Line

(I might be the only blogger in the universe not writing something this morning about Steve Jobs.)

Where is the "wall of separation" between Church and State? In the past week there have been some headlines that show that the line is arbitrary and constantly on the move.

Last Sunday was the "Red Mass" in Washington, DC traditionally done before the Supreme Court starts their session. This is a tradition that goes back 58 years. (though the Red Mass isn't limited to the US government, the actual tradition dates all the way back to 1245) But wait a minute. Aren't the Justices the ones who decide where the aforementioned line should be drawn? And here aren't they participating in a religious ceremony explicitly tied to their governmental role? Interestingly, two of their first cases are Separation issues: a 10 Commandments display and applying the Americans with Disabilities Act to ministerial employment decisions.

The same Sunday, not coincidentally, was "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" (No, I've never heard of it either) where some ministers were preaching explicitly political sermons, sending the IRS their recording, and daring them to take away their tax-exempt status. The problem is, the whole 501(c)3 designation as a non-profit is very misunderstood. This status isn't limited to churches, but any non-profit. So say a charity cannot explicitly endorse a candidate because he or she may support the cause of that charity. The same is true of a church. But it does not forbid the church from preaching on social or political issues consistent with their doctrines. They just cannot actively endorse or campaign for a particular candidate or ballot issue. This is why churches were allowed to rally their congregations in support of California's Proposition 8. Churches are perfectly within their right to assemble political support or opposition. They are only not allowed to endorse specific candidates or political parties from the pulpit. Important note, churches conducted similar activities to abolish slavery and advance Civil Rights. If churches were not allowed to even speak on social or political issues then each of these movements would have died out.
Meanwhile, a student in Northern California was docked points on his grade for saying "bless you" in class. Of course the religious crusade came out to cry persecution! But wasn't necessarily the case. When you read the story it becomes clear it had more to do with disrupting the class than anything else (though the teacher's explanation left a lot to be desired.) besides, who didn't fake a sneeze in school just to get the whole class to start a string of "bless you"s? Keep in mind however, that public schools are an arm of the government.

Finally, California passed a bill banning the banning of circumcision. (if you're confused by the double-negative, you're not alone; MSN's homepage originally linked the article with the headline "California bans circumcision") This was in response to the city of San Francisco trying to pass such a ban. Never mind that the Courts struck that effort down. California feels the need to be redundant to pass a law to affirm what the Court already decided. Of course, the reason for striking down SF's law was that the government cannot restrict an explicitly religious practice (though not all are circumcised because of religious views). Hmmm, I wonder how the court cases are going against The Church of Reality (or Cognizance in some places)?

Ok, so after reading the above can you honestly tell me there is an explicit wall of separation between Church and State? Or is it more of an imaginary line?

No comments: