Separation of Church and State
Since our nation’s independence, the phrase “separation of church and state” has become commonplace in our vernacular. The idea is that the church, or more generally religion, should not influence the affairs of the state and vice versa. It stems from the 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights, which states,
“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.”
Basically, there will be no state mandated religion like there was in England (the Anglican Church) and everyone will be free to practice their own religion. This was a grand idea for those who didn’t agree with the teachings of some of the state churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. They came to the colonies so they could worship God in their own way without fear of persecution.
As the years have gone on, I think the concept has taken on a different meaning. It seems to be less about the government establishing a national religion and more about keeping government and religion in two separate boxes or spheres, where one does not influence the other. In other words, the government must remain secular and unaffected from religion. Some antireligious people even attack those who seek to practice their faith in the public sphere, such as praying with players during school sports or saying the pledge of allegiance because it contains “one nation, under God.”
The question I’ve been pondering is this: As Christians, our ethics are based on our religious beliefs. For us, God decides what is morally good and evil. But who decides what is morally good and evil in a secular society, one uninfluenced by religion? And if a nation’s laws are meant to prohibit evil while allowing good, how are those laws determined? The most common answer among the non-religious is that the people get to decide, that good and evil are subjective and up to the individual. But if that’s true, then it is unlikely we will ever come to any sort of agreement as a society. The secular worldview offers no objective basis for right and wrong, so there will rarely be consensus among society. And here is where I see a problem with the separation of church and state. We cannot objectively determine what is good and evil without God. As a nation, we need to stop worshiping ourselves and we need to worship the law-giver, the author of all that is good and holy, the Triune God revealed in Scripture. The separation of church and state will only result in moral decay.
I’ll leave you with this quote from John Adams, our second president and one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.“