I want to understand the principle of separation of church and state, as it was intended by the founders of our country. The principle is explicit in the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) and was first named in an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson: “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 & State.” . . . The clear intent of the First Amendment—sanctioned by Jefferson, as Scripture was sanctioned by the early Church Fathers—is to protect religion against state meddling. When did the principle flip-flop? When did religion become the meddler and the state (in a democracy, the will of the majority) become the victim?
I recently thought of these questions in the midst of an intrafamily brouhaha over religion, when a (Christian) family member wrote: “The constitution separates church and state because we are a pluralistic, multi cultural, multi racial society. Our government is for all. Church or temple or mosque is not for all. Religion should remain a personal matter between people and their God or like spiritual inspiration. . . . ”
In fact, the Constitution separates church and state because religion is sacred (of higher value) and the Founding Fathers recognized that it needs protection. But relativists like my relative now invoke the “principle” to defend their position.
The issue has returned to my mind today while reading about the legal battle currently playing out in San Francisco, between the city and Catholic Charities, about whether the state can force a religious organization to place orphaned children with same-sex couples. With the guidance of Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former Archbishop of San Francisco, Catholic Charities has refused to do so. In court, the city has termed CC’s stance “discriminatory and defamatory.”
What would Thomas Jefferson say about this? We know what the Thomas More Law Center, representing a couple who are countersuing on behalf of the CC position, said: “Anytime something is promoting religion, the line becomes far clearer towards prohibiting the conduct, whereas if the action in question is hostile towards religion, the line moves further towards defending the government that's taken the action.”
Is what I’m saying. Where and when did we lose our way?