The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Breaking Through Persistent Myths about Church and State

Our Conscience

There is plenty of misinformation floating around in middle-America about the separation between religion and government. I think it is important to pin point a couple of the most damaging themes and reframe them in a new more accurate way.

The first misconception is that church and state cases have prohibited the religious expression of citizens when they have in fact only limited the activities of governments and their officials. It is common to hear from our detractors that proponents of church and state separation want to “ban all religious expression in the public arena.” Notice there is no dichotomy between governmental activities and the religious expression of citizens. It is our job to make sure that one is inserted! The government we can say, “should leave religious expression to the people.” The government has no business promoting or devaluing religion in the form of law and policy.

Another myth about church and state separation is that it isn’t in the Constitution. The founders used the phrase “separation of church and state” to refer specifically to the Establishment Clause of the first Amendment. We should remind the public of this.

Lastly, a single phrase has done harm to the value of church and state separation in terms of public opinion. Some conservatives use the phrase “activist judges” many times to refer to judicial opinions to which they disagree. We should remind them and their readers that such judges are interpreting the law in the same way that the Justices in Brown v. Board of Education did.


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