Monday, June 18, 2007

Separation of Church and State

The United Methodist Church has an official position on the separation of church and state: they're fer it, saying

The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and state. In some parts of the world this separation has guaranteed the diversity of religious expressions and the freedom to worship God according to each person's conscience. Separation of church and state means no organic union of the two, but it does permit interaction. The state should not use its authority to promote particular religious beliefs (including atheism), nor should it require prayer or worship in the public schools, but it should leave students free to practice their own religious convictions. We believe that the state should not attempt to control the church, nor should the church seek to dominate the state. The rightful and vital separation of church and state, which has served the cause of religious liberty, should not be misconstrued as the abolition of all religious expression from public life.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2004. Copyright 2004 by The United Methodist Publishing House.

In support of this view are others not connected to the UMC in any way but in favor of church-state separation. Among these are DefCon, which says
DefCon opposes efforts to dismantle the wall erected by our founders between church and state. Efforts to use the government to proselytize or to infringe on the religious freedom of any American are unconstitutional and we oppose them.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State concludes their Our Issues page with this:
Church-state separation, a policy forged by great leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is the expression of a mature and confident republic. It represents a promise of freedom that few countries have had the courage to fully embrace.

But America had that courage, and the results of that embrace have been nothing short of remarkable. Today we are an open and free society of nearly 300 million Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Atheists and others. All live side by side in harmony. All have the freedom to proclaim their views. All enjoy the right to worship or not worship unmolested by government officials or state-appointed religious leaders. All are equal in the eyes of the government.

That is the legacy of our Founders’ grand experiment with separation of church and state. That is the result of keeping an official distance between religion and government. That is the principle Americans United for Separation of Church and State upholds every day boldly, proudly and without apology.

The American Civil Liberties Union has a page devoted to the issue of religious liberty explaining their position:

The American Constitution and Bill of Rights introduced a new relationship between religion and government. Prior to 1789, almost every European country maintained a close relationship between church and state. James Madison, the principal drafter of the First Amendment, proposed that, unlike European states, the government should not tax its citizens to support religious activities, nor should it promote religious beliefs, and that all religious beliefs should be treated equally and fairly. He believed that religion would thrive best when the government did not promote some religious beliefs to the exclusion of others.

Madison’s ideals, now embodied in the Constitution, were exactly right. Americans enjoy more religious freedom than do people in any other country in the world.

Unfortunately, some people are now trying to use government power to promote religion in exactly the way the Constitution wisely rejected. The ACLU works to ensure that people remain free to chose which religious beliefs (or none) they wish to express and that governments, school boards, and legislatures do not become involved in deciding which religious beliefs should be promoted or in spending taxpayer dollars to support religious activities and symbols.

and offering information on current concerns and suggestions for individual action.

The United Methodist Women have numerous resources that deal with this topic, including a mission study which says

This may sound impossible for today but when we object to the separation of church and state, we undermine protection for ourselves and all citizens

and a public policy statement which talks about some of the concerns in regards to education, hospitals and public places.

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