An issue that brings up strong emotions is the Separation of Church and State. Almost all atheists strongly support the absolute abolition of religion in any public arena, while many Christians vouch for a school system where religion is integrated into the curriculum. In my mind, both extremes take the issue much too seriously.
I really don’t think the Separation of Church and State is an important issue. There are much more pressing matters, such as abortion and world hunger. However, in this essay I will explain my opinion with regards to this topic.
How Far is Too Far?
Our country finds itself in the odd position of supporting religious freedoms while at the same time not endorsing any particular worldview. It sometimes is hard to draw the line between religious freedom and religious tyranny.
Quite simply though, Separation of Church and State should mean that the State is not allowed to endorse a particular religion. This seems to be the obvious implication of the law, and I have no problem with this sort of practice.
This does not mean, however, that the State cannot ‘mention’ religion at all. It is impossible to deny that religion plays a huge role in the United States. It would be foolish to totally ignore religion.
What constitutes “Endorsing”?
This brings up the issue of whether or not a certain action is actually endorsing a religion. What I would define as such is giving favor to certain religious institutions based on doctrines and beliefs. This should certainly not be allowed. This does not mean, however, that the government should not be allowed to be involved with such institutions.
If the government wishes to accomplish its means though religious institutions, there is no necessary endorsement of a particular belief. For example, if the government supports a certain Christian denomination because its churches perform many community services, there is no endorsement of that denomination implied. However, if the basis for the decision of funding were doctrinal beliefs, it would be in violation of Separation of Church and State.
What About the School Systems?
The issue of what is taught in school is quite important. Teacher-led school prayer should not be allowed, except at after-school hours. Students should of course be allowed to pray or lead prayer groups (even Bible Study) as long as such activities do not interfere with schooling.
However, there is nothing wrong with a school offering optional religion classes. This does not constitute “endorsement” and it is completely voluntary for students to take. Therefore I do not see how a person could complain that their rights were being infringed upon. In addition, religion classes could give students a more well-balanced education.
What about prayers at graduation? They should not be allowed if led by faculty, but I don’t see a problem with a student deciding to offer a prayer. That is their religious freedom and the State is not endorsing religion in such a case. It is up to the students whether or not they wish to take place in such a prayer.
The Pledge of Allegiance and ‘In God We Trust’
Nontheists have made a big deal out of the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Personally, I feel that this is not really that important of an issue. Does it really offend someone that the words “Under God” (a quite neutral religious statement, relatively) are mumbled during the Pledge?
In any case, the phrase “Under God” does not seem to clearly support any particular religion. In fact, it need not be construed as favoring religion at all. Stephen Hawking, for example, refers to the universe as “God” even though he is an atheist.
Besides, in some cases it would be quite impossible to remove any and all vague references to God. It would be quite unrealistic indeed for everyone to hand in their money and have the government send them new coins, free from the tyrannical “In God We Trust” statement.
I am not arguing that these things are part of our “heritage”, as they are actually later additions, but I am saying that in some cases we must be reasonable with regards to what is really important. Actually, I’m fine with a secular Pledge. It is actually the correct thing to do given our nation’s secularism. However, I wish atheists and Christians did not make such a big deal out of it. Sometimes it’s best just to let things continue as they always have.
The Importance of Separation
Do I think leaving religion out of government is an overall good thing? Do I think children benefit from not being exposed to God and Christianity? No. In actuality, I believe our nation would be much better off if Christianity was taught in public schools and children were stressed the importance of a relationship with God.
However, this is not the nation we live in. We live in a secular nation, one in which religion is not supported by the State. That is why I am a supporter of Separation of Church and State.