On Religious Freedom and Separation of Church and State

I generally steer clear of the topic of religion.  However, today I read an article on WorldNetDaily (WND), a politically conservative news and opinion website and online news aggregator. No, it is not one of my regular sites, but the headline dropped onto my radar from another site and my curiosity was aroused:

Dobson: Trump would ‘unleash Christian activists to fight for beliefs’

dobsonIn the course of the article, Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, recounted a June meeting in which he met with Trump and other Christian leaders at Trump Tower in New York City. While reading the article,  I found a number of points highly disturbing.

  • Dobson told Trump, “Our Supreme Court has struck down Bible reading in schools and even prohibited prayer to an unidentified God. Then, they banned the posting of the Ten Commandments on bulletin boards. From there, the limitation on religious liberties has become even more egregious.”
  • Trump responded by calling it an “outrage that Christians have been deprived of their rights to speak openly on behalf of the values and principles in which they believe.”
  • Dobson noted that Trump criticized the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 piece of tax code that bans political participation by churches, as well as other tax-exempt not-for-profit groups. Dobson said Trump’s promise to overturn the amendment “would have a great impact on Washington because it would unleash Christian activists to fight for their beliefs.”

Before I comment on the above, a quote from the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

The two parts, known as the “establishment clause” and the “free exercise clause” respectively, form the textual basis for the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the “separation of church and state” doctrine. Three central concepts were derived from the 1st Amendment which became America’s doctrine for church-state separation: 1no coercion in religious matters, 2no expectation to support a religion against one’s will, and 3religious liberty encompasses all religions. In sum, citizens are free to embrace or reject a faith, any support for religion – financial or physical – must be voluntary, and all religions are equal in the eyes of the law with no special preference or favoritism.

c-sOne of the things that disturbs me most is that it appears Mr. Dobson does not understand that ours is a secular government.  Public schools are government organizations, and as such, the reading of a Christian text, the Bible, or the reciting of Christian prayers must be prohibited, otherwise it forces children of other faiths to participate in a religion that is not their own.  Parents who want their children to read the Bible in school have other options, i.e. parochial schools or homeschooling.

Then there is Trump’s response, which again gives the appearance that he believes the U.S. is a ‘Christian nation’, when in fact it is a secular nation that protects the freedom of religion to all.  Freedom of religion does not simply mean that one is free to be a Christian, but that one is free to be a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an atheist.

Religion is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

  1. the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  2. an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  3. the belief in a god or in a group of gods: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

Today, however, it seems to me that many, including Mr. Dobson and Trump, ascribe to the line from Henry Fielding’s novel “Tom Jones.” where he has one character say:

“By religion I mean Christianity, by Christianity I mean Protestantism, by Protestantism I mean the Church of England as established by law.”

I feel qualified to write on this topic because from my earliest days, I was ostracized on religious grounds.  I was born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, and our household semi-observed both religions.  Though we did not strictly keep kosher, we did not eat pork, nor did we eat meat on Fridays. I attended Catholic schools most of my childhood, where I was ridiculed and occasionally beaten for being a Jew, and attended Hebrew school on Saturdays, where I did not fit because of my Catholic heritage.  In later years, after I married a Protestant, I was told by members of his church that I could “be forgiven” for my religion, but that I must convert to their religion (I did not!).  The end result of all this is that as a mature adult, I claim no particular religion. However, I vociferously defend anybody’s right to freedom of religion so long as they do not attempt to force it upon others.  This is where I take umbrage at Dr. Dobson’s and Donald Trump’s ideas which seem to embrace Christianity to the exclusion of all others.

There is another major issue I have with Dr. Dobson, as well as all religious leaders who support and encourage their followers to support Donald Trump.  It seems to me that, as Christians, they are compromising their values.  How is Dr. Dobson not offended by Trump’s abuse of women, his many marital affairs and infidelities?  How is he not offended by Trump’s proven dishonesty in his dealings with employees and contractors?  How is he not offended by the racist and discriminatory remarks he has made against other races, cultures and religions?  How is he not offended by the violence Mr. Trump promotes?  I am puzzled as to how Dr. Dobson can even consider Mr. Trump for membership in the Christian religion, let alone as the leader of our nation.

It is not my intent to denigrate Christianity or any other religion, but simply to point out that this nation, from the very beginning, has been based on open exchange of ideas, on tolerance for all, not just a few.  Dr. Dobson’s article seems to defy one of the core principles on which our nation was founded.

6 thoughts on “On Religious Freedom and Separation of Church and State

  1. Dear Jill,

    Many of these Christian leaders, of the ilk of Dodson, Falwell and others are the same ones who deny climate change. medicare expansion, any sensible gun law restrictions, etc. which conflict with their claim to “value life.” They should advertise that they value life as long as it doesn’t hurt their bottom line.

    Their support of Donald Trump proves that their organizations are more political than messengers for God.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

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