The Separation of Wand and State
Article ID: 14739
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Fire Lyte
Posted: September 11th. 2011
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Suspend reality with me just for a moment. Let’s pretend that you could wave a wand and reshape America…oh, by tomorrow. Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and send your kids off to their public schools, except there have been a few changes. Your sons and daughters will still study literature, grammar, science, and math, but in the new reality they will also study how to make magical brews, oils, and incenses. They’ll learn meditation techniques, reiki, geomancy, the power of color magic, and there will be a new school-sponsored club: Children of the Goddess.
Move with me for a moment outdoors. In addition to the witchy changes made for your kids, we also now have thousands of acres around the country set aside as spiritual forest preserves. We also now have federal subsidies for covens, so they can now build permanent homes for their group. Yep, we’re talking gorgeous temples dedicated to the gods of our understanding with complimenting outdoor space for rituals.
Strangely enough, in this new world, our politicians begin taking on new characteristics. They feel they have a mandate from the gods of their understanding to give a balanced approach to the budget. They invoke a harm none mentality to defense and invoke the Goddess of Peace before any diplomatic discussion.
Sure, people still don’t quite agree on everything - no amount of wand waving could ever solve the ‘is an athame fire or air’ debacle - but it seems like a definite change has happened. Want to guess what it is? Overnight 70% of the population has become Pagan. That’s right. You’re no longer the only pagan on your street, block, neighborhood, town, or city. Nope. Now, 7 out of every 10 people place themselves somewhere under the umbrella of Paganism. And look at all the wonderful changes!
None of our children have to worry about dealing with being ostracized at school for wearing their pentacle. You don’t have to worry about your seriously annoying coworker constantly asking you to their church, because she just knows you’re going to Hell. The government has not only recognized us, but has helped us to grow and thrive, giving us homes where we might not otherwise have had them.
Isn’t it wonderful being in the majority?
Or, more realistically, say we somehow couldn’t wand-wave away the Judeo-Christian ideals in America, but we elected an actual Pagan as President. Our POTUS is now a child of the Goddess. Couldn’t he/she use the bully pulpit of the presidency to enact changes in our favor? Wouldn’t that be fair?
Here’s the rub: while it might be really cool for us, and who wouldn’t want to turn every school out there into a real life Hogwarts, would it be cool with the rest of the country? Would the Christians who now make up teeny percentages of the population like sending their kids into an environment where they firmly believe Devil worship is happening, but they’re afraid to speak up about it lest they be ostracized by the rest of their pagan neighborhood? (We are the majority now, remember?)
And, I get that there are a lot of you out there that might actually get off on seeing the Christian population suddenly and miraculously turned into the minority. But, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s a level of unfairness happening in that situation. And what about the poor Jewish, Islamic, Taoist, Confucian, Hindu, or Baha’i adherents? They weren’t the mean, ruling bullies. Why can’t they also have a whole country, wand-waving thing happen in their favor?
The Separation of Church and State is something that we like to believe is a real idea, that is really backed up by everyone, and is really upheld. But…where does this idea come from? People like to use the phrase ‘separation of church and state, ’ but that’s not a phrase that can literally be found in our Constitution. That’s not where the line originates. The First Amendment, which can be Googled if you’d like to read along, reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Does this mean that our government can’t endorse any religion? Does it mean that politicians cannot be openly religious? Does it mean the government used to prohibit exercise, free or otherwise?
Here’s where you get into the picky, eye-rolling argument of ‘What do you mean when you say [insert word here]?’ What do you mean by ‘endorse’ or ‘establish’ or ‘the’?
Let’s back up a second. Recently, in America, there was something called The Response. It was a “non-denominational” day of prayer and fasting organized and promoted by the longest currently serving governor in America, Rick Perry of Texas. It made a lot of people mad. Atheists cried foul. Christians were divided. Pagans took to the Internet en masse to express their displeasure. The Pastafarians cried as they salted their boiling holy water. And Agnostics everywhere went to their chiropractors from the whiplash they received trying to see both sides of the issue.
The big question on everybody’s lips is this: did Rick Perry just violate the separation of Church and State? He certainly made his beliefs known, his stance permanently etched out on the American political playing field. He invited, and seemed to endorse the beliefs of, pastors that have purported ideas such as ‘the Japanese president had sex with a sun demon, ’ or ‘the Christian God sent the Nazis to push the Jews out of Europe, because he wanted them back in Israel, ” or “Oprah is, unbeknownst to her, the Antichrist.”
Furthermore, Perry’s record seems to reflect votes and legislation recommendations based on his religious beliefs. He vehemently opposes same-sex marriage and believes sodomy laws should still be on the books. He opposes abortions and signed the 2003 Prenatal Protection Act that defines all fetuses as human life, thereby creating a murky area as to whether abortion is truly legal in the state of Texas. In 2007 he attempted to force all girls in Texas, by his Executive Order, to have the HPV vaccine, though, due to social pressure and questions of morality, he allowed a law to be passed that undid that action. The list goes on.
Rick Perry is by no means the only politician in America to be questioned on whether he is a Christian first and unbiased politician second, or vice versa. He just happens to be the one who caused the most recent stink. He said his reason for creating The Response is that there are too many problems in America, and nobody has any answers, so let’s ask the Christian god for help.
According to a poll conducted in 2008 and published in 2009 from Trinity College by Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, 76% of Americans identify as Christian. Non-Christian religions, which were defined as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, ranged between 3.9% to 5.5% of the population when accounting for errors. 15% of the population identify as non-religious in affiliation or without religious beliefs. And about 5% of respondents refused to reply or had no answer to the question. (By the way, just in case you’re wondering, Paganism, Wicca, and pretty much everyone listening to this show didn’t even register on the scale of measurability. The numbers are so very small in comparison that they aren’t considered. Some polling agencies give everybody else in the country a 1% or fewer ranking, though, when one includes a standard margin of error that pretty much eliminates that percent from mattering in the grand scheme.)
These numbers swing in wildly different directions, however, in various parts of the country. The American Religious Identification Survey mentioned above found that in the West 59% of respondents report a belief in deity, while in the Southern United States 86% of respondents report to believe in God.
Prepare yourself for a little whiplash, because I’d like to play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Take a grocery store scenario for example: A local grocer stocks 10 bottles of mayonnaise and 10 bottles of Miracle Whip every week. 8 of every 10 people buy Miracle Whip. Is it truly incomprehensible to believe that after a while the grocer might quit wasting his money in stocking 10 bottles of mayonnaise, only to sell 2 per month?
Don’t like religion being compared to mayo? Ok. How about this one: let’s pretend that 2012 rolls around and 8 out of every 10 people vote for the incumbent candidate in a race for High Mugwump. Is it incomprehensible or unreasonable to say that the person voted on by everyone but 2 people out of 10 gets to take the office of High Mugwump? This isn’t little league soccer. Everybody doesn’t get an equally large trophy for trying hard. Somebody wins and somebody loses. That’s politics.
So… Again, playing Devil’s Advocate, why are we so upset, so confounded, and find it so incomprehensible that the government seems to favor the ideals held by nearly 8 out of every 10 people? We are a Democracy, right? Everyone votes, and the person, law, [insert thing you vote on here] who gets the most votes wins. It’s fair, and everybody gets a say.
What’s that you say? The almighty Separation of Church and State. Ok. Let’s talk about that now.
The folks who came up with our Constitution, and what a nicely written document it is, came from a country that had not only a monarchy/dictatorship, but that dictatorship had an established Church: the Church of England. Well, folks in England didn’t necessarily want to be part of the Church of England. You had Catholics practicing in secret for fear of punishment, Puritans that wanted to do their own thing, and other Protestants that simply didn’t jive with the idea that there was only one church. Thus, the First Amendment creates an Establishment Clause and a Free Exercise Clause.
In other words: the First Amendment says the grocer won’t establish a brand of white sandwich spread, but allows for the selection of your preference of spread or your choice not to buy sandwich spread of any kind. Even mustard. Really…who eats mustard? The grocer also cannot tell you that you can’t buy Happy Time Mayo one week and try out Super Awesome White Whip the next. It’s all up to you and your personal search for the right taste.
But this doesn’t mean, yet, that the politicians elected by majority vote cannot then turn around and create law based on what the majority of free-thinking populace believe. Remember, folks in religions don’t think of their beliefs as varying ideas on the same theme; they are seen as truth. The Gospel truth, as it were. So, if that is true, and 8 of 10 Americans find it true to ban gay marriage, then our government should consider it a mandate to reflect that truth. Right?
A couple of people are responsible for the language of the popular ‘Separation of Church and State’ principle: Roger Williams, a Baptist theologian, and Thomas Jefferson, the face on the $2 bill. (Poor, defunct $2 bill.) The idea came from a line in a work by Williams that stated, “[there should be a] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” Williams went on to found Rhode Island. Thomas Jefferson liked the idea and used it to begin to flesh out the First Amendment in a letter he wrote in 1802:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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 and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”
Thus, the phrase “separation of church and State” was born. Ok… Ok… So we can practice our Pastafarianism without the government telling us we can’t. Nobody is going to arrest you for cackling over your bubbling cauldron. I can claim to be a ChristoHinJew, and while it might confuse and piss off 3 groups of people, I can’t be sued or tortured for my beliefs. And to do so is against the law of the land, against the Constitution of the United States.
But, what about the government supporting a religion? Any religion? Can it do that? Here’s where the Supreme Court enters the scene. As with pretty much every law, Constitutional Amendment, and Executive Order, the Supreme Court review said law and then gives an opinion on the matter. They interpret the law; that is their function in our three-branch system of government. Congress creates. The President/Executive Branch executes. And the Supreme Court/Judicial Branch interprets. One of the first cases the Supreme Court heard on this issue was in 1878: Reynolds v. US. During that case the Supreme Court found that the term ‘religion’ was not defined in the Constitution, and thus looked elsewhere - to the author of that Constitution - for its definition. They quoted the aforementioned section in Jefferson’s letter as “an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.”
Later on, in the mid 1900s, the Supreme Court began to further delineate what was on either side of that Wall of Separation. In 1947 - Everson v. Board of Education - the question put before the Court was whether New Jersey could use government funds to pay for the transportation of students to both public and Catholic schools. The opinion actually stated, “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” Sure the law allowed for the transportation of students to both secular and non-secular schools, but what about Jewish schools and weekend classes at the local witchy shop, etc. With a law that even remotely gives a hand to one specific religion, the Court said no way.
Except… They allowed it. The majority members of the Court stated that there was indeed a separation of Church and State, but an act like this does not breach that. The minority - 4 dissenting judges - of course said that this is most definitely a breach of that separation. And from there, quite a number of cases have been heard by the Supreme Court on the matter of whether the government can endorse various acts derived from religious morality.
In 1962 - Engel v. Vitale - the Court said a government, or government-sponsored institution such as public schools, could not create a uniform prayer and require its recitation.
In 1968 - Epperson v. Arkansas - the Court said that states could not create a law that outlawed the teaching of evolution in public schools. They specifically cited “… the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.”
It has been a matter of extreme contest after the year of 2002 as to whether public schools can even require the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, because it has the phrase “under God” in it. As of 2004, however, it was deemed acceptable to have the classroom recite the Pledge.
There are quite a number of rulings, but as you can see…there is some disparity between what the Court will consider governmental endorsement of a particular religion, and what they do not. Why is that? The answer is fairly obvious: the Court is made of humans. Humans who are also included when you talk about societal statistics. Statistics such as nearly 8 out of every 10 people consider themselves Christian. And, like it or not, despite how impartial judges are supposed to be, there are just some values and mores that speak to us from the base of our skull when dealing with issues we feel go against those values and mores.
Here’s the quick and dirty summation of the supposed Separation of Church and State: politicians, as individuals, can be as overtly religious as they want to be, as long as they do not directly cite religious precedent in creation of their laws, and as long as those laws do not directly favor or condemn one religion over the others. As we’ve just seen, however, sometimes things slip by and they’re allowed to go on because at the end of the day flawed humans run our judicial system. The government as a whole, much in the same vein, cannot pass laws that favor or condemn a specific religion over the others. Also, just to be clear, the actual amendment from which this whole business is derived merely states that the government cannot establish a national religion, nor create a state-run church. (i.e. The Church of America)
The late President John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word 'God' at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension.” So, like it or not, there is religion in the government of the United States. And, while government officials seem to be touting their religious beliefs as a badge of honor these days - especially in the more conservative sections of the political sphere - until they cross some of those specific (yet still quite fuzzy) boundaries, we will just have to chock it up to freedom of religion and the fact that they have a bigger platform than we do.
Being Pagan in 2011 means a lot of things, and I mean that in a few ways. First of all, there are so many definitions for the word ‘pagan’ that it is difficult to even have a conversation regarding pagans, because you first have to debate the word for 5 hours before we can get to the heart of the topic at hand. Secondly, we are in a unique position in the world. There are pagans on every continent connected by the Internet and meet-up groups and local witchy shops and common ideals.
We have a lot going for us. We’re small, but we’re well connected and smart. (Except when we’re not.) The one thing we’re not is unified, and until we become a more unified presence, or at least quit fighting over petty stuff long enough to hash some things out and find common ground, we cannot begin to influence policy or expect our voices to be heard in cases of civil injustice. When one of us has a serious legal problem, how easy is it for us to come together for that person? When we find laws unfair, how easy is it for us to get them changed or overturned? We could possibly take a lesson from the US’ social problem of the Separation of Church and State to realize we can be religious beings, we can proudly proclaim our religious beliefs, and still effect positive change in the world via policy and smart tactics.
Though, if you find that wand, and you could wave it… Would you?
Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878) .
Everson v. Board of Educ. of Ewing Twp., 330 U.S. 1 (1947) .
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) .
Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968) .
In Paragraph 31: the Court stated NJ’s act does not breach the First Amendment. The majority opinion concludes the school transportation act did not violate the First Amendment because as the act was applied it had a neutral effect. That is, “[the First] Amendment requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and non-believers; it does not require the state to be their adversary.” Everson, 330 U.S. at 18.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Jackson felt the majority assumed away facts and overlooked the discrimination at issue. His focus was on the fact that the school transportation act, as applied, was not neutrally applied. Id. at 21-24. Rather, it was only applied to Catholic schools which were simply another arm of the Catholic Church. Ibid. Thus, he noted “Catholic education is the rock on which the whole [Roman Catholic Church] rests, and to render tax aid to its Church school is indistinguishable to me from rendering the same aid to the Church itself.” Id. at 24. Therefore, the State was endorsing the Catholic Church and running afoul of the Establishment Clause.
Justice Rutledge’s dissent concurs with the general point of your article. He felt “…the object [of the First Amendment] was broader than separating church and state in this narrow sense. It was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion.” Id. at 31-32. He supports this with a very thorough discussion of the background and history of Jefferson and Madison and the separation of church and state. Moving into a slippery slope argument, Justice Rutledge concludes referencing two constant movements aiming to inject religion into education. Id. at 63. The first involved the introduction of “religious education and observances into the public schools.” Ibid. The other was the very issue in this case, “to obtain public funds for the aid and support of various private religious schools.” Ibid. To allow either would erode the “the complete division of religion and civil authority which our forefathers made.” Ibid.
Copyright: (c) Fire Lyte - Inciting A Riot - 2011
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