All of the founding fathers agreed upon the necessity of a separation between religious entities and the government, but perhaps Thomas Jefferson expresses his sentiments the clearest: “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 legislative 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.” It would be unfair if one religion was given preference or made mandatory for all citizens to practice, because it would encroach upon the freedom of others to practice a religion of their choice, or to avoid religion all together. This separation was established to avoid the religious tyranny that has plagued many parts of the world. As James Madison, another founding father, put it, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
Though religion can obviously be a positive force, when it is tyrannically enforced instead of just practiced, it has the potential to lead to draconian laws and a complete lack of freedom for people who do not share the same beliefs. Many people cry foul when their religion is not favored, claiming they are being “oppressed”, when in reality their beliefs are just not being directly catered to or they are not being allowed to push their religion on others. If the United States is truly a free nation, the beliefs of one group cannot be given precedence over another. Anyone who claims otherwise is either bitter about everyone not being forced to have their beliefs, or is confused about the meaning of “freedom.”
In the past few months there has been an enormous hullabaloo about the IRS “targeting” certain political and religious groups who receive tax breaks, or enjoy a tax exempt status. There has been such an enormous backlash that many people have overlooked the original issue: organizations who work for the rights and goals of a few are subsidized by taxes paid by the whole population. Let me be clear here: the problem is not with the right of these groups to organize and to try to enact political or social change, it is more with how they are funding this change and whose money is being used to further their goals. Why should the American people as a whole subsidize a group that fights for only certain rights, certain beliefs, and certain goals that only benefit a small cross-section of the population? If groups choose to influence politics shouldn’t they be doing it on their own dime instead of receiving federal funds or tax breaks to accomplish this end? The freedom to organize and practice a given religion seems to have become muddled with an entitlement to have everything catered to religion. America was founded on freedom of expression, and unfortunately many people now interpret this as “freedom to behave as I think you should.”
One prime example of this is the role of religion in public education. Many people believe that the public school their child attends should align with their religious beliefs; prayer should be a part of publicly funded education and rules and codes should be based upon what is dictated by their religion. The problem with this attitude is that it disregards any children who, just like the religious children, have parents who pay taxes which fund the school system.
Christianity, for example, is the largest religion in the USA, but it is not the only religion. People who ignore this and wish to impose their religion on others through publicly funded entities are missing the point of our constitution and the whole basis on which our country was founded. Anyone who has read the bible knows that it contains some pretty outdated and archaic rules and laws that have no place in modern society. In other parts of the world where there is a state enforced religion, many of what we consider violations of human rights are commonplace. If we use the bible, or any other religious text for that matter, as a guide for how we are structuring our law system, who is to say where we draw the line between useful laws and outdated violations of human rights? The separation between church and state is necessary to preserving the civil liberties which make this country great.