Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Behind the Scene, Separation of Church and State"

By Howard Bess
(Excerpts)  As we watch the news, the top stories are about issues such as health care, deficit spending, jobs, the Winter Olympics, and earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.  There are other topics of great importance that never reach the pages of newspapers in Alaska.

As a Baptist my attention is drawn to every action of churches, every action of Congress, every action of the White House administration, every action of the U.S. Supreme Court that relates to church-state relationships.

Under the administration of President George W. Bush, without a single vote by Congress, a whole new federal social service arm was created.  It was called The Faith Based Initiative.  Under its auspices billions of federal public assistance dollars were distributed to and through faith based organizations.  From the beginning of the program it was attacked as an unconstitutional fostering of religion in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

With the election of Barack Obama many critics anticipated the demise of the program.  Obama surprised almost everyone by announcing the continuation of the program with a promise of a major revision of the operation.  He named a 25 member Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Community Partnerships to oversee the conduct of the program.  The membership of the Council was very diverse.  They have been active and have set down new rules for the agency.  To illustrate the tensions involved, the Council adopted a resolution that religious organizations must form new 501 c 3 tax exempt not-for-profit corporations to receive monies from the agency.  The move was seen as necessary to insure that the religious activity of a church and its social services were kept separate.  The supporting vote was 13-12.

The vote indicates that a vigorous debate still rages in the United States about the separation of church and state.

In another little noticed news item, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has recommended that the U.S. Government develop a strategy to make religion "integral" to American foreign policy.  The Chicago Council is a powerful organization that was formed in the 1920s to influence and shape American foreign policy.  The Chicago Council has no official standing, but its influence over the years has been enormous.  Should American foreign policy get religion?

Americans have become quite accustomed to arguing about issues of separation of church and state in domestic affairs; but issues of separation of church and state have little history in foreign affairs.  The last time any hint of the issue occurred was when President Ronald Reagan appointed an ambassador to the Vatican in 1984.  There were a lot of unhappy Protestants when Mr. Reagan made the appointment.  Make a note, the recommendation of the Chicago Council marks a much larger step into the separation issue.  Does the First Amendment have a necessary application to foreign policy?

Brent Walker, a member of the Supreme Court Bar and the executive of a powerful Baptist separation lobby, believes the First Amendment's Establishment Clause does apply to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.  Walker acknowledges that the U.S. may of necessity deal with religious bodies in the conduct of foreign policy.  However the First Amendment puts constraints on the U.S. approach in all our relationships.

The United States is a secular nation that embraces no religion in particular.  There are many Americans who argue the truth of that statement and would like to bring about a dramatic change.  Those who argue against separation of church and state are growing stronger every day.  Their movement is often called Christian Triumphalism or Christian Nationalism.  Advocates are sometimes referred to as dominionists.  While they have formed many different groups, one prominent organizational name appears with regularity.  It is the New Apostolic Reformation.  Cells of participants now cover the nation.  Adherents include a long list of prominent religious and political leaders.  Among their central convictions is that separation of church and state must cease.  The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth must take place.  The process must begin with the United States.  Their great enemy is separation of church and state...

To ask government to force the convictions of one group onto all citizens is not compatible with First Amendment rights.

The United States is a great experiment.  Central to that experiment is the encouragement of diversity, beginning with religion.  May it ever be so.   Source