Prall: Church and state


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A poll published by the Pew Research Center last week shows an increasingly large minority in the United States supports the mix of religion and state. Specifically, that church leaders should come out in support of one candidate over another (32 percent) and that churches play a role in politics (49 percent).

That latter percentage is up from 40 percent in 2012. And it’s no wonder: 72 percent thought that religion is “losing influence” in American life, the highest level in Pew’s polling on the topic over the past decade.

The United States was the first modern democracy that cultivated the idea that church should be separate from state. At the time, the Roman Catholic Church had incredible political power over mainland European countries such as Spain and France. Meanwhile, the British Isles were ruled by a similar state-and-church-head combo through the Anglican Church.

War, inquisitions, and systematic repression were rampant, much more significantly than today, because the excuses to persecute one sect over another were woven into the fabric of the government.

Catholics, Jews, Protestants, Muslims — they all suffered somewhere under some regime at the hand of a state governed by religious politics. This is where men such as John Locke and Adam Smith found themselves in the 17th and 18th centuries, and this is when they, along with their contemporaries, developed and expanded upon the idea of the social contract, toleration, and a separation of church and state.

One only has to look into the past to foresee the future. There is a reason the church and state are separated in this country, and in many around the world. Religion can be a very positive thing. It is also inherently biased, often regressive for technological advancement, prone to manipulation and easily turned to be against others instead of for those who wish to enrich themselves.

These pitfalls of religion can all be found in any political system, but a government is made more susceptible to these risks when the two are intertwined. A democracy runs most effectively for the people when they are allowed individual freedoms, no infringement upon one’s freedoms of speech, press, or religion, and are encouraged to keep an open mind and stay active in the political process.

Those key ingredients are a crucial difference between secular and religious institutions. Religion is a place where people follow, in one way or another. Democracy is where people must lead, must stand up and actively work to change, or keep the same, the way their society functions.

This isn’t about party lines or political ideology. This is about a Constitution that guarantees us all a government with no religious preference or interference.

The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people and that money equals speech. It is a muddy, gray system that needs refinement and adjustment, as anything that wishes to stand the test of time must do.

Religion is too sacred to play in this murky political landscape, and politics is too crucial to our liberty to be put in possible peril by the marriage of church and state.

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