“We are teaching the world the great truth that governments do better without Kings and Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of government.”—James Madison (generally regarded as a right bright fellow).
If there is one thing that the increasing popularity of social media has demonstrated to me, is what I am now convinced is its unmatched capacity to proliferate ignorance, faster and farther than any medium before it. In other words, to boldly go where only fools have gone before.
I’ve never quite understood why, but in American culture, people almost always make up for a lack of knowledge with increased volume, an unpleasant phenomenon that social media has only magnified. Perhaps it is but a microcosm of the larger domestic society in which far too many people fail to learn that it is generally unwise to spout off upon subjects of which they are grossly ignorant.
In general, nowhere is this more evident than in the fields of politics and religion, and specifically, it is, I think, most evident at the always troublesome intersection of the two.
And one of those intersections, wreckfilled, it must be noted, is one which I think we will hear more and more about between now and next November—the always controversial concept of separation of church and state.
Of course, there should rightly be no such controversy, no such debate over the existence of what is also known as the “wall of separation” between church and state in this great nation of ours, in that its truths are at least often, indeed “self-evident.” But there is, one rather consistently made more heated by ye olde social media, primarily I believe because state leaders know less about church than they think they do and church leaders know less about state than they think they do.
It’s a pity that my grandmother is no longer here to advise both on the advantages of tending to one’s own knitting.
However, consistent with the equally sound notion that people of both stripes are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, let us rationally and dispassionately examine relevant examples of the latter. Facts are, after all, sometimes troubling but always useful additions to any discussion.
The anti-separation crowd is always eager to point out that in neither of this country’s most sacred documents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—is the phrase “separation of church and state” to be found. And in that, they are absolutely right.
Yet, those same people are somewhat less eager to acknowledge that within neither of those two revered documents are the words “Christian” or “Jesus” to be found, either. In fact, the less specific words “religion” and “religious” are only used twice, once in Article VI of the Constitution, prohibiting any religious test for holding public office and the better known protection within its First Amendment.
So much for the “America is a Christian nation” myth propelled like ragweed online. Nor is it a Buddhist nation or a Muslim nation or a Hindu nation, which is, of course, the point.
Which leads us once again to Paul Simon’s keen observation that “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Factually, the phrase “building a wall of separation between Church and State” is credited to being used first by Thomas Jefferson, referencing the Constitution in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, a letter later published. Less known, is the fact in so doing he was inadvertantly quoting the founder of the Baptist Church in America, Roger Williams, who in 1644 wrote of the need of a “bridge or wall of separation between the gardens of the church and the wilderness of the world.”
Church/State separation first appears in U.S. jurisprudence in an 1878 Supreme Court case, but it is cemented in the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education SCOTUS opinion in which Justice Hugo Black opines: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between Church and State. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.”
So, what should be but won’t be the bottom line of the matter is this: To argue there is no separation of church and state in the United States is to argue that there is a real Easter bunny who shows up on that holiday morning to deliver artificially colored chicken eggs.
Oh, you can do it, if you are of a mind to, but the facts are gonna be against you.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.