Posts tagged with: Separation of Church and State

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, January 16, 2015

Freedom-of-ReligionThomas Jefferson wanted what he considered to be his three greatest achievements to be listed on his tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

Today we celebrate the 229th anniversary of one of those great creations: the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” One way to honor the day is to reflect on these ten quotes about religious liberty that were expressed by some of our country’s greatest leaders:


On The Daily Caller, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the connection between economic liberty and religious freedom which, he observes, “has not been so obvious; or at least it wasn’t until cases such as Hobby Lobby’s started making their way through the American court system.” Also not so obvious is how the ever expanding welfare state in many countries — and the growing dependence of some religious charities on state funding — have had a negative impact on the institutional liberty of religious organization. Gregg:

As funding from government contracts begin to make up large portions of a given religious charity’s financial resources, economic reliance on such assistance can easily incentivize such organizations into avoiding any significant conflicts with government officials: including those occasions when such conflict is inevitable if the religious organization is to remain faithful to its core beliefs. It is not unknown for religious organizations receiving or seeking state contracts to downplay their religious identity precisely so they can maximize their chances of receiving such a contract. As George Weigel points it, such organizations can begin to transform themselves into “mere vehicles for the delivery of state-defined and state-approved ‘benefit’.”

It is also true that acceptance of government funding can encourage many people working in religious organizations to view government as their main authority. This should not be surprising. If 80 percent of a religious charity’s income is coming from state financial assistance and government contracts for which religious organizations compete, it would seem that the government effectively controls that religious charity’s purse-strings. And that means the state is well and truly in charge.

Read all of “Economic Freedom And Religious Freedom Are Mutually Reinforcing” by Samuel Gregg on The Daily Caller.

Samuel Gregg, Acton’s director of research, recently wrote about the “complicated relationship” between religious freedom and business. While there may not seem like a natural connection between these two concepts, Gregg points out that, especially recently, we are seeing a number of businesses “impacted by apparent infringements of religious liberty.” He goes on to discuss just how complicated this relationship is:

Until relatively late in the modern era, most Jews in Europe were legally prohibited from formal involvement in political life and barred from serving in particular professions such as law, the civil service, and the military. Throughout Western and Eastern Europe, many Jews consequently gravitated towards commerce and finance as activities in which they were allowed to exercise their talents. To the eternal shame of Christians, the tremendous success of Jews in these areas made them frequent and easy targets for anti-Semitic pogroms (often incited by Christian business rivals) as well as legalized extortions by Christian kings and princes.


church-sunsetThe first kind of religious freedom to appear in the Western world was “freedom of the church.” Although that freedom has been all but ignored by the Courts in the past few decades, its place in American jurisprudence is once again being recognized.

Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett explains how we should think about and defend the liberty of religious institutions:

To embrace this idea as still-relevant is to claim that religious institutions have a distinctive place in our constitutional order—and not only a distinctively worrisome or harmful one. It is to suggest that churches are not “just like the Boy Scouts” and that, while they to a large extent function in civil society in the same way and deliver the same Tocquevillian benefits as any number of voluntary associations, they are, in the end, different.

True, it is increasingly difficult, within the boundaries of argument set down by some versions of liberal political theory, to justify, on principled grounds, special treatment for religious liberty. Still, in our history and tradition, “religious” institutions and authorities have acted, and have been regarded, as special and distinct, whether or not “religion” has been understood as neatly separate from “culture,” “conscience,” or “morality.” We live under a written Constitution that “singles out” religion and we inhabit a tradition in which “church” and “state” have, in a special way, cooperated and contended. If it is anachronistic to invoke the freedom of the church, it seems even more ahistorical to deny the distinctive (for better or worse) place and role of religious actors in that tradition, and today.

Read more . . .

hobby_lobby_protest_bible_ap_ftrBefore I try to convince you that Katha Pollitt is dangerously wrong, let me attempt to explain why her opinion is significant. Pollitt was educated at Harvard and the Columbia School of the Arts and has taught at Princeton. She has won a National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary, an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Book Critics Circle Award.

She is, in other words, the kind of politically progressive pundit whose opinions, when originally expressed, are considered outré — and then within a few months or years, are considered mainstream in progressive circles.

However, in her latest column, “Why It’s Time to Repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Pollitt is but a few minutes ahead of the liberal curve.

She begins with the stunningly obtuse claim that, “In the not-too-distant future, it’s entirely possible that religious freedom will be the only freedom we have left—a condition for which we can blame the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.”

Pollitt is smart enough to know that claim is nonsense. She’s also smart enough to know that there are plenty of people who are gullible enough to believe it could be true.

irf-reportYesterday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2013. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.”

“In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory,” is the depressing introduction to the report. “In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs.”

TeaPartyCatholicBruce Edward Walker, recently wrote a column for the Morning Sun that relates the recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby with America’s Founding and Samuel Gregg’s latest, Tea Party Catholic. The piece begins by discussing the Declaration of Independence and one of its signers, Charles Carroll,  “a successful Maryland businessmen,” Walker says, “who was also Roman Catholic and thus denied voting rights and the freedom to hold government office under British colonial rule. In other words, Carroll had a  bigger dog in the fight for independence than any of his fellow American Protestant revolutionaries.”

Walker continues:

For Gregg, Carroll represents a fitting template for contemporary Christians of a particular denomination who advocate for lower taxes and less government intervention in the exercise of their respective faiths or other aspects of their lives. Such pushback against the state was the impetus for our War of Independence, and is the spark that ignited the Tea Party movement – the latter whose members fight for similar freedoms without ridiculous assertions of resorting to guns, jihads, crusades or even remote considerations thereof. (more…)