Separation of church and state a bad idea

I said in a column I write for an American web daily last week that, unlike Canada, the separation of church and state is “embedded” in the U.S. Constitution.  I was properly rapped by at least a dozen readers for perpetuating a lie.  I now discover it was “read into” the Constitution by their Supreme Court in 1947, creating the mythology that the constitution’s original framers put it there.  Well, they didn’t, and I am therefore guilty as charged.

But where, I wondered, did I get the idea.

I’m ashamed to admit that I picked it up from the Canadian news media. Why I should have so gullibly believed their version of the American political scene, when I so readily doubt their version of the Canadian one, I cannot explain or defend.

However, this did provide me with an excuse to write again on what Thomas Jefferson (not the Constitution) called “the wall of separation” between church and state.  This concept sits well in the modern secularist mind and it is frequently cited as a Canadian constitutional reality, which it is not.  That’s because it enables the state to put controls on religion, though in the U.S. the Constitution specifically directs that Congress “shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

However, by conferring on the individual a civil right to behave in a manner offensive to religious people, then by using the public schools to ideologically indoctrinate children to “respect” and “accept” such conduct, then finally by branding as an act of “hatred” any criticism of it, the state can effectively “prohibit the free exercise of religion.”

This, in both Canada and the U.S., the state now fervently strives to do.  Its endeavours have made great progress in Canada.

A teacher has been fired for daring to criticize—not in school but in public debate—certain sexual practices not long ago regarded as criminal.

Books have been forced into school libraries over the objections of parents and school boards.

Christian schools have been forbidden to prohibit activity they regard as perverted at school dances.

Newspapers have been prosecuted for running biblical verses denouncing certain sexual practices.

If such despotism does not constitute a prohibition of “the free exercise of religion,” it’s hard to imagine what would.  As in the U.S., it’s the courts that are doing all this.  “Our courts,” as one retired judge told me, “are absolutely out of control. They’re running wild.”  Their endeavour to erect a wall between religious and state authority is dangerous, foolish and will soon prove impossible.

The central activity of the state is to pass laws. All laws, even the most unlikely ones, are rooted in some moral principle.  The most obvious, of course, are the criminal laws.  Every clause in every criminal code says, in effect, “Thou shalt do this.”

Or “Thou shalt not do that.”  But civil laws rely on moral authority too.

The graduated income tax seeks to express the principle that those who can afford to pay more should pay more, a moral assertion.  The traffic laws seek to provide “fair access to” and “safe usage of” the public streets.  But “fairness” is a moral matter.  And safety can only be achieved by a code of rules which the citizen is morally obligated to observe.

Now the fundamental source of moral authority for nearly all people is ultimately a religious one. We believe we should behave fairly, honestly, truthfully because the Bible or the Church or the Qur’an or our pastor or priest tells us so.  Therefore our opinions as to what should and should not go into the law will be religiously grounded opinions, because that’s the only source of authority we know.

And when a judicial authority rules, as it did in B.C., that a school board broke the law by hearing the testimony of clergymen on the acceptability of certain books, then religion and its adherents are being forbidden to participate in the shaping of the law.  Probably 90% of the country is being disfranchised.  As this becomes more and more evident, the courts will become less and less credible.  That is a dangerous situation.

That’s why the total separation of church and state is a very bad idea.