Constitution offers religious protection
Original article can be found at http://newsok.com/article/3193160
Constitution offers religious protection
By A. James Rudin
Keeping the Faith
Following a recent Sunday service at a Des Moines, Iowa, evangelical church, 38-year-old Ron Heins told a Washington Post reporter he would like the United States to rid itself of the separation of church and state.
"That is not in the Constitution anywhere,” he said. "Our country was founded on Christian principles. ... Give me the chance to share my faith.”
Even though Heins' ideas are shared by many Americans, his description of the Constitution is both wrong and dangerous.
Article Six of the Constitution declares that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
In a recent speech, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney cited that section of the Constitution in an effort to overcome the belief that his Mormon faith disqualifies him from the presidency.
Romney declared candidates should not be required to explain their religious beliefs: "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.” Rightly put.
In 1791, the Bill of Rights was adopted, and the First Amendment says clearly that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... . ”
These are not vague promises or ethereal concepts that can be blithely dismissed. Instead, these rights were specifically included in our nation's founding document to make certain there would never be a legally mandated established religion in the United States.
The seductive siren song to link church and state in America comes at a moment in history when our country is increasingly multi-religious, and when every religion in the world has members in the U.S. The Constitution guarantees no one is "prohibited” from the "free exercise” of any religion, including the 18 percent of us who do not identify as Christian — Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha'is, and others. Thanks to the Constitution, agnostics and atheists are also protected because they, too, represent the "free exercise” of religious (non)belief.
Now, some Americans mistakenly view church-state issues as a series of obscure court cases that involve prayers and Bible-reading in public schools, efforts to eliminate teaching of evolution, or divisive legal questions surrounding religious symbols on public property during the December holidays.
The proper balance between religion and state is a major issue that will never go away. Many Americans believe the question was permanently settled long ago by the adoption of Constitution, and the vigorous support of church-state separation by people such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
Despite numerous attempts to undermine those bedrock constitutional guarantees, Jefferson's "wall of separation” requires constant maintenance. That wall has enabled both religion and state to prosper and grow strong in the U.S.
Americans who would eliminate the separation of church and state should remember that such a position is a recipe for disaster. When religion and state become entangled and intertwined, atrocities inevitably occur. Throughout history, religious minorities and dissidents have been the victims of persecution, even murder, at the hands of the majority.
Those who advocate a commingling of church and state need to recall that many early settlers came to these shores fleeing hostile governments and tyrannical religious institutions, seeking liberty and freedom of conscience. Think of Quakers, Pilgrims, French Huguenots, Roman Catholics, Jews, Baptists and a host of other religious groups that sought escape from regimes that harassed them because their beliefs were not part of the "establishment.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said it best in rendering her last Supreme Court opinion: "Why ... trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”