Is the Separation Between Church and State about to Crumble? - WhoWhatWhy

Is the Separation Between Church and State about to Crumble?

Separation of Church and State, Supreme Court, Sam Alito, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch
Congress shall make laws respecting an establishment of religion, and supporting the free exercise thereof. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
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When people complain that President Donald Trump and his administration are threatening the First Amendment, they usually think about assaults on the freedom of the press. Just as troubling, however, is that conservatives on the highest levels of all branches of government are blurring the lines between the state and religion.

Vice President Mike Pence, arguably one of the biggest religious zealots ever on a presidential ticket, is a prime example. He makes no secret of his priorities and allegiances. When Pence addressed the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington earlier this year, he proudly said that he is a Christian first, then a conservative and then a Republican. At the event, the vice president also claimed that “no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ.”

Pence is not alone in that belief. In a recent survey, white evangelical Christians were the only group that believes Christians are more discriminated against than are Muslims. Ironically, white evangelical Christians are also the only group polled that favors the right of business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds.

In other words, they were the only ones who felt that discrimination on religious grounds was acceptable while, at the same time, feeling that they were the main victim of such discrimination.

Fortunately, the Founding Fathers put in place measures to stop people like Pence from forcing their beliefs on others. In addition to making the prohibition of a state religion the very first thing mentioned in the Bill of Rights, they also added checks and balances to ensure that the Supreme Court would prevent any such laws from being enacted.

Ground Zero in the battle between the secularism the Founding Fathers instilled in the United States and the fundamentalism of the so-called religious right are gay marriage and anything associated with reproductive rights.

With the law no longer going their way, evangelical Christians are increasingly insisting on the right to discriminate against others on the basis of their “religious freedom.” This includes state governments trying to make things difficult for same-sex couples and business owners refusing to serve gays or to cover birth control as part of their insurance plans.

In addition, there have been cases of religiously affiliated schools firing pregnant employees who were not married.

Several health care or educational institutions engaging in these and other practices receive government funding of some sort, which means that taxpayers are subsidizing their discrimination.

So far, the safeguards put in place are largely holding. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Arkansas authorities must list the names of both parents on the birth certificate of a same-sex couple’s child.

However, the opinion to reverse an Arkansas court decision summarily (meaning that the facts of the case were so clear that no oral arguments were needed), was not unanimous and therefore revealed a problem the Founders might not have anticipated. What if the Supreme Court is also stacked with religious zealots?

Three justices joined in a dissent written by Neil Gorsuch, the court’s newest member. The others were Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas, the most reliably conservative members of the court.

That’s not yet enough to make this a Supreme Court dominated by Christian fundamentalists — but we are not that far away. Chief Justice John Roberts already votes with the trio on many social issues, and rumors that one of the other justices will retire soon are getting louder every year.

With Trump’s legislative agenda stalled, the biggest win he can give his staunchly conservative base is another justice in the mold of Gorsuch. If that happens, the last firewall standing between the country and a fundamentalist Christian agenda would have major cracks.

And the next cases are already on the docket. The court announced last week that it would hear the appeal of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men. And on Friday, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court decided, in a seemingly absurd unanimous decision, that gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Sam Alito caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Clarence Thomas caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), John Roberts caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Neil Gorsuch caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), vestments (Timothy Titus / Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0) and Supreme Court (John Marino / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Church and State (DoD / Wikimedia).

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36 responses to “Is the Separation Between Church and State about to Crumble?”

  1. Avatar sjs1967 says:

    Dear Authors of this article,
    Please consider two scenarios.
    The first involves my father. For about 30 years he taught special needs children in a minority neighborhood. During that time he also served as an elected official, getting next to nothing as a stipend for his service. He did these things simply because he wanted to give back to his community, a trait he learned from his father and his faith. You see, he was to become a Catholic priest. After his seminary education, he didn’t go into the priesthood as he met my mother and decided he could serve in other ways than the church.
    Upon his retirement from teaching, he started to perform wedding ceremonies. Since his faith never left him, it was an easy transition and he was able to perform many ceremonies for couples. Now, the situation did not arise, but I have to wonder what would have happened if a same-sex couple approached him to officiate. His life-long faith would have led him to tell them he couldn’t. One day though I’m afraid that someone like my dad, a man who gave his life for others, could be sued for his faith or forced to give up officiating. That doesn’t seem right, does it?

    The second scenario involves my wife. She is a Christian with degrees in Christian Education and Nursing. She decided to become a labor and delivery nurse and applied for an opening at a hospital. At the initial interview, my wife was open about her faith and told them she would not participate in abortions, that it was a deal breaker. The hospital hired her anyways and had her write a letter about her objection to keep on file so that someone would always know of the stipulation that my wife would not participate.
    A few years later some of the nurses noticed that my wife wasn’t in the “rotation”. None of the nurses volunteered to participate in abortions so they all had to take turns (something I found very telling). The nurses went to HR and complained, asking why they had to participate when my wife didn’t. The hospital had a problem. If none of the nurses would participate, they would lose the abortion business. Their solution…lose my wife’s letter and claim there never was an exception granted. They offered her a lesser position with less responsibility, or to keep her job and participate in abortions. Keep in mind that my wife had won awards and accolades for her service.
    She turned both down offers and left as her pro-life stance is strong. By leaving, she gave up a steady job and tenure.
    Another telling sign (in my opinion) was that the day I took her to pick up her things from her locker, the unit had zero patients, something that very rarely happened. Patients = revenue, and there was no revenue that day.

  2. Avatar Charterboy says:

    Just a short comment- I think the first section of the article could use clarification. It’s my understanding when Christians say Christians are the most discriminated/persecuted religion, they are referring to worldwide Christianity. Whether it’s China shutting down churches, or violence in North Africa or especially now in the Middle East, where entire communities of Christians are being wiped out, I think there’s at least a fair argument they might be correct in saying Christians are widely discriminated against. But looking at it as purely about US Christians would be a mistake.

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  4. Avatar HpO says:

    Who’s side were the Founding Fathers on, again, Klaus Marre and Donkeyhotey, in “the battle between the secularism the Founding Fathers instilled in the United States and the fundamentalism of the so-called religious right”?

    Who says “the Founding Fathers” were on the side of “the secularism the Founding Fathers instilled in the United States”? Oh, that’s right, you say so, because you’ve pre-framed and pre-formulated that statement to say it like that, ipso facto, no counter-argument necessary. There’s a nasty word for that in journalism: bias, prejudice, preconception. Your choice.

    That said and out of the way, now take a look at the 2nd part of that statement in light of the 1st. The sub-text reveals your extremist-like intolerance by insinuating that “the fundamentalism of the so-called religious right” (1) finds no welcoming home sweet home among “the Founding Fathers” of America, and (2) nor is it a unique American phenomenon based “in the United States”! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, DEAR SIRS?! Of course, both the secularists and the religious right are Americans and were spawned, inbred even, by “the Founding Fathers” of America. Get over it or get used to it. Your choice. Me? I oppose both secularism and the religious right, but that’s neither here nor there, and another story that’s less interesting than your journalistic bias, prejudice, preconception.

  5. Avatar Mackenzie says:

    “The court announced last week that it would hear the appeal of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men.”

    How about this question:

    How come it wouldn’t be illegal for a heterosexual person to discriminate against a baker who was gay? (Let’s say this was the key reason this person decided to purchase a cake from a different baker).

    It seems as if the laws are for those people who want to sell something. Except that there’s a catch to that scenario too. BOTH PEOPLE are selling something. The baker sells cakes while the consumer sells their dollars.

    Is this topic too taboo to be discussed on Who What Why? Or am I allowed to legitimately question conventional thinking?

  6. Avatar George W Obama says:

    Mike Pence says he is a Christian first? Christ taught we should love our enemies. If Pence was following the teachings of Jesus Christ he would advocate we abolish our military.

    Jesus said if you are rich you are going to hell, if you want to be rich you want to go to hell.

    If Mike Pence wants to follow the Bible a good first step is the Jubilee. After 7 years all debts are wiped away!

    They are Cafeteria Christians. They go through the Bible like I go through a cafeteria line. I take some of that, a few of those, none of that and all of this.

  7. Avatar Citizen Quasar says:

    The separation of church and state “crumbled” a long time ago when government meetings began to be opened with prayers…by faithists (Christians, in most cases).

    It is faith that is the antithesis to reason, reason being man’s sole and most fundamental natural tool of survival. America was conceived as a nation of reason but this reasoning has been destroyed by faithists, usually using terror as a motivator to get Americans to abandon reason.

    The First Amendment, in proper English and proper context, should read: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of faith.

  8. Avatar 0040 says:

    In the US there has never been a line between church and state. One reason the US is so schizophrenic to begin with, the voices in most politicos’ heads is widely believed to be god.

  9. Avatar Saint Howard says:

    Your arguments are specious. The original US Congress, executive branch, and Supreme Court were stacked with religious zealots. Why wasn’t THAT a problem? Or maybe you think it was. I don’t.

    A government cannot be separated from the beliefs of its members. Our problem today is not “religious zealots” – it’s ALL zealots, none of whom can agree about anything and whose numbers continue to grow.

    • Avatar Jim says:

      I cannot disagree strongly enough. None of our institutions were “stacked with religious zealots.” Most Americans (including the Founding Fathers) were deists, not Christian fundamentalists. When Jefferson wrote about the “wall of separation between church and state”, the Baptists agreed with him. None of our first seven presidents were Christian. (And I have hundreds of sources.)

      That is how the USA’s government ended up secular.

    • Avatar 0040 says:

      Thom Payne and possibly Jefferson dabbled in deism. All the rest were in the end fanatical Christians of varying flavors who feared the other sects might gain some advantage if their particular religion gained too much influence. The argument around the separation of church and state revolves around that issue to this day. Falwell, Roberts, and Robinson et al vying for the politicians’ ears with bribes of voting blocs and dollars. Secular governments do not allow religions a total tax exemption of their nasty enterprise which consists of selling death insurance to the rubes. The average American pretty much avoids religion in his or her youth but buys in as a hedge as they age, and our mortality becomes obvious. It’s cheaper than healthcare these days.

    • Avatar Jim says:

      If you’re claiming Washington and Franklin were Christians, I gotta disagree. Washington never prayed and refused communion all his life. Some of his speeches criticized Christianity deeply. Franklin denied any faith to his dying day. Madison was also deist.

    • Avatar 0040 says:

      To this day all of them regularly attend church and publicly profess belief in the sky tyrant. Franklin and Washington as well. Deism is a form of Christianity , and Madison did not entertain it as as belief.

    • Avatar Jim says:

      The guys who have been dead for 200 years? ALL of them TO THIS DAY regularly attend church????

      Really? Please troll elsewhere. I’ve had enough of your dishonesty.

    • Avatar 0040 says:

      A troll calling someone dishonest , you must practice in front of your mirror.??? You have yet to post a verifiable fact

    • Avatar Jim says:

      None of those dead people are regularly attending church today.

    • Avatar Saint Howard says:

      Your arguments are specious, too. The word “Christian” appears nowhere in my post. Why is it in yours?

    • Avatar Jim says:

      In a word: your reference to “religious zealots”. And a government MUST be separated from the beliefs of its members, just like the Constitution says. Otherwise, the government can dictate what religion you gotta follow. Capice?