What does the separation of church and state mean and how does it affect us?
What is the separation of church and state? A popular teaching today “is that the Constitution has a dynamic meaning or that it has the properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes.” The reasoning for this is called the “pragmatist” view, which looks at perceived problems from a present-day point of view, and the “intent” view, which attempts to justify the pragmatist viewpoint by saying that the Founding Fathers intended for our Constitution to be a dynamic, “living” document and therefore wrote it in broad and flexible terms. (Original definition from Wikipedia, Living Constitution; interpretation belongs to the author.) Of course, I propose that these are both completely false. Our Founding Fathers were wise men who were well-versed with many types of government. They wrote our Constitution to govern by specific principles. Our problem is not that the Constitution is vague, but instead that we, the people have not been living it. We have been eating away at it since the day it was ratified.
From where and from whom do we get our rights? Ezra Taft Benson wrote a wonderful booklet called “The Constitution, A Heavenly Banner.” I highly recommend reading it. It does a great job explaining the principles upon which our Constitution was founded. On page 6, he says that either “Rights are God-given ... or they are granted by government .... If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government.”
It has become the prevailing belief that the separation of church and state means that religion has no place in our government. This is not what our Founding Fathers intended. They came from a country where religion was dictated by a king. They weren’t allowed to believe in any religion they chose; the only religion open to them was the one the king chose. However, they wanted people to be able to choose what they would believe and how they would worship. This is the reason for the separation of church and state. However, the relentless effort to enforce the separation of church and state as perceived by those making this effort has given us a new religion that is enforced nearly as strongly and tyrannically as the religion in England was dictated by the king. What is this new religion? It’s called Atheism. Our Founding Fathers asserted that our rights are God-given. They intended that religion in general would play an active part in government. They simply didn’t want government to control which religion a person could believe in. Therefore, our rights are limited to those that God would grant.
Our Constitution was intended and written for a religious people. On page 33 of his book “To Preserve the Nation,” Scott Bradley writes, “... John Adams, the nation’s first vice president and second president, captured the concept of the importance of religion to the nation most succinctly when he said, ‘Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.’”
A benefit of obeying the Constitution as it was written is that it solves other problems. Have you noticed that disobeying one true principle creates a cascade of other problems? Then we see the new problems as new and unrelated when in reality, they’re simply fallout of disobeying the original principle. The same is true here. For example, when we separate church and state in the way that is commonly understood today, we get problems like abortion, homosexuality, education (we can’t teach concepts perceived as religious in the classroom) and even telling the truth on the witness stand! (Did you know that in the early days of our country, a judge wouldn’t allow a person to testify if he or she was an atheist? The reasoning was that if a person didn’t believe that he or she would be accountable to God after they died, then they wouldn’t feel any compunction about lying on the witness stand.)
Now, if we flip this to obeying the Constitution as our Founding Fathers created it, we get back to a simpler life. We make judgments based on correct foundational principles instead of precedent. We no longer need a law to cover every possible action because we have principles that encourage honor and right action.
I believe that our wise and inspired Founding Fathers gave us a Constitution that will protect us and create liberty and prosperity for us — if we follow it.