Separation of Church and State? Let’s be real – it’s over. So what do we do now?

During the pleadings in the case Shurtleff v. City of BostonSupreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch pointed out reference to the “so-called separation of Church and State”. Exactly what this aside was meant to express is unclear. Yet Gorsuch’s dismissive comment laid bare what many have known for some time: “separatism,” as a judicial and legislative doctrine, is on life support. Thanks to the Christian right, he languishes in a theology-induced coma.

The many Americans who yearn for secularism governance, believers and non-believers, must face this truth, accept it and innovate accordingly. They must do so quickly, given the Supreme Court’s harsh pro-religious turn — a turn that favors a white conservative Christian majority at the expense of religious moderates, religious minorities and non-believers.

Gorsuch might have been trolling, but he was right. Let’s ask ourselves some tough questions about the “separationism” we know (and love).

If we really had a “separation wall”, the Supreme Court would not seem receptive, as it does in Carson v. Makin, at to assert “a religious right to government funds” for schools that teach a “biblical worldview”. Huge Christian crosses honoring fallen soldiers would not sit on state property (American Legion v American Humanist Association). The recently restored The White House Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships would not exist. Symbolically, Christmas videos Trump’s White House would not be allowed, nor would Joseph Biden’s dedications in Saint-Augustin on the day of the Inauguration.

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We have no real separation in the United States. Fortunately, separationism is only one type of secularism. There are others. The secular movement in the United States, however defined, has an interest in learning more about itself and thinking outside the box – as well as beyond the so-called wall between religion and government.

Secularism is a government policy in which the state regulates the relationship between itself and its religious citizens, and also between religious citizens. A secular state strives to balance freedom and order. It must offer citizens who are beholden to very different worldviews as much freedom of religion or—since demographics are changing quickly in this regard — the freedom from religion as possible. At the same time, it ensures the civil calm necessary for them to enjoy these freedoms.


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Other nations teach us that these secular goals are achievable without separationism. india besieged the secular pattern accentuates sarva dharma sama bhava, or “equal respect for all religions”. Far from locking itself in, the government is accommodating faith communities. India’s constitution, for example, even provides for Muslims to abide by their own laws.

French secularism is quite different. Secularismas we know, does not separate itself from religion: it controls this. French laws strike Americans as too harsh (for example, prohibiting the public display of religious clothing, such as burkas). French citizens, however, overwhelmingly prefer a strong state hold on religion, a preference conditioned by centuries of traumatic clashes with the Catholic Church.

France and India are constitutionally secular. The United States, as Christian conservative activists happily note, is not. There is no constitutional guarantee of separation. Instead, there are a few dozen ambiguous words in our founding documents, 16 of which read: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of any religion; or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson interpreted these sparse clauses as saying that a “wall of separation” should exist between church and state. It was a radical and unpopular opinion, especially with the Great Awakening on the horizon. Even James Madison, author of the First Amendment, did not share his colleague’s separationist zeal. Jefferson’s opinion was mostly ignored until 1879, when it surfaced in a Latter Day Saint polygamy case. Reynolds v. United States. It then remained inactive for another 70 years!

While separation is often considered a fundamental tenet of American democracy, it was first operationalized as a judicial framework in 1947. Everson v. Board of Education Case. Shortly thereafter, non-denominational prayer in public schools was ruled unconstitutional (Engel versus Vitale1962), as do the daily Bible readings (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1962). Lemon vs. Kurtzman (1971) prohibited “excessive government entanglement” with religion. When John F. Kennedy exclaimed In 1960: “I believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute,” he trumpeted the new separationist status quo.

In the 1970s, this status quo was in the crosshairs of a resurgent religious right. Apart from this triumphant assault, the constitutional basis of separationism has always been shaky. In Wallace v. Jaffre (1985), Chief Justice William Rehnquist said the wall metaphor was based on a “bad story” that “should be frankly and explicitly dropped”. As indeed it was soon; 37 years later, Judge Gorsuch has made a victory lap.

Instead of demanding something the Constitution does not guarantee (e.g. a separation wall), the laity should focus on something it does: equal protection for all citizens, as guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Borrowing from India, they could argue for the equality of all believers (and non-believers). The “secularism of equal rights” would highlight the legal inequalities that conservative Christian political activism maintains.

Thus, no county clerk could Deny a marriage license to a same-sex couple in the name of religious freedom. No single notion of the beginning of life could assume the status of law. As noted by dozens of religious organizations in their amicus curiae brief for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: “[T]there is a diversity of views both within and between religions regarding the nature and timing of onset of life.” A lay person should argue that subjecting a Jewish woman in Texas to a conservative Catholic standard of fetal viability renders the first unequal to the second.

Borrow secularism, American secularists might point out how privileging the rights of a few religious groups threatens the order. When the faithful to gather during a pandemic, this is not free exercise, but reckless endangerment. When the extremists storm the United States Capitol is not protected freedom of speech, but sedition. Even colonial-era constitutions stated that the first amendment never mentioned: Your free exercise cannot threaten public safety. Secular Americans Should Demand Equality protectionliterally.

Enough with the walls. This rigid (and illiberal) metaphor underestimates the complex task that secularism performs in multicultural societies. Instead, secular legal and cultural activism should focus on the anarchy and inequality that arises when LGBTQ people, nonbelievers, religious minorities, and religious moderates are forced to live by religious design. peculiar to God.

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