Sunday, March 29, 2009

Over Secularization

In his article Slippery church-state separation, Stephen Strehle argues that religious influence on the government is not inherently bad. He believes much of the problem is the lack of the courts “defining religion in the first place” granting them almost limitless power. He believes that there have been many great government theories which spawned from religion and to keep them out in the future could be harmful. He says that early statutes on religion “rejected any permanent commitment to certain groups, but never pretended that religion or what is associated with the term provides no contribution to the people's concept of government a posteriori.” This has evolved into immediate court rejection of anything with religious affiliation instead of simply ensuring that the government is not directly supporting a religion. He thinks this over secularization could and may have in the past, prevented beneficial government actions.

I also think that often the courts are too scared of supporting a religion that they take excessive measures. This has led in several cases to churches being denied money to help the needy. One result of this is that some religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church have had to shift to supporting government initiatives to help the poor which are often inefficient with money being wasted on bureaucracy. And also as Marin makes abundantly clear in With God on Our Side, religious groups still have a substantial influence on government which cannot be completely ceased. The Republican Party often catered to the needs of the evangelicals. This practice leads to the groups which are lucky enough to attach to a major party having significantly more power than those which don’t.

Should courts continue to have the power to strike down any and all religiously charged laws? Has there been an over secularization of the US government to a point not called for in the Constitution? Is it beneficial to have a complete separation of Church and State?

13 comments:

Katie N S said...

I agree with both Adam and Strehle that the focus on the separation of church and state has gotten a bit overemphasized. In my understanding, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that no one would be prosecuted, discriminated against, or less powerful on a religious basis. I don’t think that complete separation of church and state is necessary to accomplish these goals. As Adam points out, increased secularism could actually promote inequality of voice because those that go through a political channel in order to keep things “secular” have a greater say than others. As with everything, there are pro and cons to secularization. However, I think the inescapable truth is that no matter how hard we try, church and state will never be completely isolated from one another. Too many people rely on religious views to shape their political ideologies for true secularism to ever become a reality and attempts by the courts to overcome this are misguided.

Neal M said...

I agree with Adam and Katie in that there has been a growing obsession with the seperation of the church and state. It seems that the biggest problem with this issue is that the court's attempts to keep church and state seperate have, as Adam pointed out, been detrimental to the religions themselves. This was not the goal of the founding fathers. James Madison argued for the freedom of religion so that people may defer to a higher authority than the government, Now, however, as courts continue to rule in favor of seperating church and state, the government is taking a position of higher authority over religion because they are essentially handcuffing the endeavours of certain religions, endeavours that would certainly benefit society. The focus needs to be shifted away from maintaining the wall of seperation and towards strengthening society.

Limor B said...

Although I do agree that the courts have been very strict when it comes to having governmental support for religious institutions, I do not agree that they have taken excessive measures. American history is plagued with examples where the melting of religion and political authority destroyed the civil liberties of different groups. The Salem witch trials, slavery and more recently, abortion and homosexual rights serve as examples of the dangers of religion in politics. Adam points to one situation where the courts denied funds to churches but fails to recognize the many other tragedies in American history that resulted from the infusion of religion into politics. The courts should take whatever precaution necessary to prevent the encroachment of civil liberties, even if it means cutting funding to churches helping the homeless.

Tanya B. said...

I think that the area of government support of religious organizations is an extremely touchy topic, and that the reason the courts are so eager to dismiss religious cases is because they are afraid of the effects of their actions. If one religious group is granted funding, many other groups may follow suit, and who is to say which groups should receive support and which shouldn’t? Personally, I agree with Adam that certain religious initiatives which focus on humanitarian work should be granted consideration for governmental funding and support. I do not, however, support religious involvement in politics, and I think that is where the line between the two areas becomes blurry. I think that each case needs to be weighed separately, with special consideration given to which kinds of groups will benefit from the action taken.

Mallory H said...

I agree that church and state should not be completely separate nor will it be. However, there are many instances where the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of religion. While the court may throw out cases involving granting money to religious organizations, they are not completely dismissing religious displays. A recent court decision actually allowed that a monument for the Summum religion be resurrected in a Utah park. This park also contains a monument of the Ten Commandments. The policy that is in place now involves assessing whether or not a religious display has historical or instructional reasons for being displayed. They are ruled as a violation of the First Amendment if the item was displayed for only religious purposes. That being said, I agree that religion can be beneficial when making policies for a country. Morals are a lot of times what drive decisions, and I think there needs to be people making these decisions that want to do the right thing.

David W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David W. said...

Strehle writes, “The [1947 US Supreme] court thought it was possible and necessary to separate religion from the civil government.” This belief demonstrates a misapprehension of the science behind the debate: faith in a god is, to quote Scientific American, “due in large part to the way our cognitive systems have (ironically enough) evolved” (Bering). To suppose that religious thought can be extracted from the current theoria is to work against—or, perhaps, to manufacture (eugenics, anyone?)—evolution.

As such, I must disagree with Limor. There have indeed been tragedies arising from religious people being involved in politics. There have also been tragedies arising from legitimate scientific exploration, from the invention of the automobile, and from the very formation of the nation state—if we get down to it, the evolution of homo sapien (sapien) itself has nearly destroyed the planet.

Tragedies would occur with or without religion—indeed, religion has averted many and has spurred profound charity on many occasions. Trying to purge the world of tragedy is utopian postmodernism. Trying to do so by eradicating religious thought is an effort to limit the activity of that part of the human brain that lights up when matters of faith are concerned. I am all for thinking of any sort in government. If it happens to be the kind of thought (i.e., religious) that inspired everyone from Shakespeare to Shaw, from Eliot to Aeschylus, then so much the better.

Athira N said...

It is true that an individual's religious beliefs will affect his or her view of morality and therefore, political decisions. I believe that this can be either positive or negative for the health of this country based on the context of the situation. However, I believe that allowing government subsidy of religious programs, even when they are for social benefit, is a tricky situation. How can we monitor funding so that all religions and sects have equal opportunity to receive funding and receive equal amounts of funding? If the government sponsored groups that were pro-life, would they have to set aside equal amount of sponsorship for pro-choice organizations? Lots of causes that religions take on are also social and political issues (abortion, gay marriage), so the government would be subsidizing partisan efforts. Immediately, I sense that the administration would start subsidizing different religions unequally based on how aligned they were with the party in power's platform.

I also think that it's difficult to extrapolate 'what the Founding Fathers meant' by the establishment clause because each of them had very different religious beliefs, and they all may have believed that it meant different things.

Mike O said...

There is no doubt that secularism has been embellished to the point that it is becoming politically discriminating to specific, religious groups in this nation. Furthermore, it is preventing benevolent legislation for society from being passed through Congress.I think its preposterous that secularists turn down programs that seek to help the non-privilege members of society because it was advocated by religious group since there is no danger whatsoever in implementing these programs. How can society practice religion freely if the lawmakers are utterly biased towards it? Politicians must face the fact that religion is integral to the dynamics of American society and Politics and accept that they cannot simply turn their heads away from some of the important politico-sociological issues that are advocated by religious groups. As well, this need for hyper-secularization just polarizes the nation and weakens the union of the state. The nation must come terms with its secular groups and religious in order to prevent further polarization and must work together to strengthen society.

Vignesh N. said...

I agree with Adam in that most American government officials are overly careful when defining the church-state relations. They feel that, since our society was based upon the separation of religion from government, any action that even signifies a relationship with the church will make themselves seem un-American. Unfortunately, these actions have become too extreme in our society, with governmental members actively avoiding religious issues. Religion has already established itself as a very strong aspect of American culture. As a society, I think we will progress only when government officials begin to accept this aspect of society.

Adam L said...

I do see that like a lot of you mention, there are many negative consequences of an influence of any church on the state. Some of these are very serious. However, I believe that there are enough checks on our government system to prevent these things from happening now. With the number of different views now expressed in the federal government, it is unlikely that one group can push anything drastic into being. I believe as long as a law does not endorse a specific religion or prohibit one from practicing it is acceptable. Other than that, if it is simply following the views of a particular reason it is very feasible that this is also the view of many citizens as well.

rahulj said...

All the posts make it clear that the courts are very cautious in making decisions dealing with religion, but at the same time, the separation of state and church has been overemphasized. While I do think this is necessary as Katie, Adam and Strehle point out, but I think sometimes when we try to avoid to group church and state together, we miss the purpose or actually hurt our society. The charity example in the piece is a good example. But then again, I would rather have this separation in comparison to a society in which religion is central.

rahulj said...

I agree with Tanya's comment supporting government funding of religion for humanitarian work. But the problem, as many people have already hit on, is where should the line be drawn that separates government funding for humanitarian work or funding that simply goes to the church for other uses. Part of the concern is that the money or funding may not be used as sought. Either way, I do like Adam's point to keep funding to a minimum, because if funding is limited than church's or other religious organizations will be accountable for the limited donations they receive. If we spread funding out to a lot of groups instead of concentrating funding to larger sectarian organizations, this will prevent corruption and improve humanitarian aid.