Church and State Draws Debate

Ideas over the role of religion in government have long been a topic of debate among Christians. Some, like the Wall Builders, see America as Christian nation. The Wall Builders is an organization “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined” (wallbuilders.com). According to their website, the organization’s goal is to “exert a direct and positive influence in government, education and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.”

There are others, though, that see the separation of Church and state as an important distinction that must be upheld. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSC) claims to have members who are “Christians, Jews, Buddhists, people with no religious affiliation and others. Democrats, Republicans and independents have joined our ranks.” On their website, they explain part of their mission as understanding the separation of Church and state as a principle to be upheld in government. “Church-state separation does not mean hostility toward religion. Rather, it means that the government will remain neutral on religious questions, leaving decisions about God, faith and house of worship attendance in the hands of its citizens.”

Elements of the debate came into the spotlight last week when police were called to the Senate to remove protestors who interrupted the first Hindu prayer to ever open a session. As Rajan Zed, the director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple in Reno, took the podium to deliver his prayer, three onlookers shouted, “This is an abomination!” before they were escorted away by police. Each was charged with a misdemeanor for disrupting Congress. They told reporters, “We are Christians and patriots.” For days leading up to the prayer, the American Family Association told members to object to the prayer because it would seek a god that does not align with the organization’s Christian beliefs. In response to the events, AUSC director Barry W. Lynn told USA Today, “Religious Right activists … say they want more religion in the public square, but it’s clear they mean only their religion.”

Another recent news story grabbed headlines this week and became the subject of heated debate in a small town when the City Commission of Fargo, N.D., voted to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments on the lawn outside of City Hall. In protest of the decision, a group of “Freethinkers” have decided to build another monument at a nearby market that displays this line from the 1797 treaty signed by the United States and Triopi: “The United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The community has been divided by the original monument, with many in the town fiercely arguing its placement at the courthouse. The story recalls recent incidents involving monuments in other states. According to this story, “A USA Today poll taken in 2005 found that 75 percent of Americans believed the Ten Commandments markers should be allowed in both the Texas and Kentucky cases.”

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Though proponents on both sides of the debate will argue about the constitutionality of the separation of church and state, Christians with a political voice continue to be at the center of discussions, forcing many to examine where they stand on the controversial issue.

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