Church and State

"Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's and unto God that which is God's."

All of us who are beneficiaries of the "Restoration Movement" almost certainly believe that God never intended a union of any kind between His people and the Nations of this world. That is to say, we almost certainly believe in the principle of separation of Church and State. We further believe that Churches (Corporate Churches) should be clearly separated from the State, whether the Corporate Churches are Catholic, Protestant, or something else, Church and State should be separated by a high and impenetrable wall. But that isn't the way it is, and it never has been that way.

The union of Church and State had its beginning in the Western World during the reign of Emperor Constantine during the fourth century. The Roman Catholic Church maintained an effective union with all the nations of Europe through the centuries. The Reformation Movement produced the first major Protestant Churches, all of which were united with the State.

The British Colonies began with Church-State union. At the end of the American Revolution nine of the thirteen Colonies had State supported Churches. At the writing of the Constitution, none of our Founding Fathers proposed a complete separation of Church and State throughout the United States; they agreed only that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion," meaning only that Congress cannot establish a National Church. At that time none of the Bill of Rights applied to the States, application was to the Federal government only.

Extension of the first ten amendments of the Constitution to the States has been very slow and has been resisted by the States every step of the way. State resistance to the expansion of Federal powers has been, and still is, based on the original and basic purpose of the American Revolution; to end the rule of a single powerful central government. Autocratic rule still provokes strong resistance.

The men who wrote our Constitution had little real concern for Church-State issues, except to be sure that the Federal government they created could not establish a Federally sponsored Church or interfere with the free exercise of religion by the people within the states. The issue was important to Thomas Jefferson, but he was out of the country in Paris. It mattered to James Madison, but getting the states to ratify the Constitution was much more important. Actually, these men, with few exceptions, had little faith in the ability of "the people" to rule themselves. It is likely that their fear of true democracy motivated them more than a love for it. All of them were of the "ruling class." True, they had risked everything, including their lives, in the rebellion against England, but having won the war they did not intend to lose the peace. The problem they struggled to master was to design a government with enough democracy to be adopted, but without enough democracy to threaten "upper-class" control. They succeeded admirably. But still, with all its flaws, they designed the best form of civil government ever.

These men had not hidden their opinions of democracy. They had written things like:

Roger Sherman: "The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government."

Elbridge Gerry: "The evils from which the country suffer are due mainly to excess of democracy."

Edmund Randolph deplored the turbulence and follies of democracy.

John Dickenson believed that a limited monarchy was "one of the best forms of government in the world."

Alexander Hamilton wanted the chief executive to have a "royal title" and to be elected for life.

But conflicting interests forced compromise, as it always does, or it is resolved by force and violence. The compromises worked out by these men produced the most remarkable, freest, government ever to rule people. For the first time a National government was forbidden to establish a National Church. The First Amendment says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercises thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

The "establishment" clause forbids a National Church; it does net forbid Federal encouragement of religious activities throughout the country or non-discriminatory Federal aid to religious activities when the aid supports a legitimate function of the Federal Government. This is not to say that everyone agreed, then or now, that when civil government and corporate church interests overlap, the best solution would be a union of Church and State efforts. We cannot have a separation of Church and State and a union of Church and State "when the objectives are the same." What we most often have is the Corporate Church appealing for, and often getting, Federal, State, or local, government money to support Corporate Church programs and activities that work toward legitimate government objectives; such as:

Education: Churches operated almost all formally organized schools during all the Colonial period and until the last half of the nineteenth century. Government support of Church Schools began under the union of Church and State in the Colonies, and it still goes on.

Health: Public health issues are a legitimate concern of all civil governments. Adequate health care, available and affordable to all citizens, is still somewhere in the future. Religious Institutions owned and operated most health care facilities for a very long time and with tax money helping to finance the operations.

Welfare: Who is responsible for helping citizens in need who cannot help themselves? Both civil government and Corporate Churches are active in welfare programs, with tax money helping fund all of them. Welfare also includes many social programs owned and operated by Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches, such as homes for orphans, the aged, abused children, and counseling services of many kinds.

Civil Rights: Corporate Churches are now deeply involved in Civil Rights issues. Martin Luther King and the Federal Government worked closely together on civil rights issues. Now Corporate Churches are deeply involved in the "sanctuary" movement - helping political refugees.

All of these objectives are legitimate concerns of all of us, and many of us actively support programs in these areas, while not supporting a union of Church and State in any of them. The purpose here is to show how much Federal Government concerns and Corporate Church concerns overlap, and how willing the Government is to help Churches do things that the Government thinks should be done.

Extension of the First Amendment to the States

No one has argued that the Bill of Rights applied to the States at the time they were ratified. The extension of the Amendments to the States has been slow and bitterly opposed by States' Rights advocates at every step. The Constitution provides that any power not delegated to the Federal Government or prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. Religious and "moral" issues were left to State and local governments. Within 50 years of the Constitution's ratification all the states had abandoned state-supported churches. But one moral issue was of National concern at the time, but was left practically untouched by the wisest, most talented group of lawmakers ever assembled. Our founding fathers hardly touched the slave issue. Of course there was good reason to leave the issue untouched. None of the writers believed that slavery should be made illegal at the time, and if they had, the Constitution would not have been ratified by the thirteen former colonies.

To determine the population of each state they had to decide what to do about counting slaves. Pure political compromise determined that a slave would count as two-thirds of a human being. They also decided not to try to stop the slave trade at the time, but to allow Congress to prohibit importing slaves at the end of twenty years. Finally, the issue tore our country apart. Our interest here is not to discuss the Civil War, but the Amendments resulting from the war are of interest.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

The 15th Amendment gave all citizens the right to vote (except women, of course).

The 14th Amendment required the states to treat all persons within the state's jurisdiction equally. It says:

"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

State Supreme Courts have repeatedly confirmed State rights to permit and to forbid religious activities in public schools. Beginning in 1908, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana, Kansas, and many other states ruled for and against Bible reading, prayer, singing religious songs, and observing religious celebrations in public schools. The Federal courts had nothing at all to say about these issues.

Then, in 1922, Oregon, by public referendum, passed a statute requiring all children between 8 and 16 to attend public schools. The statute would obviously destroy all non-public schools in the state. A private military school and a Catholic school sued. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law because it would deprive citizens of property without "due process," a violation of the 14th Amendment. Within the Court's decision the Judges said, "We think it entirely plain that the statute unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control." No religious or educational issue was before the court. But this "liberty" statement established the constitutional right for parents to send their children to private schools. And the decision made all the states subject to the provisions of the amendment.

Case after case continued to confirm state control over religious and educational issues. In 1936 North Dakota's Supreme Court ruled that nuns could wear religious habits while teaching in public schools. In 1930 Washington's Supreme Court denied a petition to compel the State Board of Education to require Bible reading in public schools. And many, many more cases continued to confirm States' rights to control religious and educational issues.

Then came the Jehovah's Witnesses. In the 1930's the Witnesses had about 60,000 members, but they made up in aggression what they lacked in number. Each Witness is considered an ordained minister duty bound to convert the heathen. They are disciplined, conscientious, oblivious to the rights or sensitivities of anyone else, and they are exceedingly unpopular.

In 1938, three Witnesses, Newton Cantwell and his two sons, went to New Haven, Connecticut to seek converts. There, they cornered two Irish Catholic men on the street, tried to sell them a book called "Enemy," and played a record for them on a portable phonograph. The record said:

"This book submits the conclusive proof that for more than 1500 years a great religious system operating out of Rome, has by means of fraud and deception brought untold sorrow and suffering on the people. It operates the greatest racket ever employed amongst men and robs the people of their money and destroys their peace of mind and freedom of action."

Everything the record said may or may not be true, but these two Catholics didn't think the Witness should be saying things like that to them. They did not attack the Witnesses - they called the police. The Witnesses were arrested and charged with violating a city ordinance prohibiting the solicitation of funds without a license and inciting a breach of the peace, and they were convicted.

The Witness lawyers appealed the conviction and in 1940 the case reached the U.S. Supreme court. The Court could have reversed the conviction on freedom of speech or press issues, but the Justices decided to face the religious issue directly. The Court held:

"The First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The Fourteenth Amendment has rendered the legislature of the states as incompetent as Congress to enact such laws."

Now all the states were made subject to First Amendment religious prohibitions for the first time. But the issue of civil government requiring, permitting, or assisting Corporate Churches in some of their activities is far from settled.

State Support of Religious Institutions

Civil government and religious institutions are not now and never have been separated by the "high wall" that Thomas Jefferson envisioned. Many of us believe that Church and State should be effectively separated. I do not believe that any citizen should be required by law to financially support my religious activities. And I do not believe that I should be required by law to financially support anyone else's religious activities. But every tax dollar that goes to support religious activity, any religious activity, is government support of religion.

Every non-profit religious institution in this country is, or if it wants can be, exempt from taxation. This is not illegal. It is the law of the land. Every dollar given to an exempt religious institution, and used as a tax deduction, diverts tax money from the Federal Government to the religious institution.

How much money is involved? Consider this. A $1,000 annual contribution to a local corporate church reduces the tax-payer's taxable income by $1,000. If the tax-payer is in a 30% tax bracket that would be $300 diverted from the Federal treasury to the church treasury. For every 1,000,000 thousand dollar contributions to corporate churches, $300,000,000 is diverted from the Federal to Church treasuries. If just 25 million of our total population contribute one thousand dollars annually to corporate churches that would divert seven billion five hundred million dollars ($7,500,000,000) from the Federal to the Corporate Church treasury. I remember Senator Everett Dirksen saying about Federal expenditures, "You take a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about some real money."

Property Tax Exemption

In the county where I live, in 1987 religious institutions owned property appraised at $352,657,123. Appraisals for this kind of property are far below current market value. Appraised at one third of true value, this would rise to about $1,000,000,000. If tax exempt religious institution-owned property in our country is somewhere near typical of the rest of our country, each person in our county would represent about $3,500 in tax exempt religious property and the country as a whole would represent about eight hundred seventy-five billion dollars ($875,000,000,000). And this represents only real property, the kind that local school taxes are based upon.

The Minister's Tax Advantage

IRS Regulations exempt a large number of income sources for "clergymen, sacredotal orders, and other religious personnel." Among these are: (1) The rental allowance paid to him as a part of his compensation. This means that a minister may pay the mortgage payments on his own home with a "housing allowance" from his employer (the Corporate Church) and that income is not taxable. The Church may also pay up-keep and utilities for him with tax-free dollars. This also means any furnishings the Church may be willing to pay for separately. (2) The minister may drive a Church-owned car (Company car), with the Church paying for not only the car but the gasoline, oil, repairs, insurance, and other incidentals. This is not taxable income for the minister. (3) Meals and lodging furnished at the employer's convenience. A minister who takes anyone to lunch or dinner "on business" may pay for the meal of the whole group and tip the waitress with tax-free dollars. The waitress may be the young lady who sits in the pew Sunday mornings while the minister preaches to (or at) her and who must report every dime she receives in tips as taxable income on pain of the severest penalties, while her minister maintains a standard of living supported by sixty or seventy thousand tax-free dollars annually. Any ministers reading this who do not now avail themselves of all these perfectly legal "perks" may wish to purchase "Abingdon Clergy Income Tax Guide for 1988."

Religious Schools

We have witnessed a concentrated effort by religious schools to invade the public treasury for many years; not just tax exemption but direct support from public tax money. Some states have provided "student transportation'' for religious school students at tax-payer expense. Some have provided text books (not overly religious in content) for private school students. Some districts have received direct support for special education programs (disadvantaged students). In some cases citizens have sued to stop the practice on separation of Church and State grounds. President Reagan's administration has pressed for "tuition vouchers" since he first took office. What he asks for is Federal payments to Private School students (parents) to help make up for public school taxes paid by parents of Private School students. So far, he has made little progress.

Federal money goes to Church owned Colleges and Universities in huge quantities, in the form of student financial aid, facilities construction (buildings), and many other programs. All of this is perfectly legal. The only requirement is that these Church owned schools obey the law. Bob Jones University, in South Carolina, a conservative Baptist school, receives Federal money like all the rest. But Bob Jones University was investigated for descrimination against black students. Remember, no school is required to accept Federal money, but if they do, they are expected to obey the law. Bob Jones University was about to lose its Federal money, and appealed the case. President Reagan and his administration came to the defense of the University on a "religious free exercise" basis. Because of the pressure and publicity, the University backed down and changed its policy.

Religion in Polities

The publicly discussed objective of Fundamentalist Religious Leaders is no less than full political control of our country. At the June, 1988 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention held in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Michael Cloer, of Easley, South Carolina, said,

"We believe we have to be involved in all areas...Jesus said 'you are the salt of the earth.' That means we have to participate in every aspect - political, social, scientific and medical." Cloer said that it is their responsibility to enforce morality and the idea that "we can't legislate morality is false. All legislation is either moral or immoral. No person has the right to be immoral."

Conservative religious and political leaders have joined together in an effort to bring the government of this country under their control. Any of us who do not yet take them seriously need to know a little more about them. Years ago the political and religious right wing began to organize themselves and their followers into a political base. Their intent was to create enough political power to say who could and who could not hold public office. And they are very good at it. President Reagan met with the Moral Majority and others in 1980 in Dallas. He praised their agenda and asked for their support in his presidential campaign, and he got it.

Most of us know who the leaders of this movement are: Falwell, Robertson, Robison, Roberts, Humbard, Schuller, Swaggart, Bakker, and many, many others. John T. Dolan was not a religious leader, he was head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. The Committee and its supporters set out to "target" certain public office holders who disagreed with their conservative religious, political, and social agenda. They helped defeat:

Senator Frank Church, Idaho

Senator George McGovern, South Dakota

Senator Birch Bayh, Indiana

Senator John Culver, Iowa

And many others. They targeted Senator Alan Cranston of California, but he won anyway. We need only read what they say to know what they want to do. If Jerry Falwell is typical of what they want, here is some of what he has said:

"In recent months, God has been calling me to do more than just preach - He has called me to take action. I have a divine mandate to go right into the halls of Congress and fight for laws that will save America."

"The role of government is to minister justice and to protect the rights of its citizens by being a terror to evildoers within and without the nation."

He means that it is God's will that the United States government use its military power to terrorize the nations of the world which are judged to be evildoers. And, of course, he knows which nations are the evil ones.

Pat Robertson tried hard for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, but failed. He says he has a mandate from God. In Denver, Colorado's Happy Church he said, "I am not going to quit...That is his plan for me and for this nation."

Falwell said, "If a man is not a student of the Word of God and does not know what the Bible says, I question his ability to be an effective leader... Only by godly leadership can America be put back on a divine course..."

The United States of America on a "divine course?"

George Washington said: "The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian religion."

I believe that George Washington knew a lot more about the foundation of the United States of America than Jerry Falwell knows. - Protrepo