The wall of separation

22 02 2014

Hard as it may be for some Arizonans to grasp, the wall of separation between Church and State, born in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, is not about you; it’s about us! This founding principle, that remains critical for even the most liberal of liberals today, does so much more than give individual Americans the right to embrace whichever set of religious beliefs they want to embrace. Consider what our founders were fleeing – a religious system that had become elitist, oppressive and exclusive. They knew well the importance and power of religion, but they also knew its dark side. So they were careful in building a government that would, when appropriate, have the power and ability to protect people from religion.

So yes, in America, we are free to believe what we want to believe . . . within reason. I am free to go to worship whenever and wherever I want, but I am NOT free to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn and force others to listen to my rantings. I’m free to live my life in ways that are obedient to any holy book I choose, but I am not free to force others to live by the values of that same holy book.

This means that contrary to what some in Arizona may believe, my individual faith does NOT give me the right to refuse to serve gay people in my little pizza shop, just like it does not give the right to local car dealerships to refuse to sell cars to Black people, or the local emergency room the right to refuse to treat gluttonous, overweight people, or the local landlord the right not to rent to Italians.

The fact that we even need to have this conversation in America, in the 21st century, is appalling. Thirteen years after 9/11, do we really need to remind people of the dangers of religious extremism – even Christian extremism? Do we really still need to debate whether or not Chick-fil-A can refuse to sell chocolate chip shakes to people who are divorced just because the CEO may believe that divorce is sin; or whether Starbucks can choose not to serve people who carry guns just because the CEO thinks this nation needs stricter gun laws?

If people embrace a theology of life beginning at conception, thereby giving an unborn fetus the same rights as the rest of us, they are free to embrace that belief and live accordingly. If people want to embrace a theology that holds homosexuality to be sin and gay marriage as an inappropriate redefinition of God’s intent for the marriage relationship, they are free embrace those ideas and live accordingly. And, if people want to embrace a theology rooted in the sinfulness of humanity being it’s defining nature, and thus the primary cause of poverty, crime, ignorance, and misfortune they are free to do so.

However in America, you simply cannot force me to believe those very same things. And you certainly cannot demand that I live by your values and morals. You see, I have my own! And just because they are different than yours, doesn’t mean that they are any less worthy of respect. I won’t force you to have an abortion or marry someone of the same gender; but neither can you tell me that I can NOT have an abortion or that I can NOT marry someone of the same gender. For the wall of separation is not just about your freedoms; it’s also about mine. And that balance is critical.

In this United States of America, we are free to believe whatever we choose to believe. And we American hold many, many beliefs in common. We all embrace freedom, liberty, and justice for everyone. We value education, the pursuit of happiness, and democratic principles of government. Contrary to what FOX ‘News’ would have us believe, we really do have a great deal in common. But when these general beliefs are infringed upon by individual religious beliefs, that’s when the wall becomes so important for us.

If I work for you, and you’re responsible for my medical insurance, then you need to take care of everything, not just those things that fall within your belief system. Not being responsible for my birth control pills because you think birth control violates the natural law of god, would be like your not covering the cost of treating my cancer because you may believe that my cancer is god’s punishment for some sin in my life.

Further, in a nation where marriage is a legal relationship, then not allowing me to marry someone of the same gender because you don’t think that is in accord with god’s desire, is like your saying that Blacks should not be permitted to marry Whites, because your holy book makes such a claim.

Do we want our government to decide what we can and can’t believe? Of course we do! Because as a nation, we have a set of larger values, written in our national laws, and upon which at least a majority of us agree. And since they are foundational to most of the world’s great religions, only extremists need to be frightened of them.

So by all means, believe what you want to believe. Worship where you want to worship and read which ever holy book you want to read. But in a day where people fly planes into buildings because they believe their god told them to do so; and in a day when people think natural disasters are the results of their god’s anger over certain life styles, be thankful for this wall of separation. For in addition to giving you the right to embrace the faith of your choice, it also protects you! It brings balance to our lives, order to our national conversations, and without it . . . well, without it, America just wouldn’t be America.