The very first of the American Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” The Supreme Court of the United States has long interpreted the first amendment of the constitution to mean that the government cannot use its enormous resources, power, and influence to favor one religion over others. In this doctrine, the State and the Church must remain independent. This is the principle of “The Separation of Church and State.”
The intention was to prohibit the establishment of a specific state religion and to protect other religions from persecution. Thus, America became a land of religious freedom, tolerance, and diversity.
Again the goal was to protect the religious freedom of all citizens, i.e., the complete freedom of human beings to determine their own religious beliefs, which can only exist if the power of the government is not used to shape the religious beliefs of the citizens. To protect this most holy freedom, there must be NO actions by the State favoring one form of religious belief over any other.
In 1994, this inspired doctrine was clarified further when the Supreme Court concluded that “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.” The government’s sacred job is to protect the complete freedom of sentient humans to determine their own religious beliefs, and to do so, the government must not enter into the business of promoting any particular form of religious belief.
Many of the religious fanatics who want to do away with the Separation of Church and State actually harbor the paranoid delusion that their most sacred holiday, you know, the one where they celebrate the immaculate conception and birth of God’s son to a virgin by engaging in a frenzied orgy of shopping and consumption is in grave danger! In their conspiracy theory belief system, the dark forces of secular humanism (comprising far less than 10% of the American population) have declared a War on Christmas. And, of course, the Christianity that each such group of religious fanatics propose to make part of America’s legal Constitution just happens to be THEIR particular version of Christianity.
Anyone in the mood for a few hundred years of religious warfare? Apparently, a large segment of the American electorate needs a reminder of what it is like to have governments controlled by one group’s religious point of view.
In the face of such widespread historical ignorance about why the framers of the Constitution felt a need to separate the state from religion, religious freedom cannot be taken for granted. This divine freedom enshrined in the Constitution could be eroded and eventually vanish altogether. For the maintenance of freedom in a democracy to be assured, a better educated electorate is required; the people must have an understanding of the relationship between laws and rights. And the understanding needed for the maintenance of religious freedom in a democracy is diminishing in America.
For example, many Americans found nothing wrong with the Bush Administration’s erosion of the Separation of Church and State when Bush instituted long prohibited government grants to “faith-based” organizations.
And the religious right has been able to generate growing support for another apparently reasonable initiative, one that would supposedly enhance freedom and improve the quality of education: school vouchers.

School Vouchers to the Rescue!

So how do our political leaders respond to the critical importance of education in the maintenance of a robust democracy? In their ostensible concern about the quality of education that children receive in public schools, many of America’s elected officials are now promoting school vouchers. Vouchers will turn taxes collected by the government over to parents who can use them to send their children to the school of their choice.
More freedom! Choice and competition (the almighty engines of the free market) will improve the quality of education! Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yet a little consideration of the consequences should make it clear that this would pose a far greater threat to American democracy than Saddam Hussein with real WMD’s!
The 8yr reign of the Bush administration should make clear, today only a precarious allegiance to the Constitution is maintained by politicians put in place by an electorate that hasn’t much of a clue about the importance of the Separation of Church and State. This precarious allegiance could very well reach “a tipping point” (to coin a phrase). Indeed, school vouchers should enable the religious right to reach their stated (!) goal, the destruction of America’s religious freedom.
Consider this. It is the very same people who want to make the U.S. a “Christian” nation and are terribly concerned about “the carnage” from the War on Christmas who are the most vociferous supporters of school vouchers. Why? Because what will inevitably happen is that an even larger number of families will then be able to afford to remove their children from public schools (that are currently prohibited from fostering any particular religious notions) and send them to private, parochial (i.e., religious) schools.
The end result of such a change in how the government spends/disburses tax money earmarked for education is that many more millions of American children will be withdrawn from secular, public schools and sent to parochial schools. So don’t worry; since parochial schools are believed by some to provide a better all-around education, we can rest assured that the next generation of Americans will have a more thorough understanding of the importance of the Separation of Church and State!

Yeah, right!

How about a little Sunni versus Shia, American-style?