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October 28, 2004

Separation of Church and State... with Bars

Michael Berry of North Kingstown, Rhode Island, thinks the American Catholic Church should just shut up about politics:

Anyone not convinced that we need to reinstitute civics classes in our schools should read your Oct. 12 front-page article "Conservative Catholics push for Bush."

A basic understanding of our Constitution should make one cringe at "an alliance of bishops intent on throwing the weight of the Roman Catholic Church into the election," or on reading that the Bush campaign has spent four years "cultivating" Catholic leaders and "hiring a corps of paid staff members."

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, of Colorado, who all but said that a vote for John Kerry is a sin, could be a poster boy for an effort to repeal tax-exempt status for churches.

Berry does us the service of offering an object lesson in how a Constitutional amendment intended to protect religious freedom transforms into manacles with which to restrict it. Of course, I haven't any knowledge of Berry's other opinions about matters of the day, but there are a few particulars about which I could speculate that surely aren't wild guesses. The media and United Nations conspiring to influence our election? Well, that's an important protection against tyranny. Another Supreme Court justice suggests that it's a good thing that our judiciary is increasingly taking note of legal happenings in other nations? Well, global community and all that.

The bishops take pains to explain how their faith ought to apply to something as crucial for believers as their vote in government elections? Slap those boys down! Can't have morality preached from the pulpit! The American way is, after all, to restrict the political application of religion to cynical references for rubes and vague feelings about the righteousness of giving handouts to the poor and environmentalists.

Continues Mr. Berry:

A more widespread understanding of the principle of separation of church and state is needed.

Amen, brother. I'm even starting to agree about tax exemption, which seems only to corrupt our thinking about what is and isn't appropriate for religious organizations to do.

Posted by Justin Katz at October 28, 2004 2:06 PM

Politics should not be preached from the pulpit (except by implication, as in denouncing abortion), but outside a worship setting it may. I don't know a lot about the Roman church (or many others, come to that) but so far the prelates have kept to that.

But not Kerry, who has taken to the pulpit during several services. I don't know how he squares that with his professed RC (isn't it some sort of sin to attend another denomination's services?), but the IRS responded to a request from a group of churches that it would cancel the tax-exempt status of the churches that let him do so.

Posted by: John Anderson at October 28, 2004 3:51 PM

I kind of hope these liberals would get their wish and all religious organizations would lose their tax exemt status -- thereby freeing them of the free speech muzzle that it is -- so we could finally see their political power in all its unfettered glory.

You want to take the gloves off the moral majority and see what they're really made of? Revoke the tax-exempt status and then put up your dukes!

Posted by: Marty at October 28, 2004 7:57 PM

"(isn't it some sort of sin to attend another denomination's services?)" To merely attend? No. To participate insofar as such does not deny Catholic doctrine? No. But Kerry has done far more than that: he received communion (kneeling, even) in an African Methodist Episcopal church earlier this year: that is most definitely sinful.

Posted by: ELC at October 28, 2004 10:29 PM

What drives me crazy on all this is that the original intent behind the separation of church and state is to prevent the STATE from aligning with a particular CHURCH.

THe rest of the stuff (tax exempt status, etc.) all stems from interpreting original intent backwards...

Posted by: Will at October 29, 2004 1:32 AM

Arguably the Establishment has indeed been misterpreted and the ACLU's ideal version of it goes way too far.

But our founders wanted to go beyond merely, "prevent[ing] the STATE from aligning with a particular CHURCH."

Posted by: Jon Rowe at October 29, 2004 8:01 AM

BTW: Most people who advance this theory refuse to use the words, "the separation of church and state."

My biggest problem is when the disestablishment norm starts to get used to trammel free exercise and free speech, which is what imposing a gag rule on Churches would do.

That being said, not every complaint, by religious conservatives, of having their free speech & free exercise rights trammeled are accurate. For instance, when the state is used to advance a particular religous point of view -- as Roy Moore did -- (which may or may not have been unconstitutional), it had nothing to do with the free speech or free exercise exercise rights, as some have alleged.

Posted by: Jon Rowe at October 29, 2004 12:29 PM