7.24.2007

The "Real" Separation Of Church And State

If there is one phase that is overused and misunderstood in our political society it has to be "the separation of church and state." Contrary to many politicians today, our founding fathers did not seek to remove religion from our society. Rather, a great number of those who signed the Declaration of Independence counted them-selves as men of faith. Nowhere in the Constitution do the words "separation of church and state" appear. Thomas Jefferson's idea of church/state separation was to protect religious liberties from an intrusive government! In no way did Jefferson or any of the other framers of the U.S. Con-stitution seek to restrict Americans’ religious activities, un-like the courts have done and will probably continue do in the future.

In 1864, Pope Pius IX issued a document entitled "Syllabus of Errors". This document listed 80 specific assertions which it declared erroneous. Number 55 in this list, in the section headed "Errors about civil society, considered both in itself and in its relation to the Church", reads: "The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church."

Frequently, the phrase of "separation of Church and State" is used by the government and the media to suggest that there are times when the Church forces itself into the affairs of the government. While it is true that the government cannot establish any one form of religion upon its people, one cannot ignore that the term originally was intended for the protection of the Church. That would have been Jefferson's thought.

In more recent times, the Church has maintained that the relationship between Church and State can be one of mutual co-existence. For example, the Code of Canon Law (1983) urges Catholic parents of public school students to make sure that religious and moral education should be secured in the public school system: "Christ's faithful are to strive to secure that in the civil society the laws which regulate the formation of the young also provide a religious and moral education in the schools that is in accord with the conscience of the parents" (canon 799).