by Billy Clouse
In December 2015, then-Candidate Donald Trump said, “I will build a great wall ― and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me...” Although I usually disagree with Trump’s ideas, I partially agree with this one — our country desperately needs a wall.
I’m not referring to a wall to keep people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, however, but the wall of separation of Church and State.
Although the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say anything about it, the Supreme Court has interpreted the wall from the First Amendment. Justice Hugo Black, in the opinion in Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, agreed with Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he coined the phrase, “wall of separation between Church & State.”
There are many cases where this rule is violated, but there are two in particular that bother me: religious teaching in public schools and using religion as a justification for discrimination.
To be fair, I support teaching religion in middle and high schools in certain cases. For example, if it’s brought up in a philosophy or religious studies class, then I’m all for it. However, when I hear someone advocate for it being taught in science classes, I get the urge to gather up some bricks and concrete and start building.
First off, creationism has no evidence. That doesn’t make it inherently wrong, but it does lack the necessary attributes to be taught in a science class. Just because you feel something in your heart doesn’t make it true.
Second, if we teach the Bible’s creation story, then we’d have to teach the others. Not to mention the various branches of Christianity and their differing views on pretty much everything written. And then you’d have to give equal time to the different faiths or risk showing favoritism.
Third, people normally argue that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, but the two aren’t equivalent concepts. Evolution by natural selection aims to show how life changes over time, whereas creationism discusses the origin of the universe. When it comes to the Big Bang Theory, there’s evidence that at least partially supports it.
However, outside of school, on the other side of the wall, you have every right to teach your kid whatever you want about how the universe began and how life evolves.
Civil rights are civil rights and they are not subject to belief. —James Yates
The government has no right to interfere with your personal life and beliefs, but when people try to use their faith to interfere with the Constitutional rights of another person, then there’s a problem.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges continued the controversy over whether or not discrimination based on religious views is protected by the Constitution.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to two gay couples because she said it violated her religious beliefs. She was jailed after this because she was violating a judge’s order to issue a civil marriage from a government agency.
If the case were regarding a religious marriage, it would be different; the LDS Church, for example, denies same-sex couples the ability to get married in their organization. They are allowed to do this because it doesn’t prohibit those couples from getting married civilly.
In the words of James Yates, one of the men who was denied a license from Davis, “Civil rights are civil rights and they are not subject to belief.”
Religious beliefs are also the reason why male circumcision, a medically unnecessary and harmful surgery is allowed to be practiced on minors to this day. The equivalent surgery, when performed on a female, is a federal crime. However, male genital mutilation is a popular practice in Christianity, so the glaring violation of the Equal Protection Clause of Amendment XIV is overlooked.
As it turns out, it’s not just secularists that benefit from the wall; churches benefit as well.
Some argue that churches should not pay taxes because if they did, it would cause excessive entanglement between them and the government. Even though this is just an excuse for a government subsidy (according to former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization of the amount of tax it would have to pay on its income.”), this gives churches a large incentive to promote the wall unless they want to collectively pay $71 billion.
If we split this between every American (and simplified the population to just 325 million), that would amount to just under $220 per person or 31 copies of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”
Don’t get me wrong, I support the right of every person in this country—and in the world—to participate in or abstain from a religion. However, if those beliefs or practices interfere with my rights, there’s a problem.
If we build the wall that this country needs—one separating church and state—both sides will become stronger because of it.