Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. We are experiencing a powerful resurgence of religion in private, public, and political life. In great measure the growing tide of religion in America is a response to an alleged moral breakdown in our society, for which religion is invoked as the antidote. There are dangers in the unreflective embrace of religion. While religion is often a force for good, Americans seem to be blind to the reality that religion has been an agent of history' s greatest acts of intolerance, persecution, and bloodshed.
In its unique ability to invoke absolutisms to sanction behavior of the most xenophobic kind, religion, when fueled by the power of the state, often turns malignant.
It is with that historical recognition in mind that the fathers of our Constitution wisely drafted the establishment clause the First Amendment, which creates a wall of separation between church and state. Though it hasn't received media attention, behind the thrust to inject religion into public life are competing interpretations of the establishment clause. The intent of the framers of the Constitution was that the state could not establish a national church. It could not favor one religion over another, nor could it support religion in any way. In other words, our government must be secular and neutral between religion and non-religion.
“Despite doctrinal differences, Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists internalized a basic New Testament theme: discipleship can be costly and may even be fatal. Those who pay the price embody the ultimate imitation of Christ and gain an imperishable heavenly reward.” (Colish)
It is claimed by some that those who want to retain the wall of separation, and reject government support of religion, are anti-religious. Quite the contrary, we hold with Madison that when government and religion are mixed, both become corrupted. Governmental support of religion is an act of spiritual desperation. Religion should not need the support of the state to prop it up. Such support trivializes religion. The greatest source of violence in the world today is religious nationalism -- the unholy alliance that brings together religious impulses with the massive power of political movements and the state. It is this tragic alliance that is bringing violence and death in Iran, the Balkans, Sudan, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Israel, and Northern Ireland, among others. Yet in this country, we are rushing headlong to create that wicked and poisonous brew, as if we can be so confident that we will escape the fate that historically, and once again, has engulfed the world in divisiveness, violence, and war.
Colish, Marcia Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition 400-1400 (Yale University Press)
Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks Translation by Lewis Thorpe Penguin Books, NY, 1974
M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Longhaired Kings (Methuen, 1962)