Whenever I hear someone questioning the need for a separation between church and state, I shake my head. In response to Josh Bernier’s article “The ambiguity of separating church and state” in the Feb. 11 edition of The Uniter, I don’t understand how such a fundamental principle of a modern democratic society can be questioned or considered ambiguous.
Perhaps Bernier doesn’t understand the wording of the phrase “separation of church and state,” or perhaps how it is that many people would like nothing more than to impose theocracies in their respective parts of the world.
Worse yet, perhaps he doesn’t understand how many people live in parts of the world where there are distinct fusions between church and state and suffer because of them.
A recent example in so-called “Western Civilization” would be the prevention of homosexual marriage in California under Proposition 8, a bill around which various religious organizations rallied to pass as retroactive legislation barring Californian citizens from exercising rights others are afforded. While a mixture of private and religious organizations supported the bill, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints penned a letter meant to be read in every congregation nationwide, encouraging members to do everything they could do to ensure the amendment passed.
This example can be taken further yet, considering that after the passing of Proposition 8 there were religious organizations, Christian and Jewish alike, in California that argued that the passing of the law infringed upon their religious right to bless marriages they deemed valid.
On one hand the state of California infringed upon its citizens’ civic rights, and on the other, their religious freedoms.
This is a less than ambiguous example of religious organizations directly affecting the lives of people that do not share the same beliefs they do.
Examples of religious infiltration of public policy are worldwide and varied, from the pending atrocities concerning the slaughter of homosexuals in Uganda, to the oppressive regimes in Middle Eastern countries, to full scale wars between nations such as that of Palestine and Israel. Just because these conflicts don’t occur in “Western Civilization” does not mean that they don’t exist.
In his article, Bernier argues for a balance between church and state, where public officials are not asked to “check their beliefs at the door.”
To this I respond: public officials serve the public. Not just the public that identifies with their set of values, but the whole public. Unless these public officials and institutions are willing to represent all religious beliefs and views held by their constituents, it seems only fair to instead represent none of them.
This is not to say that religion should be outlawed or that they should be condemned, but the contrary. The same laws that protect my right to live my life without religion equally protect others to live their lives with religion.
But the notion of a separation between church and state is not just a protection against theocracy, or some ambiguous principle that is shouted by leftists and atheists without reason. It is a protection against the infringement of certain liberties that, if infringed upon, can have incredible consequences. Perhaps we don’t value the separation of church and state because we live where we do, but that is no reason for us to ever forget its importance.
Alex Garcia is a human rights and global studies student at the University of Winnipeg.
Published in Volume 64, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 25, 2010)