Amendment - Religion's safe haven
When 300 clergy gathered for Brite Divinity
School's annual Minister's Week, religion professor Ron Flowers, a nationally-recognized
scholar on the separation of church and state, urged the group to protect
religion by discouraging "faith-based" government initiatives.
By Ron Flowers
are excerpts from Flowers' remarks:
am honored to have been asked to speak today, to be in the long tradition
of those who say virtually the last word to Minister's Week attendees
every year. I have chosen to speak to you on a subject that ought to be
important to all Americans -- religious freedom.
in church-state relations these days is to combine religion and government
as much as possible. Many agitate for government-sponsored prayer in public
schools. Several state legislatures have passed laws authorizing the posting
of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Many clamor for government
money to pay the tuition for students who go to parochial schools. In
1996 a federal law was passed allowing "faith-based" institutions to use
government money to support their charitable ministries.
position of the religious right is that separation of church and state
is hostile to religion.
concept of separation of church and state is not hostile to religion.
is based on the recognition by the founders that people respond in different
ways to what they perceive as the Divine. They ought to be able to do
that without the encouragement, nor the opposition, of government. That
is the foundation of the American concept of separation of church and
of church and state is not hostile to religion.
that the concept has two parts, no establishment and free exercise. The
no-establishment principle means the government must stay out of the affairs
of religion. It also means religion cannot utilize government to get its
way with the people.
exercise principle means that as long as their behavior is lawful, people
are free to practice religion as they choose. Religious people and institutions
have the right to be religious as their consciences dictate. They also
have the right to make their voices heard.
As I indicated
a moment ago, most of the problems these days are on the no-establishment
side of the equation. People on the religious right, and now even the
President of the United States, insist that the government assist religion
in its work. It is as if they believe religion is too weak to be important
in people's lives without the authority and power of government behind
In a multitude
of ways, many try to create mechanisms for the state to do the work of
the church. But if the state is allowed to do the work of the church,
it will marginalize the church.
I am amazed
that so many Christians are eager to utilize the state to do their Christian
work for them. If the state were to do it, churches would become less
important in American life.
must reserve to themselves those parts of religion that are their peculiar
responsibility: prayer and worship, religious symbols, nurturing faith
and providing social services with a decidedly religious motivation and
many are interested in commingling church and state is the allure of money.
An example is the concept of government funding of faith-based charitable
the admonition of I Timothy 6:10, "For the love of money is the root of
all evils, . . ." many support this plan because they have been seduced
by the idea of receiving government money to do their charitable activities.
abound. Here are two: One, government funding brings with it government
supervision, and two, government money may discourage parishioners' contributions
to churches. Parishioners may say: "If the government is paying for our
church's charitable activities, why should I give money to the church?"
religious leaders, rather than shout to the government "Show me the money,"
should ponder Jesus' question: "For what shall it profit someone, if one
shall gain the whole world, and lose one's own soul?"
discussion of President Bush's "Faith-Based Initiative" one
minister said, "It surely will compromise the churches' will and
courage to criticize the government." And I thought, That's it.
That is the fundamental difficulty with this and with any other way the
churches get too cozy with the government. Whenever the church comes
under the influence of the state, when it becomes an extension of the
state, its prophetic ministry is compromised. It no longer has the independence
to "speak truth to power."
It is for
the health of religious institutions and the health of the state that
separation must be maintained. Separation of church and state enables
churches to perform this valuable function in American society.
can be approached through the concept called "civil religion." The clearest
expression of it is found in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold
these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are
endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these
are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
affirms the existence of God, and claims that God created human beings.
God also gave them rights. The rights are defined broadly: equality, life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
in God's creation are moral principles that can be identified as rights
due to all humans. Furthermore, the rights are "unalienable." They are
birthright rights; they cannot legitimately be taken away by anyone. God
has given these rights to humans and it is the duty of the state to make
them real in the lives of its citizens.
the rights are inherently the possessions of every human, they require
some mechanism to actualize them. That is the role of the state -- to actualize
those rights and protect them.
expression of trying to actualize those rights in the American experience
was the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If the government
does not allow its citizens to enjoy those rights, then it is acting contrary
to the will of God. The nation stands under the judgment of God. We, as
a nation and as individuals, live under a transcendent point of reference
to which we are accountable.
What is this
transcendent point of reference to? It is that human beings are finite.
This includes nations, laws and governments. A principal role of the religious
institutions of the nation is to remind our leaders "You, too, are mortal;
you are not God."
of religious institutions should be to challenge the government to be
true to its own religious/moral heritage, to admonish the government to
actualize the unalienable rights in the lives of all citizens. By speaking
out on public issues, religious institutions and leaders can contribute
to the creation of a moral and humane society by both referring back to
the moral code of the civil religion and saying to the government and
any national figure, "You, too, are finite."
pointing out the necessity for humble and humane government, religious
leaders must remember that any church, denomination, or religious pressure
group is also finite and lacks the complete truth. The particularities
of its theology and/or religious practices cannot become government policy.
The public influence of religious groups must be by persuasion, not by
coercion. Neither the government nor any part of it can be transformed
into an extension of any sect or specific theology.
So, we are
back to the separation of church and state, the guarantor of religious
freedom. This freedom includes the right to speak out on the moral problems
of the day. One of the most important roles for churches to play is to
remind the nation and its various officials that they are limited. Religious
institutions need to keep that message alive.
I just suggested
that clergy have a vested interest in the preservation of religious freedom.
It seems to me that of all people, clergy should recognize the importance
of religious freedom. You have been able to respond to the call of God
to pursue what Perry Gresham called "the disciplines of the high calling"
without any interference from civil authorities. In many places in the
world, you would not have been free to do that.
been and are the direct beneficiaries of this most fundamental of freedoms,
not just as Americans, but in your chosen profession. I hope you believe
religious freedom is worth defending, not only for ourselves, but for
those generations of men and women who come after us who may hear the
call of God for ministry. I challenge you to believe that one of the disciplines
of the high calling is to be an advocate for and guardian of the separation
of church and state and religious freedom.
I hope I
have given you something to think about.
Flowers at firstname.lastname@example.org