Opinion: Separation of Church and State
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
Recently, I have seen several of my Catholic friends and relatives devoting their time to pointing out all the ways our current president, Joe Biden, is not as devout a Catholic as he claims to be. Their worries range from some of his executive orders regarding reproductive rights to his standpoint on LGBTQ+ issues. While this article is not meant to decide if his opinions and actions are morally right in the eyes of God, it is meant to be a call to action for everyone, regardless of religious belief.
Since the creation of our nation, we have prided ourselves on the freedom of religion. President Thomas Jefferson once stated “that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions. I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people.” The Founding Fathers saw the importance of freedom of religion, and made sure to clearly state their full desire for a nation that allowed religious freedom to all. While the need for separation of church and state is never explicitly stated in the Constitution, it is often interpreted as such in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This separation is a crucial right that ensures the American people will never undergo religious tyranny. One of the most critical avenues for promoting the separation of church and state is through the decisions of our politicians.
Unfortunately, the separation of church and state is not always evident in these decisions. Interestingly enough, six of our nine sitting Supreme Court justices are Catholic. While justices are held to interpreting the law based on precedent and not their own religious beliefs, this is a great example of one religious group slowly gaining control. Although the complete separation of church and state should prevent the Catholic ideologies of the judges from seeping into their decision-making, this has not proven to be the case. I think it is completely unfair of my fellow Catholics to assume that just because a politician is Catholic means they must follow the theologies and teachings of the church when conducting day-to-day business, especially since their work impacts everyone in the United States. As a Catholic myself, I hold many of my own beliefs based upon the many teachings of the church. However, I would never want to force my beliefs onto someone else. On a much larger scale, the Catholics currently criticizing Joe Biden for his beliefs that greatly oppose those of the church need to realize that our nation has a moral responsibility to protect people of all faiths — even those who are not affiliated with any faith.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the inconsistencies within the separation of church and state in American government. With cases still running rampant across the country, several places of worship have reopened their doors to the community. Some never even closed to begin with, breaking countless safety rules put into place to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. Yet according to The New York Times, “Congress has approved a huge payout to small businesses and nonprofits that allows funding for clergy salaries.” Several churches applied for loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and many were approved. This means that some churches were granted funding from our government intended for businesses at risk of shutting down due to the pandemic. These approvals signified to the American people yet another failure in our nation's separation of church and state.
We as an American people regardless of religion need to be actively advocating for the separation of church and state. People on both sides of the aisle should be working together to hold our politicians accountable.
By Rachel Van Horne, News Editor