The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Wisdom of Perpetual Conflict

This is the first of a series of articles by Jacques Bailhé, a media artist from Los Angeles, CA; the author of the novel Thai Heaven and owner of the http://www.bailhe.net/ website

By Jacques Bailhé


The separation of church and state is, of course, an impossible ideal. Governance is guided by moral and ethical principles we derive from our faiths. Legislation often affects religion and visa versa. But the ideal of the separation of church and state keeps those worlds in conflict that has proven invaluably beneficial to both and we need to keep it that way.

History shows that wherever government is dominated by a particular religion, Christian, Muslim, or other, we invariably find trouble. Our nation was created partly by people fleeing religious persecution, and from their experience our Founders saw the wisdom of making the separation of church and state a constitutional imperative. This has proved to yield invaluable benefits to all, not only through the freedom of religious expression, but in many other and far-reaching ways. Separation is not simply a method of trying to avoid religious persecution or conflict between faiths. It is fundamental to the vitality of our democracy because it preserves a healthy and productive conflict, as does the separation of powers between the three branches of our government.

Our political life benefits from principles we learn from our faiths or lack thereof. Ideals of justice and morality derived from our faiths guide our governance. At the same time, our faiths have benefited from the conflicts that arise with our political life. The fight for equality of women, long denied by many faiths, has affected those faiths and in many examples, caused significant changes which have begun to stop the institutionalized denigration of women in religion and law. History shows the conflict between church and state is healthy for both and fundamental to democracy. Despite history's unmistakable lessons, the separation of church and state is, at present, under concerted attack. Religious forces are working hard to exert control of governments around the world - including our own.

From one side, groups espousing religious justification seek to destroy us. From another side, some seek to make us a Christian nation. Both sides use the two most powerful tools available: the education of our children and installing like-minded officials to influence legislation and the judiciary.

We would be wise to vigorously renew the efforts of our Founders to resist any effort from any quarter to break down the separation of church and state. Any attempt to remove the beneficial conflict between them harms both these vital aspects of our lives.