The idea of offering respect to the religious institutions has never been a terrible thought. It is a respect originally generated from the purpose of wisdom that can be provided by these entities. They hold the status of non-profit organizations in the same fashion as charities, due to the services provided to the community. This very idea at its core holds steady with beliefs set down by some of the great fathers and mothers of the country. In fact, it is crucial to the ideal that no religion is established by the government or prohibited in its practice. It is a principle that would be difficult for any citizen to avoid supporting.
However, it has begun to feel that such a simple principle has been corrupted and ruined by the activities of these organizations. That is not to say that all are, but when an organization grows large enough to create its own form of lobbying, it may be time to re-examine this situation. As many have concluded in the past, there is an understood and well-supported case that the US Constitution speaks of a separation of church and state. This separation works to help offer the religious organizations the special tax exempt status, yet some of these organizations have become a political tool to influence the congregations. This is the line. Once a tax exempt entity enters the arena of the state, the separation is gone and the exemption is void.
Now some might consider it to be difficult to make a judgment of how far is too far or that freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Consider that statement and remember that it is a barrier to help protect the state from the establishment of a single religion while protecting the various religions from being persecuted as being the wrong religion for the whole country. It is not a matter of negotiation for how far, but a simple concept of keeping the structure protected. If a tax exempt organization steps into a position that will influence the state, it loses its status.
On the same principle, the state does not cross the line either to establish a single tax exempt organization above others. Now, it is understandable that one religion or charitable group might have a majority, but it needs to remain separate. Imagine what would happen if the Red Cross become so imbedded in the state that other charities could not raise donations to support their cause. Yes, we know that the Red Cross serves in emergencies and disasters, but we still need those charities that support research into cancer and various social causes. We need to have a level playing field and not some lopsided debate.
In the end, the point remains that tax exempt status for non-profit organizations should be honored to those that remain inside the guidelines. The boundaries occur for a reason and once they are broken, all the guarantees of a stable society are in jeopardy. What is the point of a democracy if the voices of the many are drowned out by the voices of the few? There is no doubt in my mind that if we can find our balance again, we will never stop our progress as a country and a world of human kind.
Today’s post is written in honor of a fellow Classicist, Madeline Miller, who recently won the Orange Prize for Fiction for her debut novel The Song of Achilles. This story is about the love affair that Achilles and Patroclus share in the midst of the Trojan War. I have a very strong appreciation for the subject matter. So I wish to send out my congratulations to her for this award on her debut novel.
I come to the last part of my discussion of the First Amendment. We have come to the section that speaks about the freedom of religion. This clause of the Amendment also secures that no establishment of any religion by Congress. As I don’t want to confuse any of the language, here is the exact text and the website to verify:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. http://constitution.laws.com/1st-amendment
The two parts are the establishment of a religion and freedom to practice any religion. The first clause has become the historical reference for those that believe that this is the separation of church and state language. These words actually gain support as such from Jefferson and Madison.
Thomas Jefferson, during a set of correspondences to the Danbury Baptist Association, wrote the phrase as “wall of separation of church and state.” James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, wrote in his papers and used the metaphor “great barrier” in regard to this clause. In the historical context, the clause was at the root of what those revolutionaries and Founding Fathers were sacrificing everything for. The Church of England and the Catholic Church had held sway over decisions in the governments and our Constitution authors made sure that such would not continue.
On this establishment of a religion, battles have been fought in the Congress, states, and courts of the country. Each day, this single right is at the heart of the discussion. Some have made the connections while others have their own agendas. However, we have seen a recent trend in our country and the states that have shifted this battle into some of the bloodiest attacks that we have ever experienced.
With the attention being set on the legality of abortions, birth control, and gay marriage, many supporters of the laws brought to the floor are a step toward the establishment of a religious belief of certain faiths. Once these laws are set into the stone, the precedent is established that religious beliefs can be legislated and the church will breach the “great barrier.” A law is made for the benefit of the society to protect and serve the greater good. These laws against abortion, birth control, and gay marriage do not benefit society except to the holders of these religions. A separation must be kept.
As to the practice of religion, it has been often stated that we are a country established on the very principle of freedom of religion. We are greater because of the diversity in beliefs and to hold a belief does not place one on the opposite side of the Law. We are best when we respect the ideals and beliefs of others. So, this respect for ideals and beliefs can be tested against the issues of abortion, birth control, and gay marriage. Each is an individual belief or ideal for the lives of those involved, while those who are not involved should respect the rights of the individual. The community is not affected by these matters, so they should respect the practice of beliefs. If they don’t, it could someday come back to a removal of their rights to practice as they believe.
For me, the First Amendment is fairly straight forward and has been judged by our system in a just way. Nothing is perfect, but our society needs to remember that blanket laws can infringe on the rights of those who may need that freedom to decide what is best for them. I have faith in our country that we will work through the troubles, but I wish that we would spend our energies on matters of importance to improving our society. I do not want us being pulled back into the dark ages of oppression by religious fanatics. Our forefathers settled here to escape that oppression. Move forward.