The Separation of Church and State Is an Important American Value

Miniteman statue
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Secularism Is Worth Preserving

Most Christians who have given the matter any thought do not want to live in a Christian theocracy. Some may like the idea of their specific set of beliefs taking priority over all others. Few will like the idea of someone else's take on their religion doing so.

I live in a dry county because the Southern Baptist majority wants it that way. Possessing alcohol, even in the privacy of one's home, is illegal. In essence, Prohibition was never repealed here. I know a bunch of Christians who are not happy with this. They aren't interested in living under these religious-motivated laws. But there aren't enough of them here to do anything about it.

We all know Christians who support reproductive rights and same-sex marriage. They'd like to preserve these rights, and they vote to do so. They recognize that the source of most of the opposition to these rights is other Christians. They share some beliefs with these other Christians but not these beliefs. They often see these other Christians as their opponents.

I don't want anyone's interpretation of Christianity imposed through legislation. This seems obvious to me since I am an atheist who values the separation of church and state. I recognize that secularism is the only way to protect religious freedom. Many Christians have similar values. Few Protestants welcome a Catholic theocracy. Most Catholics aren't interested in a Protestant theocracy.

How is it, then, that we seem so close to Christian theocracy in some places? Everyone I've known who has lived in Utah reports that Mormons run the state. None claimed there was any meaningful church-state separation there. I don't see much here in Mississippi either. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians run the state. Things happen every week that one would not expect to see elsewhere.

Even at the national level, we've done a poor job of preserving the separation of church and state. Think about how common it is to hear elected officials promoting religiosity. We have had presidents start wars because of their religious beliefs. We know this because they told us. Our Supreme Court seems poised to remove rights we have enjoyed since the 1970s. Why? These rights are inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

Are we closer to a Christian theocracy today than we were in the 1970s? It seems like it to me. But even if we decide that is not the case, I'd hope we can agree that we are closer than we should be. None of us should risk losing rights because of someone else's religious beliefs.

The separation of church and state is one of the things our founders got right. Many of them were religious believers who had recently escaped religious persecution. They understood the importance of secularism even though they were religious. The separation of church and state is an important American value. It is also one that has been eroding. Preserving it should be a higher priority for religious believers and non-believers alike.