A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State

A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State
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Up till now, in particular, government restrictions have been discussed. Governmental restraint in criminalizing dissenting opinions, however, leaves open the possibility that government itself defends and propagates liberal values. Another aspect of government involvement with churches and religious communities might be in backing them financially. In a lot of countries, there exist various forms of government aid to religious communities. In France, the government is the owner of many church buildings and puts these buildings at the disposal of religious communities.

Normal tax law sanctions apply. This church tax is an 8 percent surcharge above the tax on wages. This regulation results in the national religious communities in Germany being among the richest religious communities in Europe. In Belgium, since , government not only pays the maintenance of church buildings but priests, reverends, and rabbis receive a state salary as well.

This regulation pertains to only the recognized denominations. The main criteria for recognition is whether a denomination supplies a need for a segment of the population. By now, also imams receive a state salary. Religious communities in England, including the established Church of England, do not receive direct state subsidies, nor do the religious communities in the United States. Jefferson was among the opponents. Arguments for state aid in European countries differ. In France, supporting.

In other countries, the supposed utility of religion is a point for attention as well.

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A counterargument could be that a lot of citizens do not really show a spiritual or religious need. Attributing such a need to every citizen is based on a unproven portrayal of mankind. An additional, tricky question is whether government should be allowed to control—as in the health service—the quality of the spiritual and religious services. In this respect, arguments against state aid are advanced as well. First, a citizen should not be forced to pay taxes for backing the preaching of convictions contrary to his own deeply felt convictions.

A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State

Had American Protestants been less enamored with Whig republicanism and more attentive to Luther and Calvin, they would have agreed with Catholics on this point, as their confessions also teach that Christian morality makes no sense apart from teachings about sin and grace. Article activity alert. If one is looking for a more exegetical approach, Kline's 'The Oracular Origins of the State' and Kingdom Prologue will be much more helpful. The five-times daily broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer from a mosque may at first raise hackles, but when the comparison to church bells is made, public acceptance is likely to follow, as it did in the town of Hamtramck, Mich. Shortly after the French Revolution, crucifixes disappeared from the French courtrooms. Robert W. Catholic thinkers have long sought to distinguish questions of prudential judgment from ones that directly involve Christian teaching.

This argument carries a certain weight in the U. The European Commission of Human Rights, for example, judged the support of religious communities with general public resources not contrary to freedom of religion, as laid down in article 9 ECHR. The above-mentioned U. In this respect, churches cannot be compared, for example, with museums or sports associations, which are often receive state aid. A government call to play sports more regularly, or to visit museums is not very controversial; a government call to visit churches or mosques more regularly, would be a horse of a different color.

One might put forward that only religious communities that feel very strongly about democratic values and the rule of law deserve state aid.

Politician: Separation Of Church & State = Nazism

Such an appraisal of religious doctrine, however, is neither possible nor desirable. In this respect, one may point to former local Dutch government plans to bring more liberal forms of Islam into action to minimize radicalization. Such a policy might actually damage the credibility of more liberal religious communities.

If a government financially backs certain religious communities, then the right of freedom of religion and the principle of equal treatment are rather strong arguments for possible aid to all denominations. The starting point, namely, that freedom of religion, in general, gives no grounds for facilitating religious communities, does not apply when government itself is responsible for hindering the exercise of the right to freedom of religion.

Therefore, in most countries governments take care, for example, to supply the spiritual needs in the military. In the United States, political candidates often use or have to use religious references to attract voters; in other countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, this is less obvious, even though, at the same time, political parties with religious backgrounds do exist. In this section, we will deal with several interrelated issues.

First, the meaning and relevance of religious arguments in political debate; second, the question of whether a democracy under the rule of law should limit religiously inspired political ambitions. The answer to the question as to whether religiously inspired political parties have a special position follows naturally from this argument. It would be strange if diversity in a religiously pluralistic society would not show itself in the process of political opinion formation. Believers are religiously motivated, which does not always change when they enter the political arena.

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Moreover, religious communities may have special interests that they want to have represented in political debate. In a democracy, political rights like freedom of speech and association guarantee that everybody is entitled to participate in political discussions. In view of these fundamental rights, religiously inspired contributions have the same status as other contributions. All the same, we have seen that in a pluralistic society government had better not base its decisions on a religious foundation.

From this point of view, religious arguments in the political debate might be considered less relevant. Religious points of view may enrich discussions with arguments that otherwise would be without a voice. Such an idea casts doubt on all political movements wishing to build a perfect society. Another possibility could be that religiously inspired participants in the political debate translate their views and arguments into arguments with which anybody—believer or nonbeliever—might agree. Years ago, the main argument of a Dutch Reformed political party against the liberalization of pornography laws was that pornography should be considered a gross offense against God.

The assumption that religious arguments need some sort of translation is also important because compromises play a rather important part in democratic political opinion formation and decision making. A religious argument that is tantamount to an appeal to the inalterable will of the supreme being probably prevents concluding political compromises. Up till now, the argument in this section has focused mainly on the desirability of a well-functioning political debate. So far, the need for juridical norms limiting political rights has not been discussed. The situation might be different if religiously inspired political movements strive to establish a theocratic political system, wish to abolish equality between men and women, or want to classify nonbelievers as second-rate citizens.

In countries such as the United States, a more formal concept of democracy prevails. Political freedoms are indivisible in the sense that they protect views and aspirations completely contrary to the starting points of a democracy under the rule of law. As long as political opinions are not considered incitement to imminent lawlessness, they are protected, no matter if they are, for example, of a racist or dictatorial nature. In other countries, a more substantive concept of democracy prevails.

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As a result, the Constitution presents a framework for acceptable political opinion formation. The Dutch Constitution does not explicitly lay down such a substantive framework; no abuse-of-fundamental-rights provision is included. Nevertheless, it is still possible that unwritten supraconstitutional starting points exist. Further research into such possible foundations falls beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the position of religiously inspired political parties is clear enough. These parties have, in principle, the same position as other political parties. Political parties which are convicted for discrimination may lose their state subsidies.

State and religion meet in society in the social and cultural domain. Of old, churches and religious communities have been involved in physical and mental health care and have supported the poor. Religious organizations in these fields were and still are assisted by a relatively large number of volunteers. During the last two centuries, the part played by religious organizations in these areas has decreased, however. First, the above-mentioned services have been professionalized.

As a result, the link with religion has become weaker, and the room for voluntary work has diminished.

Issue: Gods Unto Ourselves

Second, the state has claimed a greater role for itself. So the question arises, what might be the role of private organizations with a religious background and, more particularly, whether and under what conditions government may or should subsidize such organizations?

Looking at different countries, a varied picture may be seen. In France, after the Revolution, the health care system was secularized, while, at the same time, illnesses were treated on a more medical-scientific basis.

1. Introduction

Original, thought-provoking and oftentimes controversial, Darryl Hart's book. Darryl Hart, the highly regarded historian of religion, contends that appeals to Christianity for social and political well-being fundamentally misconstrue the meaning of the Christian religion.

The present strong stress on laicism does not mean, however, that organizations such as the Catholic Juvenile Assistance Organization are excluded from financial support by the government. Under positive Dutch law, the government has no strict obligation to give those tasks to private organizations. Policy considerations of a financial nature, for example, could point in another direction.

In the United States, the situation is rather ambiguous. On the other, organizations with a religious background, active in the child welfare, for example, or care for the elderly, do receive state support. Second, the primary effect of the funding measure may not advance or obstruct religion. And third, the measure should not lead to an excessive entanglement between state and religion.

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In my opinion, there are two interrelated justifications for supporting organizations with a religious or philosophy-of-life background. People might prefer the social, cultural, or health services offered by such organizations. Still, it must be stressed that those organizations are supported because and only insofar as they meet professional standards and, therefore, their activities can be considered to be in the public interest.

That implies that government may and should lay down quality requirements. These requirements, however, do not regard the religious background of these organizations but their professional activities. For ages, churches and religious organizations have played a central role in the field of education. In the nineteenth century, however, in a lot of Western countries a system of public education was developed with, originally, some kind of Christian character.

Lessons in religion, the substance of which is decided by the churches, are a normal part of the curriculum in a lot of public schools.