The Golden Rule Implications on Separation of Church and State

The Golden Rule Implications on Separation of Church and State

Principles for Federal Government

Some Christians view separation of church and state as a bad thing. “Christianity is under attack in America,” these churchgoers warn, ominously. “This is supposed to be a Christian nation,” they say, “but now we can’t even say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore.” “Schools are even taking ‘under God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance,” these Christians complain, gnashing their teeth. “If you own a business, you’ll get bankrupted by legal fees when you refuse to serve somebody because of your religious beliefs,” they despair.

This post is primarily for any Christians who are tempted to feel that they should be high on the list of the vulnerable needing additional government protection caused by the separation of church and state.* In the thinking of Principle Based Politics, the principle of freedom of religion is best served by keeping the state completely separate from religion. We will explain this below, citing the Bible itself.

*Anyone who does not feel this way is more than welcome to continue reading, of course, but the message is aimed to comfort and calm down concerned Christians.

The Golden Rule

For many people, our religious faith is the most important thing in the world. Those of us with Christian beliefs, like the Pilgrims who came to America four hundred years ago, definitely would never want any other religion forced on us by the government. Surely there are public school teachers of many religions who would want to lead their students in a non-Christian prayer when a classmate is ill or in danger, or might prefer to change the Pledge wording to reference “one nation, under Allah.” The Christians referenced in the first paragraph of this post definitely would not accept that. 

We want absolute freedom to worship God. We object strenuously any time someone even hints at the government impinging on that freedom or forcing another religious belief on us. By the same reasoning, then, the government should not force any other American to worship the God we do, right? This logic follows the “Golden Rule.” 

In Christianity, the Golden Rule is found in Matthew 7:12, in which Jesus taught, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Luke 6:31, quotes Jesus even more succinctly: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”*

*Nearly all religions appear to follow the same rule. Jewish teaching on this point is found in Tobit 4:15: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike.” In Islam, Kitab al-Kafi reads as follows: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.” Hindu teaching in Brihaspati, Mahabharata 13.114.8, says, “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This in brief, is the rule of dharma.” In Buddhism, Udanavarga 5:18, the phrasing reads, “Hurt not others in way that you yourself would find hurtful.”

The Christian version of the Golden Rule flows from the biblical teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is in treating our neighbor the way we would want to be treated that we show our love for that neighbor. As we discussed two posts ago regarding the parable of the Good Samaritan and protecting the vulnerable, Jesus explained to the legal expert that our “neighbor,” in turn, should be everyone, regardless of religious background. We are to show mercy and compassion. Therefore, for that reason as well, we should not want to force non-Christians to honor our God the way we do.

Separation Protects Our Freedoms

How does supporting separation of church and state support the principle of religious freedom? First, we honor and build up the ideal of religious freedom every time and in every way we extend that freedom to others. Second, we look hypocritical and actually weaken the cause of religious freedom every time and in every way we deny that same freedom to others.

It often is said that freedom of religion includes the freedom from religion. Our federal government (and the states and municipalities by extension of the Bill of Rights to cover them) is not allowed to favor any religion, and it is not even allowed under the Constitution to favor the idea that a citizen should have any religion at all. The government is to be neutral on the whole subject of religion, viewing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and all other beliefs and disbeliefs regarding religion in the same way.

If schools, courts, or other governmental institutions were to promote or protect one spiritual viewpoint over another, that would not be religious freedom for someone. We would all agree with that if we happened to be the someone whose foot the shoe was on. Although the separation of church and state may cause frustration and fear for some, we all should take comfort that the rule actually is designed to protect freedom of religion rather than to impede it.

And, please remember that affirming separation of church and state is the right thing to do for our neighbor, in keeping the Golden Rule.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts twice each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

This month, we are expounding on the following government principles:

  • Equality: Governments must treat all people equally and fairly.
  • Freedom and free enterprise: Liberty and freedom of the people and free markets should be purposes of government.
  • Transparency: Telling the people the truth, openly, is the best way to govern.
  • Law and Justice: Upholding the law and Constitution, justly, is an essential governmental function.
  • Protecting the vulnerable: A necessary role of the government is to protect those in true need.
  • Religious freedom and separation: All must be free to worship, but church and state should remain separate.
  • Limited government: The federal government should do only what others cannot.
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