Religio-political ultraconservatives and their media regularly deprecate church-state separation as the exclusive province of secularists, humanists and "unbelievers". They are dead wrong. Separation was incorporated in our federal and state constitutions through the collaboration of deists, secularists and a whole range of devout Christians. In our lifetimes voters from California to Massachusetts and from Florida to Alaska in 27 referenda have voted overwhelmingly for separation and against diversion of public funds to faith-based private schools. Even in Mississippi, our most conservative and Christian state, voters a couple of years ago voted 58% to 42% against an effort to outlaw abortion by putting into law the theological notion that human personhood begins at conception.
During the years when efforts were being made in Congress to amend the Constitution to authorize
government sponsored prayer in public schools, divert public funds to church schools, and diminish women's rights of conscience on reproduction, Christian and Jewish groups made it clear that they opposed government tinkering with our most fundamental freedoms. And let me cite the Declaration of Principles of Liberty magazine, founded in 1906 by the theologically conservative Seventh-day Adventist church:
"The God-given right of religious liberty is best exercised when church and state are separate. . . .
Religious liberty entails freedom of conscience: to worship or not to worship; to profess, practice, and promulgate religious beliefs, or to change them. In exercising these rights, however, one must respect the equivalent rights of all others. Attempts to unite church and state are opposed to the interests of each, subversive of human rights, and potentially persecuting in character; to oppose union, lawfully and honorably, is not only the citizen's duty but the exercise of the golden rule -- to treat others as one wishes to be treated."
Now that is a statement that should be approved by Americans of all shades of belief and "unbelief", by liberals and conservatives and moderates.
Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (arlinc.org)