Separation of Church and State

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This is a direct quote from a letter that founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut to assure them that the federal government would not interfere with their religion.  This was a worry of the early church in America because they had left the tyrannical rule of England where the Catholic church was the state sponsored church and there were no freedoms to one’s own religion.

You will not find the words “Separation of Church and State” anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, but you hear it often in regard to any religious issue in America.  There are, however, principles relating to this separation in the Constitution, and you will also find mention of it in court cases.

Constitutional Separation of Church and State

The founders of the Constitution were well aware of the tyrannical religion they had just escaped in England and didn’t want to repeat that in their newly founded country; therefore, the very first words of the first amendment contained a very important concept:

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This was written to keep the federal government from interfering into your right to the religion of your choosing.  It doesn’t matter if you are Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or any other religion—the government cannot make laws that prohibit your exercise of religion.

You will notice that this is where the separation stops.  There are no further clauses or comments in the Bill of Rights, nor the Constitution, that refer to any power of the Church over the State.  Any idea otherwise is a misinterpretation of the First Amendment and its original intent.

Judicial Separation of Church and State

There have been a couple landmark Supreme Court cases that have dealt with this idea of a separation between the Church and the State.  The first big case was Everson v. Board of Education in 1947.  The 5-4 vote extended the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) down to the State level of government.  Prior to this decision, states had been making laws that could benefit one religious organization over another.

In 1971, the 8-1 Lemon v. Kurtzman ruling set up the “Lemon Test” for state laws and whether they violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The threefold test reads:

  1. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose.
  2. The principal or primary effect of the statute must not advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

Once again, this ruling only affected the government supporting or advancing any particular religion.

In 2017, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer case which seemed to apply the principles set forth by Lemon v. Kurtzman.  They ruled that the Church could not be exempted from a public benefit or grant strictly because of its religious status.  It was determined that the grant they had requested would have been used for a secular purpose (playground) and did not advance religion, nor did it result in excessive government entanglement with religion.

Role of the Church in the State

The Courts and the Constitution are clear that the State should not be involved in advancing the affairs of the Church, but what about the Church being involved in the State affairs?  It is common to hear the phrase “Separation of Church and State” used when arguing that members of the clergy cannot endorse any political candidate or party from the pulpit.  This issue, however, has no Constitutional or Court basis.

However, there is a separation that has been established for the Church between it and the State.  This separation was put in place by the IRS in its tax-exemption regulations.  Most churches fall under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) for their tax-exempt status.  This code specifies that churches “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

This means that pastors and other members of the clergy cannot speak from the pulpit and endorse a political candidate because he/she would be speaking for the church in his/her endorsement.  The IRC prohibits the Church from endorsing a candidate, but it does not prohibit the member of the clergy from endorsing as a member of the general public.  If a church officially endorses a candidate for political office, they risk losing their tax-exempt status with the IRS, which would be detrimental to their existence.  (Individual pastors are allowed to endorse any political candidate as long as they are not representing their organization.)

So What?

 

The original idea for this article spawned from a daytime TV show in which a well-known New York City pastor, Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church, discussed his approach to politics as a pastor of a church.

In the video above, Joy Behar mentions the “Separation of Church and State law.”  She later tries to walk it back a little by mentioning the tax-exempt status, but she still gets it wrong.  This is not a law; it is a code that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing a particular candidate from the pulpit.  The first amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise clause do not restrict a pastor or a church or any religious organization from endorsing anything in politics.  Congress has not passed any laws regarding this issue because that law would not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.

In summary, Congress cannot advance any religion with laws that would benefit a religious organization.  Pastors can endorse any political candidate they want from any location that they want, without breaking the law.  Those same pastors, however, could put their church’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy.  There are many, many other examples of religious symbols that the Court has allowed (Ten Commandments) and disallowed (Cross) on public property, with each having its own reason for being allowed or rejected.  Overall, many issues that aren’t cut and dry will likely be subject to judicial review from the highest court of the land.

~Jason – Three Patriots

Tomi Lahren vs. The Blaze

Social media posts and water cooler discussions have been ablaze this week (pun intended) over an issue involving a quote from a 24-year-old blonde woman.  The Blaze network’s Tomi Lahren went on the always-hostile show, “The View,” last week to talk to the (mostly ultra-liberal) panel about her life.  Her interview went fairly well, with many on the panel agreeing and disagreeing on various discussion topics – except uber-liberal Joy Behar, who basically chose to disagree with every word out of Tomi’s mouth.  That was until the following exchange occurred, prompted by co-host Sunny Hostin:


Sunny: “You call yourself a conservative Republican and a constitutional conservative, but you also consider yourself Pro-Choice.”

Tomi: “I’m Pro-Choice and here’s why: I love the constitution.  I’m someone that’s for limited government, and I can’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say I’m for limited government.  But, I think the government should not decide what women do with their bodies.” She went on to say, “I’m for limited government.  So, you can stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body, as well.”


Interestingly enough, her revelation on “The View” bought her a week of unpaid vacation in the form of a suspension from her TV show “Tomi” at the conservative media outlet, The Blaze.  While I have issues with Tomi’s position – that’s a whole other turkey to fry in a future post – I will say this: One can be on the side of limited government while also being on the side of anti-murder.  There are those little words IN the Constitution talking about your right to “LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Look for more on limited government in a blog coming soon!

My issue for this post is with The Blaze and their problem of allowing free speech and opinions.  They are a private news outlet and have every right to censor their programs as they see fit.  On the same token, they forfeit so much credibility because they won’t allow one of their news personalities on air for appearing to have a differing opinion on one of the major topics.

Glenn Beck, founder of The Blaze network, commented on the issue with Tomi this week by saying that her opposing position on abortion was not what caused her current work trouble, but that it was likely due to her quick and recent change of opinion on the topic.  If Glenn Beck pulled the proverbial plug on Tomi’s show this week for either of these reasons, he did the wrong thing.  You don’t punish someone for having a different viewpoint than you.  You don’t punish someone for deciding their viewpoint has changed.  This comes across to the general public that, “If you work at The Blaze and don’t share the boss’s political view, you are gonna get the ax!”  I don’t think any of us want to tune into a media outlet that subliminally tells their hosts how they should think and what topics they can and cannot have personal opinions, even if they have every right to do so.

If her opinions are not in accordance with something in her contract, then, by all means, let her go for breach of contract.  I believe we are coming to the end of the “Tomi” show era at The Blaze, anyway.  According to a DailyMail article, sources inside and outside of the organization say that there is a lot of tension between Tomi and many co-workers at The Blaze, so she likely won’t be back after her contract expires in September.

I think the silence from The Blaze is probably the worst of all.  This is a hot button topic this week, and all they are doing by not commenting on the suspension is making themselves look worse.  Tomi hasn’t come out and told her story, likely due to legal issues specified in her contract.  Until someone does speak about it, we are only left to speculate.

Glenn Beck has made some vague comments on his Twitter feed and barely addressed the situation on his radio show this week, but an in-depth analysis of it all doesn’t give you much information.  Probably, his most pointed tweet about the issue was in reply to someone calling the networks decision to suspend her a “big mistake”.


@GlennBeck: No, our greatest asset is a team of people who actually do their homework, are intellectually rigorous and honest. Principles and integrity


It appears that Beck’s biggest issue with Tomi is that he feels that she is not forging her political opinions through a thorough thought process but through social media.  He was quoted as saying:


“It takes intellectual honesty, and it takes a willingness to do more than just read Twitter or Facebook to get your news and your political opinions…”


One would take this to imply she was suspended because someone thought her newly founded opinion on the pro-choice movement was as a result of someone’s Facebook or Twitter post.  Since we haven’t heard much from The Blaze, that is about all we can speculate at this time.

Beck has had many instances in his career where he felt he was silenced because of his opinions.  Such are the reasons he went out and started his own media company, so that he could do and say what he wants.  The irony here is that the tables have turned, and he seems to be pulling the same stunt that he was so strongly against not so very long ago.  The best thing he could do now to save face would be to bring Tomi on to his show and lay it all out in the open, but I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.

I’m on #TeamTomi and also not on #TeamTomi all at the same time.

Jason – Three Patriots