Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 303
July 13, 1998

Breaching the Wall of Separation


Where is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when we need it? Why is there nary a peep from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU)?

Why, if a religious leader praying at an officially sanctioned public school graduation prompts a lawsuit, should not a politician be called to account for inserting himself into the area of religion? The culprit? Trent Lott, majority leader of the Senate. The infringement? Using the word sin--"Homosexuality is a sin."

Of course, most of us would recognize that Lott's use of the word sin is not the most flagrant violation of church-state separation. But, as I was amusing myself with thoughts of this reverse breach of church-state separation, I considered the strange twist the First Amendment has taken in contemporary American life.

One niggling incident is the case of the teacher who, in the name of the separation of church and state, rejected the paper of a high school student who, asked to write about a personal hero, wrote about Jesus (the teacher's judgment was supported by the principal, the school board, and a court). Much more serious is the accusation of the violation of church-state separation hurled at Roman Catholics for proclaiming their belief about the moral evil of abortion into our political and civil life

The First Amendment clearly walls off Congress (and political authorities) from instituting an officially sanctioned religion, but says absolutely nothing against churches who speak out or attempt to influence legislation, or individual believers seeking political office. The First Amendment only establishes a one-way wall. Do we really mean to suppress those religious liberals who speak out against Congress for eliminating aid to the poor to heat their homes? Do we mean to suppress the religious right who are concerned about twisted history taught to our young?

In the 60's the 'religious left' marched against segregation laws, and in the 90's the 'religious right' demonstrates against abortion laws. Both claim, from their own religious perspective, a moral mandate to speak out against laws they consider sinful (religious folk can legitimately use that word). The First Amendment does not take away that right.

Further thought on the First Amendment led me to question even the right of government to silence churches from taking stands for political parties and specific candidates. This is done through threatening the withdrawal of tax-exempt status (which is not constitutionally protected). Religious groups, quite understandably, are reluctant to test that line of thought.

Finishing my reverie, I realized that I need to assure Trent Lott that he need not quake in fear of a law suit from me. The ACLU and AU are not returning my calls.

--Robert H. Tucker
13 July 1998


© Robert H. Tucker, 1998.
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