Monday, July 03, 2006

True Utah values on the subject of church and state

When Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to thank them for their support, and explained how the First Amendment was intended to build “a wall of separation between Church and State”, he was not expressing opposition to religious faith. Jefferson felt that religion had an important role to play in society. Jefferson’s argument was not with religious faith, it was with corrupt clergy wielding political power who had oppressed mankind so much over the centuries. His views on priestcraft were not unlike those of another early American – Joseph Smith.

Jefferson knew that maintaining a strong, healthy environment for religious faith in America would require two things: ensuring religion was protected from the corrupting influence of political power, and ensuring complete freedom of religious expression. “Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself…she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict”. Jefferson fought for the separation of church and state because he realized that without such separation, religion suffers. It loses its moral authority and vitality.

America has been a living example of this concept over the years. Religious faith has flourished in our nation because of this principle in the First Amendment. Contrast America with the countries of Europe, most of which still have state-sponsored churches that sit empty on Sunday, and which have absolutely no moral authority or influence.

Despite the success of this First Amendment principle in fostering a healthy religious atmosphere, it is under attack today. A small group of extreme fundamentalist Christian believers has decided that their form of religion should be forced on the rest of Americans.

I am grateful that my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaches that the separation of church and state is an important principle. The experience of our ancestors, who were literally driven out of the United States due to the religious intolerance of their neighbors, is an important example of the disastrous consequences when state power is used to promote one religion over another. The Church’s policy and numerous statements of political neutrality are well known – unlike some religions, who actively preach politics over the pulpit, neglecting in the meantime the preaching of Christ’s Gospel. Several years ago, in stating their opposition to President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative and their intention not to participate, the Church cited proper separation of church and state as one of the reasons for their decision.

These precepts are based on the following simple statement recorded in the LDS book of scripture entitled the Doctrine and Covenants:

“We do not believe it is just to mingle religious influence with civil government”

One thing that has surprised me (and to be honest, angered me a little) is that our Utah Republican representatives in Washington, all of whom are Latter-day Saints, have ignored the values of their fellow Utahns and helped to push the attack on the First Amendment being waged by this small group of fundamentalist Christians – especially since one of the tenets of these extremists is mean-spirited discrimination against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In their eyes, we should not be allowed to call ourselves Christians.

In a recent press report, Congressman Bishop is quoted as saying, “If you are looking for separation of church and state, you won’t find it in Washington, D.C.” Now, I agree with some of the statements in his speech. I agree that Sunday is an appropriate day to hold a patriotic devotional. I agree that the influence of religious faith in our nation’s history has been critical. I believe with all my heart that the Constitution is inspired of God.

Where Congressman Bishop and I disagree is whether the current policies of the Radical Right are healthy for religious faith. It is clear to anyone but the most biased observers that the marriage of extreme fundamentalist Christianity and extreme conservative Republican politics serve as proof of Jefferson’s worst fears – that intermingling of church and state results in the corruption of both.

It’s time for Utah’s Republican leaders in Washington to start speaking out against the excessive influence of factions in their party that hold such hateful views against their fellow Latter-day Saints - who constitute a majority of their constituents. The time is long overdue for LDS Republicans to stop winking and nodding whenever the Prophet restates the Church’s political neutrality. And it’s time for them to return to true Utah values: to the concept that the role of religion is to teach correct principles – and then let us govern ourselves.


At 11:41 PM, Blogger Emily For Utah Senate 28 said...

Wow!! So eloquent. I couldn't agree more.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Nathan Daniels said...

Great post! and you may have just earned my vote.

However, as long as the LDS church continues to take official positions on social issues that are largely split along differences in religious views such as the federal Marriage Protection Act, its hard to fault the current elected crew when the church is setting a bad example. To clarify, I'm neither LDS, nor homosexual. I am a citizen that is concerned about underfunded education, transportation issues, and the cost of health care. Everytime I see my elected officials take time out to discuss gays and evolution it ticks me off because the line between church and state is getting thinner everyday. I firmly believe Romney has already been screwed by his own religious organization because many Americans simply don't want to worry about the next Federal "Values" Act pushing a Mormon value down our throat.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger John said...

I wonder if any of you have read the First Amendment?? For those who haven't here it is.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Where is there talk of separation? I see what Thomas Jefferson has said he thinks it should mean, but if that were the true intent why didn’t they use the word separation or wall? It says congress will not establish a church or religion. It never says you can't have religion in government. The laws of this land are based off the laws of God, remember the 10 commandments? We're just lucky enough not to have to pay taxes to some church we want no part of. If you want to keep religion out of government vote for those who don't have any.

I agree with what you have said, I just think the argument is all wrong. The LDS church (which I’m a member of) has it right. It doesn’t force “Mormonism” down your throat. Now, its members in the state government might, but the church doesn’t.

Since you blogged on this subject it must be of importance to you. What are your thoughts on the other amendments in the Bill of Rights?

Also, I read in your book “Why most Utahns are Democrats” Quoted from page 6;
“Second, Democrats believe government should be limited in areas where it has no business being involved (surely cash handouts to large corporations falls into this category)”
My question is this, should the Federal government stay out of the welfare business as well?? What’s the difference to giving money to the poor or rich? Other than we have taken the ability for the individual to choose for themselves. The constitution gives the Federal government no authority to pay welfare. I’m all for helping the poor and needy, but that should be up to me, not the government.
I guess Mr. Olsen this is the real question. Do you feel the constitution should be strictly interpreted or is it a living document that should be interpreted by each generation differently?
Sorry for the long post. Geez, I should get back to work.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Luke said...

John said:

"Where is there talk of separation? I see what Thomas Jefferson has said he thinks it should mean, but if that were the true intent why didn’t they use the word separation or wall?"

Do I have to break it down for you?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." - That pretty clearly states that congress cannot endorse a state sponsored religion.

"... or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." - And congress also cannot prevent people from exercising their own religion.

So gee, let's see here, no state sponsored religion, and no state persecution of any religion.

How much more of a wall do you need?

You give the LDS church a bad name, and are EXACTLY the reason that Steve wrote this article.

At 9:13 AM, Blogger John said...

I guess I missed the word endorse. Congress could endorse a religion all day long, but they can’t establish or create, set up, found, launch, begin or institute one. Much less make me support or join one. Of course they shouldn’t endorse one, but they can. Try reading the entire post before coming down on me. I agree with Mr. Olsen, in principle, as I stated. I just don’t agree with his argument. The great thing about the Constitution is it says what it says. It’s a clear and concise document that we have twisted and reinterpreted to conform to our personal desires and views.

How do I give the LDS church a bad name? I’m as free as you or them to voice my opinions. As the 1st amendment says, and as you stated, we are all free to exercise our religion. I love my freedom and liberty and wish those same freedoms and liberty on all. Stick to the debate of ideas Luke, there is no reason to make this personal.

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Karen Phelps said...

But we DO have a state religion --secular humanism. It is the only religion recognized as valid by the government. Its "politically correct" mandates are forced on everyone and trump all freedom of religion. For example, in California a doctor cannot refuse to perform a procedure that is against his/her religion if it conflicts with the values of secular humanism. In New Mexico a business owner cannot refuse to endorse behavior he/she sees as sinful because of personal religious views. In Colorado (where I live), the Bible has effectively been banned because it violates our new secular progressive/humanist law that forbids the distribution of any literature unfavorable to homosexuals.

I'm not sure what the Christian right is doing that might be out of line --other than trying to prevent the establishment of secular humanism as the state religion.

As I see it, secular humanists are twisting the 1st Amendment and the doctrine of separation between church and state to establish themselves as the only "moral" authority in the country who is allowed to dictate policy and force the rest of us to obey -or face fines and imprisonment. Sounds like a state religion to me.


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