Columns / Discourse / May 16, 2014

Separation of church and state: In defense of separate but respected beliefs

The separation of church and state was one of the wisest installments of the United States government, in my opinion, but it remains a tough topic to tackle even today. In 1776, I’m not sure if it was easier or harder to talk about religion, but today it is extremely difficult, and that is no secret for anyone.

While I do not at all believe that prayer should be mandatory at a “state,” public event, I do not think it should be outlawed or opposed by the Supreme Court. I do agree with their 5-4 ruling; prayer should be allowed, it is participation that is optional.

We live in a world where other people’s beliefs are not respected as they should be. We often hear of complaints that someone hung a cross in their yard, held prayer at a public meeting (as in this instance) or offered some other spiritual symbol or circumstance. What we do not hear about is the defense of the religious people; if other, non-religious people can voice their beliefs, why can’t religious people do the same? Granted, this must be respectful; we cannot turn into the Westboro Baptist Church, but the sharing of other beliefs and cultures should not be considered offensive. Praying in public should not be considered offensive or looked down upon in any way. It should be respected.

Christianity does not exist to offend others, believe it or not. You might not know this, but not everyone who identifies as a Christian also identifies as homophobic or anti-gay, and it is completely unfair to think so. Not even every person who identifies as a conservative identifies as anti-gay marriage. But the freedom of religion that we have in this country does provide protection for religious institutions who choose to disallow the marriage of two people of the same sex if it is against the institution’s beliefs.

There is a key difference between “hate” and simply “disagreement.” Many religions may not believe in gay marriage, but this does not mean that they hate anyone who is homosexual. Christianity revolves around the idea of being “Christ-like,” and hating someone for his or her sexual orientation is not a “Christ-like” thing to do.

Believe it or not, I have a conservative argument for gay marriage (Yes, you read that correctly. That says “for” gay marriage). It is common knowledge that married people get tax breaks and other sorts of perks just for being married, but in reality, marriage began as a religious practice. Today, it is a combination of the church and of the state, since a marriage license is required for such tax-related benefits and other sorts of goodies. Isn’t that an infringement on the separation of church and state? Since state marriages are open to everyone, marriage is not a religious act in the eyes of the state; therefore, marriages should be permitted between to people of the same sex.

This does not mean, however, that churches and other religious institutions should be legally required to allow gay marriages. Just as prayer is “allowed” in public meetings, gay marriage should be permitted at the state level.

The separation of church and state is a beautiful thing — it means that though our beliefs may remain separate, we can live together in peace. Just as long as you do not get offended by my practices, I can do the same for you.

Shannon Caveny

Tags:  Christian heritage first amendment founding fathers freedom of religion gay marriage government healthcare In God We Trust Justice Kagan Supreme Court town meeting United States

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