Over the Hill

Why we should keep government and religion separate

Special to The TribuneAugust 15, 2013 

Phil Dirkx

A front-page story in Saturday’s Tribune touched me personally. It was about the town where my mother lived her last 25 years — Greece, N.Y., a suburb of Rochester. Its town council is trying to shoehorn religion into the U.S. Constitution.

Some people can’t believe the Constitution’s framers really meant to separate our government from religion. But if you read the Constitution open-mindedly, you’ll see the framers fenced off religion on purpose.

The Constitution mentions God only once. Its date, Sept. 17, 1787, includes the words “In the Year of our Lord.” That is the English translation of “Anno Domini,” or A.D., which we all said until recently. Now, we say “Common Era,” or C.E.

Also, the Constitution’s preamble doesn’t credit God with creating our nation. Instead, it says, “We the People … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

And the third paragraph of Article VI explicitly severs religion from American government. It says that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.”

Then, in 1791, the states ratified the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

My dictionary defines “established church” as “a church recognized by law as the official church of a nation or state and supported by civil authority.”

Now, let’s return to Greece, N.Y. For years, the town council invited only Christian clergymen to deliver an opening prayer at each council meeting. Then, in 2008, two women — an atheist and a Jew — sued the town. They were helped by Americans United for Separation of Church and State (to which I occasionally donate).

Last year, a U.S. appeals court ruled the town of Greece was violating the prohibition against the “establishment of religion.” The judge said the council’s prayer policy “must be viewed as an endorsement of a Christian viewpoint.” The Supreme Court will consider the issue this fall.

Greece’s prayer policy made non-Christians feel like outsiders and second-class citizens unwelcome to participate. We must prevent even small cracks in our wall between government and religion. It protects us from religious bloodshed such as that which is reported daily in Syria, Egypt, Nigeria and other places.

If Jesus prayed at a Greece, N.Y., council meeting, he might say, “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch,” Matthew 15:14. But he’d never be allowed to pray there. He was a Jew.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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