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May/June 2012

Discover more articles from this issue.

Danger and Opportunity

I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship. Behind...

The Promised Persecution

Persecution of Christians is alive and well in Communist China; it became especially vicious, brutal, sadistic, and deadly during the Cultural...

The Blues

If you thought that Sunday “blue” laws were relics of the past, something that belongs in Norman Rockwell paintings of “the good old...

What “Secular” Really Means

Secular” is not a bad word, as many religious people and some politicians believe. In fact, it is a good word and, properly understood, is useful to...

A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Strange Career of Bronx Household of Faith

Church-State Separation

Thomas Jefferson observed: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my...

Mandate Tests Faith

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010,1 all employer health-care plans must provide—at no cost to the employee—certain preventive...

Accommodating Religious Objections

Anyone who has kept up on current events knows about the proposed Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations that were announced in January....

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Published in the May/June 2012 Magazine
by Clark B. McCall

Thomas Jefferson observed: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Many Americans today seem to disagree with Jefferson’s political philosophy that religious belief should not be an issue in judging a candidate’s fitness to be president. This public perception led George Bush in the 2000 campaign to declare that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ. Al Gore also announced that he decided important questions with the letters WWJD,” which he said meant “What would Jesus do?”

Leading candidates today such as Rick Perry and Mitt Romney seem compelled to bring personal religious faith into the foreground of their campaigns. As a presidential candidate, Governor Rick Perry held a huge prayer rally for thousands at which he read from the Bible. Candidate former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney echoed John F. Kennedy from 1960 when he promised: “No authorities of my church—or any other church, for that matter—will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.”

When religious leaders talk about electing the right kind of religious person to public office, we wonder if they are aware of Article VI of the Constitution, which says: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Perhaps the greatest danger imposed by those who would mix religion with political policy is the failure to recognize that the principle of church and state separation is inherent to the spirit of Article VI. This doesn’t mean that a candidate’s religious principles are not to affect the morality of the secular laws he’d support. “Thou shalt not steal” is one of the Ten Commandments. The principle inherent in this commandment would also apply to the secular laws that protect the freedoms of a nation’s citizens.

I believe some who refer to the separation of church and state as a “myth” may confuse its intent with secular efforts to ban such traditions as Nativity scenes, “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and “In God We Trust” on our coinage. There is one word that would delineate genuine separation designed by our Constitutional forefathers from the innocent religious expressions of religion in our national traditions. That word is “coercive.” Webster defines “coerce” as “to restrain or dominate by negating individual will.” There’s nothing in a Nativity scene or in “under God” in the pledge that is coercive.

If there is one religious personal qualification I would want to see in a presidential candidate, it would be their ability to discern the genuine meaning of church and state separation that is intrinsic to our Constitution. This will help keep our nation from imposing the doctrines of a church or a religious group that the state has no right to legislate. I believe we need to remember that the great religious persecutions of the past were not the result of bad people trying to make other people bad, but by the attempts of good people to make others good by the laws of the state.

Clark B. McCall, a pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, lives in Merced, California. He first wrote this essay for his column in a local newspaper.

Author: Clark B. McCall

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