Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
Church and State
September 12, 2003
When I was a little girl, every Sunday morning I was forced into my
Sunday best and taken to Sunday School at the little white clapboard
Methodist Church on South Acoma Street in Englewood. We learned our
Bible verses and as many of the other things that little girls and boys
were supposed to learn about their religion as our teachers could cram
On the other days I went to school. Church was one thing. School was
another thing. We were expected to participate in both, and what we
learned in Sunday School was presumed to influence the way we behaved
but the two institutions were separate.
By the time I got to college I had developed an interest in political
science and was trying to figure out how governments work. Formal
religion was not a specific part of running the city or the state or the
country. I do remember, years later, how scared many people were when
John Kennedy ran for President. "Oh my," they said, "the Catholic
Church will take us over. The Pope will be President." As we all know,
it did not happen but it s a good example of the basic fear most
Americans had and still have of combining church and state. Only now we
are not afraid of the Pope, but of the Religious Right.
I suppose we knew the kind of religion, if any, our Presidents
practiced, but it was a private matter, But there is nothing private
about the religious beliefs of this one.
Gimme the good old days.
Richard Cohen has finally found the words I have been hunting for. "It
occurs to me that the God so often discussed nowadays seems as dependent
on the government as a welfare mother. For some reason the Almighty
needs government assistance to make His presence known. Either the
schools must have prayer or government buildings must have a religious
reminder, say the Ten Commandments -- or else He will be banished from
our lives or our consciousnessl"
The most recent church/state battle, of course, is over the 5,280-lb.
granite monument containing the Ten Commandments which, until last week,
stood in the rotunda of the state judicial building in Montgomery,
Alabama. The Chief Justice defied all eight of his fellow judges,
Alabama's Attorney General and the Supreme Court when he refused to
comply with a federal ruling that the religious artifact was
inappropriate in a court of law. It was finally moved to a back room
and the Chief Justice is looking for a job.
That two and a half ton monument makes our Grand Junction Ten
Commandments Monument disagreement pretty minor. But the principle is
When are we going to learn that church and government cannot be peaceful
bedfellows? Throughout history they have been a fatal mix. I'm not
talking about people with deep spiritual belief. Our problem is with
those who believe they have the right to force their religious beliefs
on all the rest of us , including religious statues and pledges of
allegiance under God in school.
Even Cal Thomas, former vice-president of Moral Majority is beginning to
see the light -- "If the ultimate question is how best for God's
followers to interest more people in Him and His message, then the
ultimate answer ought to come from internal, not external things. . .
It's a conflict, not only between church and state, but between God and
Cohen writes, " I have to wonder about a God that is so dependent on
government for his virtual existence that secular laws could virtually
obliterate his presence, or who needs the help of lawmakers to assert
his place in our lives."
Hmmm. Sounds like something I might have taken home from that little
church in Englewood one Sunday morning. Maybe that little church
explains why I believe so strongly in the separation of church and