January 18, 2011

Gov. Chafee Understands the Danger of Mixing Government and Religion

By Francis Nye

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, of the Diocese of Providence in Rhode Island, took to his computer to complain about the decision by Governor Lincoln Chafee to not hold a prayer service before his inauguration. While saying that he is not surprised or disappointed in the decision, he spent about two pages lambasting the Governor’s rationale for not holding one.

Governor Chafee decided not to hold a public prayer service because, as his spokesman put it, the governor’s “point of view is that his inaugural day needs to respect the separation of church and state. Separation of church and state is an important constitutional principle.”

I agree with Governor Chafee.  Religion should have no government affiliation. Richard Shenkman an associate professor of history at George Mason University wrote in, I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode Or No the following, “…several of the first presidents, including Jefferson and Madison, generally refused to issue public prayers, despite importunings to do so.”

There is some solid logic in this idea of “separation of church and state”.  I think Henry Clay (12 April 177729 June 1852) who was a leading American statesman and orator that served in both the House of Representatives and Senate said it best when he said, All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”

Let’s look at a real world example of the dangers Mr. Clay alluded to if there was no separation of religion from government. Ms. Aasia Bibi, a mother of five, which has been sentenced to death under the Blasphemy Law by a court in the Nankana Sahib District of Punjab in Pakistan.Ms. Bibi is languishing in prison since 2008. A newspapers and human rights advocates said that she had been also paraded in the streets and gang-raped.

So, can this happen in the US?  If we as a people set aside the philosophy of separation of church and state that our founders envisioned then maybe it can.  If religion, any religion is left unchecked then it could influence lawmakers to enact laws taking away individual rights in favor of religious doctrine.  Situations like the Ms. Bibi example occur all over the world each day and not just in Pakistan.
As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently put it in a letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814:
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
Whether you believe the founders of this county to be religious people or not is really not relevant.  They knew the first hand dangers of allowing religion into government. 
James Madison said it best in 1803 when he said, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
I think Bishop Tobin should rethink his position and spend more time worrying about his flock than imposing his dogma on our elected officials.
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