Why The Separation Of Church And State Matters — Especially In The Age Of Trump [Opinion]
The separation of church and state is important for a number of reasons. For starters, the First Amendment protects the rights of Americans to believe in a higher power (or not believe in one at all) in a manner of their own choosing, without repercussions from the government.
No law from the federal government, nor from the states, can prevent your method of worship, so long as it doesn’t interfere with another person’s livelihood.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was featured on the landing page of the department’s website. The article promoted therein brought attention to a speech Pompeo recently gave, in which he touted himself as working for the state in a specific religious way.
The title of the article was “Being a Christian Leader,” prior reporting from HillReporter.com noted.
“As believers, we draw on the wisdom of God to help us get it right, to be a force for good in the life of human beings. I know some people in the media will break out the pitchforks when they hear that I ask God for direction in my work,” Pompeo said.
Indeed, many were upset with Pompeo — not necessarily for being Christian, but for promoting his beliefs on a state-sanctioned and taxpayer-funded website.
Guarding against encroachments of the separation of church and state is necessary to allow every American the right to worship how they like. But in the age of Trump, one big reason sticks out.
The theological push from Trump, Barr, and Pompeo isn't exactly subtle.
In a country that's supposed to honor the separation of church and state, it isn't exactly healthy, either. https://t.co/0Nn9JcXizs
— Steve Benen (@stevebenen) October 15, 2019
The founders of our nation were guarded against the idea of a national, government-endorsed religion because they had already lived under rule of such a government before, when Britain was in charge of the colonies. King George III, as head of state of Britain, was also head of the Church of England. This gave him tremendous powers, but it also gave him the force of command against his subjects, the idea that his rule was a God-given command.
In the United States, we have rejected this sort of reasoning, rejected the idea of a king who is ordained by God to rule. But we’ve already seen, sadly, a number of Americans (for what can only be described through confusing rationale) buy into the idea that President Donald Trump is a God-ordained chief executive.
Right now, that is the opinion of Trump’s base of supporters. Were it to become the official sanctioned line of the federal government, one might have concerns about how Trump might wield that new “authority,” particularly when it comes to how he views his critics.
We already know that Trump has no difficulties in calling his political foes treasonous, with reckless abandon — imagine how he might use the word “heretic” against those who dare to challenge his political edicts.
The religious protections afforded in the First Amendment go beyond recognizing the rights of every individual to worship how they like: they also protect against a tyrannical leader, believing themselves to be chosen by God or some other higher power, from imposing their rule in a religious way. Political leaders who say they work on behalf of God — including Pompeo, who implies he’s working as a Christian secretary of State — must be guarded against.
This administration’s actions as of late have demonstrated the need to renew focus on defending against those who would abuse (or have already abused) their positions of authority, beyond the secular ways they have already done so.