America was founded on a number of strong values, one of those being the separation of church and state. Regardless of a person’s political alignment, this pillar is one of the beliefs that is rarely debated. However, most people still get it wrong.
There are two important sections within the separation of church and state. The first, and most commonly touted, is keeping the government out of your religious beliefs and services. This is immensely important. Religion is a huge motivator and a strong identity for a large number of people. An individual deserves to hold and practice their spiritual beliefs in any way, shape, or form unless they are harming or infringing upon the rights of others. There are frequent cases of governments involving themselves in the religions of their citizens. For example, in 2015 German police unlawfully raided a mosque because of unjustified suspicions of weapons. They handcuffed worshipers and forced them to lie on the floor for hours. This came directly after leaders claimed they “have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslims in our country” in a German newspaper (source). Not only is this Islamophobia and discrimination, it is a direct interference of the government in a person’s religion. Even worse, there are currently detention camps in China for Uyghurs, a primarily Muslim ethnic group originating in Central and East Asia. People are not detained because they committed a crime or other offense, but merely because of their religious beliefs. When in the camps, they are violated physically and forced to denounce Islam. China claims there is no violation of human rights and that they are training camps for workers, however, the United Nations and most other countries disagree (source). This is also a violation of a person’s innate right to religion by directly attempting to remove a religious belief from a group of people. In America, these people would be protected by the Constitution through the separation of church and state. There are a multitude of religions in the US: Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and many more. Because of this, it is also important to keep religion out of politics, the second meaning to the separation of church and state.
One of the reasons that a government infringes upon its citizens’ religious rights is because the government has become synonymous with religion. For example, Ireland was once ruled by Protestants. They created Penal Laws, which were federal regulations forcing the adoption of the Church of Ireland. This meant practicing Catholicism, the largest religion in Ireland at the time, was punishable by execution (source). In this case, and many others, the government was run by a specific religion, or sect, causing them to intervene in the public’s religious affairs. It is easy to force beliefs unto citizens when religion is in control of a country’s government. Because of this, it is important to recognize how this can transcend into a violation of the separation of church and state. While not at the extreme of death, America is still failing at this topic.
One of the contested issues is LGBTQ+ rights. Seen as a sin in many religions, especially Christianity which the foundations of America was built with regards to, LGBTQ+ rights have been stifled. In 2015, merely four years ago, same-sex marriages became federally recognized. This step forward took 14 years following the first legalization of gay marriage in 2001 by the Netherlands after seeing no ill effects of the new law (source). In the United States, LGBTQ+ is still not federally protected and those within the community can be fired and discriminated against simply because of who they are. Part of the reasoning behind this is the view that it is sinful and wrong in certain religions. In the Netherlands 50% of adults identify as non-religious, as opposed to the United States, with 23% of adults identifying as such (source). This stark jump greatly influences the political decisions that the government makes. By creating or failing to pass legislation which forces upon citizens’ religious values, such as homosexuality being wrong and subsequently unprotected, it is a direct violation of church and state. A person who is non-religious should have the right to pursue whatever path they so choose, as long as it is not harmful to others, regardless of if another person’s religion prohibits that behavior. By keeping religion separate from politics through making the distinction from religious views and whether the government should control it, together we can create a happier, equal, and more effective society.