Is church-state separation a threat to religion?
Of course not! But many Religious Right activists would have you believe it is. So it's encouraging to hear leading scholars correct the record.
In an April 11 article published at Kansascity.com, church-state expert Derek Davis discusses with Faith and Beliefs columnist Vern Barnet some of the confusion about religion and government.
"Separation of church and state," Davis insisted, "has been good for religion, not bad, contrary to what many today seem to believe."
Davis knows whereof he speaks. He currently is the interim dean of the University of Mary Hardin – the graduate school and college of humanities at Baylor, the well-known Baptist school in Texas. But until last year, Davis was the director of Baylor's J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies.
His many years of study have led him to strong opinions on church and state.
"I believe," said Davis, "that government aid to religion compromises religion, cheapens it and makes religion merely the newest in a long list of government programs" with attendant supervision and monitoring.
"A total separation is impossible," he continued, "but keeping the institutions of religion and government separate has been, in my view, the primary reason for the success of religion in our history.
"Merging religion and government," Davis observed, "tends to water down religious truth and make it a mere tool of government policy. If you survey the world, the countries that make religion the engine of government policy are riddled with dissension and discrimination and tend to be far less economically developed. Diversity is a problem for them whereas it is a strength in our country."
So there you have it. Most Americans understand that church-state separation is essential for individual freedom. But it's also been good for religion as well. When Religious Right activists try to pretend otherwise, it's critical for those of us who know better to speak out.