The Separation of Church and State

A union of church and state in the U.S. Capitol should concern us all

  Rob Boston

Earlier this month, the National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) took place in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. Americans United has never been fond of this event, which has roots stretching back to the 1950s. For decades, the NPB was sponsored by a shadowy Christian Nationalist group called the Fellowship Foundation (AKA The Family), which held it in hotels in Washington, D.C. Moving the NPB to a government building has only made things worse.

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Andrew L. Seidel, AU vice president for strategic communications, recently penned an op-ed for the Daily Beast website outlining the many problems with the NPB. That’s valuable enough, but Huffman and Seidel go on to remind Americans that separation of church and state is a uniquely American principle – and it’s under threat like never before.

‘An American original’

“Separation of church and state is an American original, born of the Enlightenment and implemented as a bold experiment,” the two write. “No other nation had sought to protect the ability of citizens to think and worship freely by divorcing religion and government. For 237 years, this ‘Wall of Separation’ has succeeded spectacularly at protecting religious freedom, fostering a pluralistic democracy, and forestalling the abuses inherent in theocracies.”

Yet, Huffman and Seidel note, despite its spectacular success, the church-state wall has enemies. They urge us to return to basic principles: Religion does not need the help of government.

Let religion support itself

“[L]et us be clear: every American, and every member of Congress, is free to be Christian,” they write. “But those who arrogantly seek to impose Christianity as a national religion should consider Ben Franklin’s admonition: ‘When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are obliged to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.’”

Please read this op-ed and share it widely. All Americans need to hear its powerful message.

P.S. Here’s a final reminder about the webinar Americans United is sponsoring tomorrow about the new “God & Country” documentary. Seidel is among the panelists. You can sign up here.

Photo: President Joe Biden addresses the National Prayer Breakfast in Statuary Hall. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.

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