Church and state should be separate, but are they?

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Graphic by Maisie Derlega

Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter

The separation between church and state is an idea that was written into our very own Constitution. The first amendment stipulates that Congress should pass no law favoring or prohibiting certain religions. Yet, it feels as if we are now taking steps backwards and letting religious doctrines once again rise up in our social services and everyday lives. I believe that the distinction between government and religion is diminishing and soon religion will play more of a part in elections than policies.

As a preface, I would like to note that I am not implying that all religions try to force their ideals onto others. In fact, much of my family and friends are religious, including my own grandmother and extended family, who use the word of God as a guide for love and acceptance. Both of my parents were raised surrounded by religion in Catholic-dominant areas. In our DC bubble, we rarely come across religious nationalists trying to push their ideas down our throats; it is a more covert phenomenon creeping across the country.

Religious nationalists, specifically Christians, believe that the division between authority and religion is against God’s will. They believe that everyone should live by the word of the Bible. These people work mainly in internal, state, and nationwide government.

A recent example of the hands of religion finding its way into policy making is in a Supreme Court decision of birth control. The court encouraged employers to not pay for birth control services, catering to Christian preachers who demand women not have access to contraceptive methods. Another example is the fact that if a school is affiliated with a church, it will gain a tax exempt status. This is completely outrageous because ‘normal’ private schools have to pay taxes unless they have 501(c)(3) status. This law was created in the 1970’s, after religious leaders argued that any business teaching the word of God should not have to pay taxes. One of the strongest points of the debate between religious nationalists and those against them is abortion. Abortion was illegal in the US until 1973, when Roe v Wade was ruled by the Supreme Court. Now, abortion is legal in every state, but many legislators have worked to the best of their ability to make getting an abortion extremely difficult in certain parts of the country. In 18 states, abortions are prohibited after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of life or health endangerment. 

Now, I’m not here to argue the morality and justification of abortions. If you will never get an abortion because it is against your religion, no one will force you to have one. I am here to point out how abortion prevention policies blatantly disregard the separation of the church and state because these regulations are made by a majority of Christian men who believe that terminating a pregnancy goes against their beliefs. In fact, 88% of people in the 116th congress affiliated themselves with Christianity, while the percentage of total American adults who identify themselves as Christian is lower, at 65% as of 2019.

These rules are not a reflection of the greater whole. The fact that all citizens in these 18 states, whether religious or not, have to follow these laws is atrociously unjust. We all need to come together and urge everyone to vote in the 2020 election to stop the decline of our secular state. This country has had issues with religious nationalism its whole life, and we all need to work together to put an end to it once and for all.