Written by Don Byrd
Every election season, I have to shake my head at statements coming from candidates on hot-button church-state issues. I suppose they believe it is a way to appeal to a sharply divided electorate.
Some over-eager proponents of the Establishment Clause will wrongly declare that prayer and religion have no place in politics or the public square.
In fact, individuals are entirely free to pray or otherwise express their religion publicly to the same extent they are allowed secular expression. Furthermore, the separation of church and state doesn’t preclude religion from being a motivating factor in political debates. As BJC Director Brent Walker recently noted, “separation doesn’t mean we need to go and hide and not try to make the world better.”
On the other side are statements that seem to emerge from a strange alternate reality, where the Establishment Clause doesn’t even exist, much less have effect.
In Montana, a Senate candidate is getting attention for statements he made regarding the teaching of creationism in public schools.
“What the schools should teach is, as it relates to biology and science is that they have, um, there’s evolution theory, there’s creation theory, and so forth. I think we should teach students to think critically, and teach students that there are evolutionary theories, there’s intelligent-design theories, and allow the students to make up their minds.
Courts of course have ruled exactly the opposite. Teaching creationism in the science curriculum – even under the guise of intelligent design – is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.
Others still wrongly suggest the Constitution assures some kind of wild, wild, west of anything-goes religious free exercise.
A Nebraska candidate for the U.S. Senate, for example, says “government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances.”
Wow! Under any circumstances is *a lot* of circumstances. Even the most aggressive state legislation in recent years has not tried to go that far. That is probably because the right to free exercise really does run up against other compelling government interests.
Are you hearing painfully unfortunate church-state statements in congressional or Senate races in your area this summer? Tweet them at me – @bjcblog – or email: don.byrd – at – comcast.net.