Written By: Anton Sawyer
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I'm sure that if I read through enough history, I could find ample circumstances to where the First Amendment's right to religious freedom has been outright ignored in the name of arrogance. To one degree or another, this lack of separation has been going on since the concept of dividing faith and government began.
What is so surprising is that it seems over the last few decades, those who are in charge of both the country and are leaders of Christ-based faiths, have made their efforts much more brazen in their disregard towards this fundamental American value. The scary part is that those in Washington who are supposed to monitor these infractions have decided to actively turn a blind eye towards all of it. If you are a believer in such religions, then it has been a time of rejoicing towards the thought that Jesus Christ will be returned to his proper place in every school and city building, where he belongs. If you are not a believer, then all you can do is stand by and watch how someone else's perception of "moral goodness" derails the train off the civil liberty rails as you hold on for dear life.
The Separation of Church and State has become at worst, a quaint idea that's never going to be followed in the United States.
At best, it's nothing more than a talking point.
In this piece, I am not going to specify the Democrat or Republican parties. Both sides have very devout members who have faith as deep as the oceans.
I'm going to focus on Christianity and those numbers.
Yes, we are a melting pot and there are a lot of different religions. But since those who are Christian like to remind us at every possible opportunity that we are a Christian nation—which is debatable—I'm going to stay in that steeple.
Since the Johnson Amendment passed in 1954, preachers, priests, pastors, or really any non-profit organizations have been unable to come out and recommend a specific political candidate whenever it pertains to their faith or church business. In the first few decades of the amendment—outside of adding "Under God" to the pledge of allegiance—it was pretty much adhered to by most.
There was one big loophole the church leaders found in it.
If a pastor is not conducting church business, or the non-profit organizer is speaking away from their company, then they can give their own opinion as to who they themselves are voting for. You can see where this is going.
Priests would talk to their friends, neighbors, and clergy outside of the church while singing the praises of who they planned on voting for. Though the church leader would not be in a church setting, the impact was just the same.
People see someone who communicates with the creator and believes that specific person receives some kind of divine inspiration.
Knowing they get messages from God and God told this leader to support a specific candidate, it would only make sense that God ordained this candidate.
The follower then exchanges winks with the leader, and now their vote has been completely influenced.
The first time I can remember God being weaponized on a multi-media national scale was in 2004 during former President George W. Bush's re-election campaign and his promise to amend the constitution to legalize marriage between one man and one woman only.
Though he never promoted a specific denomination in his speeches, Bush made it clear he was pulling for Team Jesus and knew he had to have something very personal for them to attach themselves to, in order to succeed in his re-election.
Christians came out in droves and helped put the junior Bush back into office. A study done by Pew Research in 2004 found that voters who say they attend church at least once a week backed Bush in the election. They also found through the National Election Pool exit poll, Bush received 78% of the vote among white evangelicals, up 10% from 2000. Since then, this cat-and-mouse game with the Freedom of Religion has remained a mainstay. One thing that's not really surprising is studies have shown that during the Trump administration, the blatant attitude towards church leaders endorsing candidates has opened up quite a bit.
Knowing his need for the "moral majority," Trump catered to them by signing an executive order relaxing the IRS ban on political activity by tax-exempt churches in the Rose Garden during National Prayer Day of 2017. It was celebrated by Christians across the country. When looking at the numbers that followed, it seemed to embolden those of a Christ-based faith.
According to a study done by Christianity Today in 2020, for United States Protestant pastors, 1% say they have publicly endorsed a candidate for public office during a church service this year. Around a third of pastors (32%), say they have personally endorsed political candidates this year outside of their church role. The 1% is a clear violation of the separation. However, it's the 32% that's even more concerning given the logic established above. This means one out of every three people are being influenced by their church leader as it pertains to the political process.
The one study that seems to be the foundation of the feelings in the last paragraph is a 2020 study done by Lifeway Research that shows their followers indeed like this way of life. 43% of respondents agree that "It is appropriate for pastors to personally endorse candidates for public office but only outside of their church role." Because when your pastor tells you that he likes a specific candidate, the location of where you're told is going to make ALL the difference.
As we have seen, neither the government, religious leaders, or the general church-going faithful wants to see Freedom of Religion take place in this country (unless it's the "right" faith). So if they are doing everything they can from a vocal and actionable way to ensure the leaders they like get the proper influence from the proper people on high, then why pretend?
For years, malcontents who hate organized religion have said "TAX THE CHURCHES!" in an attempt to damage them as a complete entity.
I do not want to see anyone's belief system get trampled because of any law or legislation. I do not feel with everything I've done in my life, that I have the right to tell anyone how to live theirs. But if the entire purpose of the separation of church and state is to ensure that religious leaders are not politically involved or motivated, then it has failed spectacularly.
I cannot see why we continue this charade. It's clear that the reasons behind the separation—as intended by the founding fathers—do not exist.
Taxing the churches, in as much as they are viewed as a business with a political agenda, is the only way to benefit all of our residents. The increased revenue would help several homeless people, feed the children who have no viable food sources, and remove some of the tax burdens from the lower and middle classes. Plus, given who the income source would be (the churches), I cannot foresee any problems at all with the general public having access to a church's financial records because of how squeaky clean they are. Just look at some shining examples from the past: James Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and more recently Jerry Falwell Jr.
I know that there are going to be people who might lose faith in what I write here because of such a stance. Taxing the churches has been a war cry from everyone ranging from stand-up comedians to philosophers. It's typically said out of some rage or hatred towards Christianity in an attempt to decimate it. I don't want to see the churches eradicated at all. I feel that you have the right to believe what you want, so long as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others—this includes the right to be free FROM religion.
If you are able to pick and choose what constitutional provisions you will follow (and the ones you won't), from some internal moralization that allows you to justify this view, then you are part of the problem. If we have all agreed to play by the same rules in the constitution, then that means everyone.
One last tidbit ...
Since this is a matter of religion and law, I wanted to finish up with a comment on a little group that, through media and lawsuits, have placed themselves in the middle of this stew ...
The Satanic Temple.
Their involvement in the fight for religious freedom have made both national and international news over the last decade when it comes to ensuring that all religions are equally represented.
To them I say:
I absolutely love the rebellious nature of your demonstrations. I do. But until you use some of that Netflix money and either purchase the services of a lobbyist or involve the aid of a Senator or two, the systemic nature of the problems will not be rectified. This is the American way; I know it, you know it, and I think the man with the horns and the pitchfork got the memo as well.
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