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Coffee & Wisdom 02.55: The Wobbly Wall: Separation of Religion and State Part 1

David Breeden is speaking all week about Church/State Separation.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and this is Coffee and Wisdom, starting out a new week and a new thing to think about just now. This week, we’re going to be thinking about various aspects of the question of the separation of religion and state. I’m going to call it that wobbly wall. We’ll see some ideas about how this shakes out around the world and then specifically about the U.S. There are 195 nations on Earth, including the Vatican and the state of Palestine. A total of 51 of those are officially non-secular states. Non-secular: some religion is in charge through governmental interference, participation, etc. Here’s a map of the country of the Vatican, the small city-state embedded in Rome traditionally. Officially non-secular states, well, the Roman Catholic ones: Costa Rica, Malta, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Vatican again. And you go on Dominican Republic,…some you expect, some you don’t…Panama, El Salvador, Paraguay, Poland and Peru. Eastern Orthodoxy is the official state religion of Greece. In Protestantism we have England, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Tonga and Tuvalu. I don’t remember where Tuvalu is, so I had to look it up, and it is indeed a Pacific island. We can tell by the flag why it has a state religion. It is part of the British colonial system from days gone by.

Part of the thing, however, with all of this is that when we do have a state religion, it does appear that there is some connection between the state religion and the fact of the church’s not being particularly well-loved. So, you know, what is… is there a connection? Is it only a European Christian connection? But I mention here the folkekirke, the state church of Denmark, which reports of 200 churches in the countryside, approximately ten percent of all their churches, do not have congregations of a viable size. Well, that is also what’s happening with United Methodism and Presbyterianism, etc. Within the United States the very rural congregations tend to be shrinking and aging and disappearing, consolidating, just like the high schools did a few decades ago. This shrinkage probably is going to lead to some very quick decay in the difference between these various denominations that are going on. But there also seems to be some correlation again between a state religion and how many people actually buy that state religion. Going on with the list, we have Islam in Bangladesh, Djibouti, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, and Tunisia. Also within Islam we have various sects of Islam. Sometimes countries are one sect, sometimes another, sometimes all of them, such as Kuwait, Yemen and Bahrain. But we have the Shia Islamic nation of Iran, the Ibadi Islamic nation of Oman (that’s a much smaller subset of Islam) and Sunni Islam, which is really the most popular branch of Islam: Afghanistan, Algeria, etc. So these are the nations that officially do these particular religions as national, as state religions. You also notice that we do have a couple of Buddhist nations, different kinds of Buddhism, but Cambodia and Bhutan, and Judaism is the official national religion of Israel. If you look over to the right religions of Cambodia, ninety percent of the people in Cambodia are Buddhist animist, and everything else is just very small, although you do notice something very interesting that does have an effect in the Outworld of U.S. Religion, and that is that there is Evangelical Christian traditions at 1.6 percent and “charismatic” Christian at 1.3. That would be Pentecostalism that I’ve talked about before that just keeps doubling over and over within a decade, decade, decade, is that twice as many Pentecostals are charismatic Christians. Well, just to take a quick look at Oman, for example, the largest city in the nationality, that flag, yeah, okay. But what do we have? They are officially an Islamic nation, and …let me look it up on Wikipedia. The Omani government is a monarchy, the sultan (so it’s a sultanate) is the leader of the country and serves as the country’s chief of state and head of government … the chief of state and head of government being different (roles). In England we have a chief of state who is not the head of government because the monarchy has been shunted aside in Great Britain. Citizens of Oman can vote for members of parliament, they don’t vote on the monarchy. So that’s how this particular state religion works. Here we have what do non-secular governments do? Well, yes, this is Prince Charles of the monarchy shaking hands with the leader of the Anglican Church in England, the Bishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop. So, yeah, first-name basis, shaking hands, glad-handing about. That’s that kind of relationship that’s going to be what the state religions are going to have: a personal relationship with the monarchy. They know what the monarchy wants. The monarchy knows what the religion wants. And it’s very much a buddy-buddy, back-room sort of arrangement very often. So this very one-to-one relationship between the Church of England and the monarchy of England that goes all the way back, as I mentioned before. Another aspect of this is that the House of Lords has a prescribed number of bishops of the Anglican tradition in it. Therefore, we’re going to have religion actually affecting what would be (like) the U.S. Senate. So what are some of the aspects of a government that is also a religion? How does that work? Well, one is government financial support for the religion. People’s taxes support the religion. Now, in the U.K. they do have an interesting idea that probably will become more popular over time, which is that the government pledges to spend proportionally as much money on other religions. So you open a Christian church school supported by the government. You also open a Muslim church school supported by the government. Is that the way it actually works? Well, that’s hotly debated among people in Great Britain. Do Muslims who actually now have more bodies, more warm bodies among their members than does the Church of England, do they get their due when we have this government financial support of religion? Well, we don’t have any pictures of imams shaking hands with Prince Charles and smiling in that way. That would be, again, one of the problems with this particular way of doing things. Another thing about non-secular governments, governmental control over polity, creeds and clergy appointments. I mention this in the relationship with John Bunyan, a Puritan minister who wasn’t ordained because the government wouldn’t allow Puritans to be ordained. That was the way they were controlling the Church of England preaching in the 1600s. So what do they do if he does preach, they put him in jail. And laws requiring mandatory attendance. What do you do? He got put in jail for not going to church on Sunday, specifically the Church of England churches that were mandated by the government. So government control over polity, creeds and clergy appointments. Everything is controlled then through government agencies, a ministry of religion and that kind of set up. However, then you have the monarchy affecting the way that the creeds are discussed. This is most famous again in England with Henry VIII, who says, “Yes, I do get to get my divorces if I want them. Forget about the Pope. I am now the head of the Church of England. And I say what they believe.” That worked out sort of (but) basically the monarchy did back away from that. Henry VIII was a little bit autocratic in that way, shall we say, if you know the story. But again, there is this one-to-one correlation between polity, creeds and clergy appointments. Often laws requiring mandatory attendance. In Europe of the Middle Ages, if you didn’t go to church on Sunday, you had to pay a fee. It was like a parking ticket, if you didn’t do it. The dissenters, the Protestants and Roman Catholic countries, the Puritans in Protestant countries gladly paid it, when they were allowed to do that. Also, however, one of the problems, as we saw with the Denmark church, is that mandatory attendance is going to create the need for buildings that the state then has to build, maintain, etc., and that when you drop the mandatory requirements, people stop going and you have what’s in Europe known as redundant churches. There’re churches everywhere that simply have no people to fill the pews on Sunday morning. So then what do you do with the buildings when you drop the required mandatory attendance? There are also laws requiring licensing of other religious bodies. That’s the way Puritanism was controlled. After the restoration of 1660, the English Civil War had let loose the Puritans into controlling the government. But when the monarchy returned, there was a return also to the Church of England and state church. And then we’re going to require everybody else to have some kind of license. Also, you probably have to belong to that religion, as in France and England, if you want to have any kind of state-sponsored job such as a university professor. So this is a way of controlling who is saying what in the university system as well. So it really permeates what constitutes free speech. When we talk about a liberal theology, one of the differences between the German states and then the unified Germany and in England is that the German states didn’t have control over the universities per se, although obviously any time there’s a bit of a monarchical thing going on, there’s some control, but it didn’t exercise direct control as they did in the United Kingdom. And that ends up to be a very different situation about what university professors can say, Immanuel Kant being the most famous example of somebody who began to speak out out of turn and got in trouble with his government at the time. But being liberal, they had a real hard time keeping him in check. So laws requiring mandatory attendance, laws requiring licensing of other religious bodies, laws saying who gets to work where based on the religion. The use of religious institutions to record births, deaths and marriages (is) very, very much a part of state religion. We in the U.S. today, because we have a lot of people who come from Muslim countries, because the local masjids are the places where these records are kept, a lot of people here have a hard time proving, quote unquote, where they were born, when they were born, etc. because those records are not kept in a state system. The U.S. immigration system is simply set up to use other national governments with their recordkeeping abilities. When those aren’t in place, then the people coming to the U.S. have a serious problem. It’s an assumption about who keeps the records and when the masjids keep them in Muslim countries, it makes for some problems for people. And then religious tests for voting eligibility. We don’t even think about that probably in the U.S. today. But, yes, if you have a non-secular country, you can be asked at the voting booth before you get your ballot, what are the three this and the five this and this kind of thing. And you have to know the basic creeds and dogmas of the state religion in order to vote. It’s a great way to keep people who aren’t part of the system from voting. So just some basic ideas here for how non-secular governments work. As I mentioned, there are 51 of them in the world today out of about 190 nations. So, not extremely widespread, but still very much a part of the nations that we live in in the world today, that very friendly relationship between monarchy or the ruling class and the polity of the churches going on. I should mention, and this is where we’re going to be going this week a little bit, Disestablishment and Religious Dissent. This is a book that came out in 2019: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776 to 1833. This is still very much discussed here in the U.S. and very much has to do with the secular/non-secular nature of this nation and how that did shake out and what it actually meant within time. This is a scholarly book looking at the 13 colonies and how they came out of their various religious traditions. We’ll be talking about that a little bit more tomorrow, In the book it says, Neither the U.S. Constitution of 1787-88 nor the 1st Amendment of 1789-91, (that’s the Bill of Rights) contributed to the disestablishment process in the original thirteen states. “The 1st Amendment was not used as a model for early U.S. state constitutions,” claims this book. So to get that, again, I’ll repeat it. Neither the U.S. Constitution of ’87-88 nor the 1st Amendment of ’89-91 contributed to the disestablishment process in the original 13 colonies. We have discussed this before in Coffee and Wisdom, especially as it had to do with congregationalism and eventually Unitarianism in some of the states on the Eastern Seaboard. Is then…and this is the question of that book, a question that we need to consider, and one that I will leave with you today…is the separation of church and state, or religion and state, the same thing as separation of religion and politics? Is the separation of church and state the same thing is the separation of religion and politics. No, this is not just playing with language. This is how laws are made and decided here in the U.S. on precedent. So the church and state as we have it is very clearly demarcated in terms of…we don’t have a particular religion that says this is what the U.S. Government is going to do. That’s true. But then is it the same thing as a separation of religion and politics? So in other words, how secular is the United States from its founding, how it developed in the 18th and 19th centuries and where we are today? And that’s the question for the week. Thanks for listening today. I would mention that I will be doing a lecture on Sunday, March 28th, this coming Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, two p.m. Central Time for the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh. My question is, does Humanism have a future in Unitarian Universalism? My respondents to that lecture will be Leika Lewis-Cornwell, who is the President of the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association and a rising UU minister. So we’ll be talking about that and debating that, and we’ll also have some questions and answers afterwards. Also this week, one more thing to remember, Bibles and Beer at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening, and this week we have our special guest FUS member Reverend Wendy Jerome, who is actually a Bible scholar, and she’ll be talking about some of the latest scholarship in biblical criticism. Don’t miss that. I’ll be back tomorrow. Thank you.

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