Separation of Church and State
ACCESS MINISTRIES, CHRISTIANS AND THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
ACCESS Ministries are concerned that the Andrews Government has sidelined Special Religious Instruction to an opt-in program held outside the hours of secular instruction in Victorian Public Schools.
The Government is here fulfilling its obligation to keep separate matters of secular instruction which are for the common good and matters of belief which are matters for private conscience. It is a still a matter of concern that hundreds of millions of the State’s scarce resources are diverted into private, religious schools themselves.
As committed Christians, members of ACCESS Ministries might take heart from the fact that the Andrews Government is saving them from ‘yielding to temptation’. What temptation? The temptation of playing God and seeking power over the minds of children while they themselves worship the God of Mammon - in the form of taxpayer subsidies.
However, it should be noted that many ACCESS Ministry instructors are genuine, deeply committed volunteers. And DOGS understand that many in the so-called Judeo-Christian tradition dream of producing a Godly nation. But, as Christ himself understood only too well - human nature is - human. And followers of Christ have discovered to their grief that religious establishments and theocracies have a Pharisaic, bloody, and deeply oppressive history.
ACCESS Ministries might also take note of their Christian predecessors in both Australia and America who fought for and enshrined the principle of separation of religion and the State in the Constitutions of both countries.
DOGS refer them to Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists at http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html and James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance at http://presspubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html
These key documents in the history of religion and the State are reproduced below. They are referred to again and again in American Supreme Court findings on the First Amendment. The American experience influenced Andrew Inglis Clark and Henry Bournes Higgins when they battled to insert Section 116 into the Australian Constitution. Only Justice Lionel Murphy, himself a committed humanist, understood this fundamental history in the battle for separation of religion and the state and freedom of conscience in the 1981 DOGS case.
They are reproduced below :
KEY AMERICAN STATEMENTS IN RELATION TO SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE AT
Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists at http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html and James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance at http://presspubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html
Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists
Amendment I (Religion)
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments
20 June 1785Papers 8:298--304
To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia A Memorial and Remonstrance
We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled "A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion," and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,
1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.
2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.
3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
4. Because the Bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If "all men are by nature equally free and independent," [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 1] all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an "equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the Quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their Religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? Can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.
5. Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.
7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?
8. Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.
9. Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an Asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent, may offer a more certain repose from his Troubles.
10. Because it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms.
11. Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed "that Christian forbearance, love and charity," [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jealousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?
12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.
13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to so great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?
14. Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed, without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens, and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. "The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the Bill to the next Session of Assembly." But the representation must be made equal, before the voice either of the Representatives or of the Counties will be that of the people. Our hope is that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the Bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence, that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.
15. Because finally, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience" is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the "Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government," it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either then, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may controul the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into law the Bill under consideration. We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.
The Papers of James Madison. Edited by William T. Hutchinson et al. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1962--77 (vols. 1--10); Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1977--(vols. 11--).
© 1987 by The University of Chicago
This is Max Wallace's Page. Max is dedicated to the cause of separation of Religion and the State, not only in Australia, but throughout the world.
A SECULAR CHRONOLOGY
Max Wallace is vice-president of the Rationalist Association of New South Wales and a council member of the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists.
1215 Magna Carta raises the principle of equality through a ‘fair trial for all’, leading to the notion of the rule of law.
1517 Martin Luther posts a document on the front door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It contains 95 theses attacking church indulgences. Luther later spreads his ideas through the newly invented printing press. It is the start of the Reformation 1533 Henry VIII disestablishes Catholicism in England, sets up the Church of England with himself as head of the church and the state. Henry loots the Catholic churches of their wealth and assets, divorces his first wife.
1601 The Statute of Charitable Uses becomes law in England in the last days of the reign of Elizabeth I. For the first time, it formalises the status of religion as ‘charity’. Five centuries later, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI characterises religion as ‘supernatural charity’1686 Philosopher John Locke uses the term ‘secularism’ to distinguish ‘the business of civil government from that of religion because the church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the Commonwealth’1688 William III (William of Orange) a Protestant, reigns in England; a Bill of Rights establishes supremacy of parliament over king.
1774 James Madison, a future US president, writes his’ Memorial and Remonstrance’, laying the groundwork for the drafting of America’s secular First Amendment to their constitution; it argues against the use of tax-raised funds to finance churches and religion 1776 July 4, American Declaration of Independence 1788 Australia colonised 1789 French Revolution ends monarchy and the power of the Catholic Church in France; the concept of the citizen with rights is formalised with the themes of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity 1791 First Amendment to the American Constitution lays the foundation for the secular state; Thomas Paine’s Rights Of Man is published.
1801 Napoleon reinstates the Catholic Church as national religion of France.
1802 Thomas Jefferson’s Danbury letter makes first mention of a wall of separation between church and state.
1805 A British court in Morice v Bishop of Durham extends the ‘charitable purpose’ of the 1601 Statute of Charitable Uses to mean purposes that serve the purposes of the wealthy including ‘advancement of religion.’
1830s Sealers and whalers arrive in the early decades in New Zealand; as it is colonised, New Zealand is made part of New South Wales.
1836 A Church Act allows funding for four main religions in the colony of Sydney; an exasperated Governor Bourke says he looks forward to a time when churches would ‘roll off state support like saturated leeches.’
1840 New Zealand becomes a separately governed Dominion of the British Crown; 6 February, the Treaty of Waitangi is signed by Māori tribes and the British government.
1848 Attempted revolutions and uprisings in Europe and elsewhere, partly caused by new political ideas and chronic poverty.
1849 John Stuart Mill writes, in respect of education, that ‘all [subjects] are secular except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge. To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious. It is like saying that all professions, except that of the law, are illegal.’
1864 The Pope publishes an encyclical demanding that Catholic children attend only Catholic schools, not the emerging secular public schools.
1870s Governments fund ‘free, compulsory and secular’ schools in Australia and New Zealand.
1891 Pemsel case in British Privy Council confirms tax-exempt status of religion as charity.
1901 States federate to become the Commonwealth of Australia with a federal constitution. After some 1890s debates, includes s.116 intended to formalise separation of church and state, intentionally based on the US First Amendment.
1905 France formally separates church and state by an act of parliament. Article 2 states ‘The Republic does not recognize, does not salary, nor subsidize, any religion’.
1910 A referendum in Queensland allows Bible studies as part of the public school curriculum; it is never repealed; a similar referendum in Victoria failed.
1910-1920 Origins of fundamentalism, creationism in the US, and the re-emergence of the Klu Klux Klan.
1917 Russian Revolution. Separation of church and state seen as a conflict between two elements of the bourgeoisie, liberal capitalists and conservative church hierarchy. Lenin’s lieutenant Bukharin wrote ‘the real basis for the demand [for separation] was a desire for the transfer to the bourgeoisie of the revenues allotted by the State to the Church.’ Nevertheless, the regime separated church and state in 1918 while nationalising the church’s capital and landed estates 1936 Bukharin wrote the Soviet constitution deliberately including a Bill of Rights to avoid the terror that followed the French Revolution. Stalin had him arrested. After a show trial in 1938 he was shot.
1921 Sinclair Lewis publishes Elmer Gantry, a satire on US revival tent religion, which separated converts from their money.
1929 Mussolini regime arranges Concordat with Vatican establishing it as a separate ‘nation’ state in Italian territory with tax exemption 1930 Anne Lennon criticises tax exemptions for religion on her soapbox in the Sydney Domain; she is arrested. Rationalist Association of Australia appeals against her conviction and loses.
1933 Hitler’s government and the Vatican sign Concordat reviving ten per cent church taxes imposed on all German citizens.
1935 The Family, a covert American group dedicated to realising ‘God’s will’, starts as an anti-labour alliance in Seattle. God’s ‘intention’ is the prominent rich should rule the world to meet the needs of the small; therefore, the rich have to be cultivated to become Christians to realise that intention.
1947 Everson case in the Supreme Court formalises separation of church and state in US 1948 McCollum Supreme Court case confirms separation and removes religious instruction from public schools 1948 United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; religion and non-belief are characterised as being equal in status.
1949 Communist revolution in China; 1949 India adopts a secular constitution; religions, non-belief have equal status.
1949 In the US, Billy Graham commences revival meetings in circus tents.
1954 ‘Under God’ added to Pledge of Allegiance and ‘In God We Trust’ added to the currency in the US.
1959 Cuban revolution shocks America.
1960 John Kennedy, a Catholic, is elected President; 1960 the 1921 novel Elmer Gantry made into film starring Burt Lancaster 1961 John Kennedy says ‘I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute … where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.’
1964 In a speech to evangelicals, Ronald Reagan says ‘You can’t endorse me ... but I can endorse you’. What he meant was that he understood that churches cannot endorse political candidates from the pulpit for fear of losing their tax-exempt status, but he identified with their values 1964 Prime Minister Robert Menzies allows some modest government funding of Catholic schools to attract the Catholic vote in Australia.
1970 District Court for District of Columbia hears Green v Connally. Finds ‘discrimination on account of race is inconsistent with an educational institution’s tax-exempt status’; integrated schools commence as does the rise of the Religious Right as a reaction to this decision 1970 in a dissenting judgment in Walz v Tax Commission of the City of New York, Justice Douglas says ‘One of the mandates of the First Amendment [of the US constitution] is to promote a viable, pluralistic society and to keep government neutral, not only between sects, but also between believers and non-believers.’
1971 National Right To Life organisation is formed in the US to combat abortion; the Catholic Church stays in the background fearful of losing its tax-exempt status.
1972 Gough Whitlam rolls over to allow government funding of religious, mainly Catholic, schools, in an attempt to win the election, which he does, narrowly.
1975 The Age of 11 November details a Report from the Australian Anglican Church entitled The Politics of Living written by the church’s Social Responsibilities Commission. The Report says ‘In a truly democratic society no group may claim exclusive privileges as a right … Australia is a pluralist society, not a Christian society … an attempt to argue the church, because it is the church, has some inherent superior right to privilege is bound to backfire as it becomes clearer that Australia is and must be a secular society’; the Report disappears without a trace 1975 In a desperate attempt to attract the Catholic vote for the forthcoming election, the Labour government of New Zealand passes legislation on the last sitting day to allow government funding of religious schools; they lose the election but the funding remains.
1981 Defence of Government Schools High Court case, Australia, denies separation of church and state, approving government funds for religious schools; turning point in Australian history; from that point the Catholic Church grows to become immensely wealthy.
1982 Reagan administration reverses IRS’s ban on tax-exempt status for US schools that discriminate on the basis of race.
1983 Australian Council of Churches publishes Changing Australia. Ignoring their own tax-exemptions they declare: ‘avoiding tax is theft’ and ‘when taxes are not paid, either necessary services are not provided or else other people have to pay more’; 1983 Australian High Court concludes Scientology is a religion and eligible for tax-exempt status.
1985 Canadian Supreme Court in R v Big M Drug Mart finds endorsement of Christian Sabbath a form of coercion against non-believers; implication is that freedom from religion should have same status as freedom of religion.
1987 Reflecting the huge growth of organisations seeking status as tax-exempt religions, Japanese film maker, Juzo Itami, makes The Taxing Woman Returns, a satire concerning the ardent pursuit by a determined woman tax officer of a criminal organisation laundering money through a bogus tax-exempt religion.
1992 Phillip Hall publishes Royal Fortune: Tax, Money and the Monarchy in London. Exposes monarch’s tax exemptions; after a World in Action TV program based on the book, the Queen decides to pay some income tax 1992 Japan, the Nikkei Weekly exposes a wealthy Buddhist sect running a substantial amusement park for financial gain while paying no tax.
1993 Japanese Aum Supreme Truth cult inexplicably allowed into Australia at Perth; they buy a West Australian pastoral property and experiment with sarin gas on sheep 1995 March, tax-exempt Aum use sarin gas to attack civilians in Tokyo subway killing twelve, injuring thousands 1995 May, Aum pay for J. Gordon Melton, a US cult apologist, and two others, to fly to Japan in an attempt to characterise the police investigation into them as an attack on religious freedom. The Americans leave when they realise they were set up; Aum members later convicted.
1996 Australian Commonwealth Employment Service abolished and replaced by mainly Christian agencies with lucrative contracts; dramatic increases in private, religious school funding including funding for religious chaplains in public schools.
1996 Citizens’ Initiated Referendum in Colorado concerning whether religions should pay property taxes fails after the churches jointly fund a misleading and costly television campaign against it 1996 Brazilian Internal Revenue investigation into exploitation of tax exemptions by wealthy evangelical, Edir Macedo and his Universal Kingdom church; styled on US evangelism, Macedo’s empire was then estimated to generate $US800M annually in Brazil alone with temples in 30 other countries.
1998 Government of Thailand obliged to investigate corruption and financial malpractice in Thailand’s 30,000 Buddhist temples.
1999 UK Charities Commission denies charitable tax-exempt status to Scientology 1999 the head of the Seventh Day Adventist church in the US resigns after a financial scandal, the last of a series of questionable activities.
2000 Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio transmitter in northern Australia sold to the UK’s multi-million dollar, fundamentalist, Christian Voice. They build studios on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and broadcast daily to the Pacific and South Asia in many languages via satellite, beaming the signal to the transmitter in northern Australia.
2001 September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.
2002 Australian prime minister John Howard opens Hillsong Pentecostal Church in Sydney; previously, Hillsong’s leader, Brian Houston, published his book You Need More Money: Discovering God’s Amazing Financial Plan For Your Life. Hillsong later open a church in Paris and other locations around the world.
2004 Sociologist Nikolai Mitrokhin estimates the Archbishop of the Russian Orthodox Church had used the duty-free status of the church to import $1.5B worth of cigarettes into Russia for sale to the benefit of the church.
2005 Members of Exclusive Brethren covertly spend up to a million dollars in an attempt to defeat atheist prime minister Helen Clark’s Labour Government in New Zealand at an election; when information about this leaks, she is re-elected.
2006 Libre Pensée publishes Livre Noir, explaining how the French government subsidises the Catholic Church in France, in conflict with Article 2 of the 1905 legislation stating the Republic does not subsidize any religion.
2007 US congress finance committee investigation into six televangelists on the grounds their vast wealth is an abuse of their tax-exempt status.
2008 Australian journalist Michael Bachelard publishes Behind The Exclusive Brethren, detailing the group’s close attention to tax and other government benefits and their members’ attempts to influence politics 2008 South African business magazine, FM, investigates religious wealth in the republic; finds religious sector ‘is a substantial part of the South African economy’. It is ‘opaque’ and ‘little understood’ 2008 Italian newspaper La Republica publishes a series of articles on the Vatican Bank: ‘more impenetrable than the Cayman Islands, more discreet than a Swiss Bank [the Vatican bank] is a fiscal paradise on Earth’. Reveals the bank which is never publicly audited, accepts only untraceable cash or gold bullion as deposits, ideal for money laundering 2008 Catholic World Youth Day in Sydney; federal government subsidises the event with at least $22M. The NSW government spends in excess of $100M; an attempt to have the federal funding declared unconstitutional is dismissed by a Catholic High Court judge as ‘vexatious’.
2009 Writing in Australian Humanist, Perkins and Gomez estimate the gross cost of religion to Australian taxpayers through exemptions, grants and other benefits to be $31B annually.
2010 The High Court of Australia, in Williams v The Commonwealth, finds federal government funding of religious chaplains in public schools to be unconstitutional; the government prepares legislation to override the decision.
2011 New Zealand High Court rules that an interest-free mortgage scheme for members of an evangelical trust that ‘advances religion’ is not unconstitutional; taxpayers are thus divided by those that pay interest on their mortgages and a privileged few who legally pay no interest, and are subsidized by taxpayers who do pay interest.
2012 Writing in Free Inquiry, Ryan Cragun and his associates estimate US taxpayers’ subsidy to religion to be $71B annually 2012 A Chicago Muslim is charged with channelling funds to al Qaeda via an Islamic charity 2012 NZARH research finds churches in New Zealand are worth $11B; the Catholic Church is the wealthiest 2012 It is revealed the Greek Orthodox Church owns property worth 700B euros, double Greece’s national debt; the church refuses to divest any of its property to help the nation; 100,000 people join a ‘Tax The Church’ Facebook page 2012 In the second Williams v The Commonwealth High Court case, the Court finds the legislation allowing government funding of religious chaplains in public schools to be unconstitutional; the government re-routes the money through the states to continue the funding.
2013 In a public lecture, former Australian High Court judge, Michael Kirby, says that ‘secularism is a principle by which society and its lawmakers ensure that religion does not enter the public sphere in an active way. The object of these principles is not only to stop an excessive interference of religion in the lives of the people but to ensure that people of different faiths (and those of no religious faith) can co-exist peacefully’ 2013 The Government of Cyprus confiscates 40 per cent of accounts in banks holding sums over $130,000; the Orthodox Church of Cyprus loses $130M.
2015 In its critical February judgment supportive of voluntary euthanasia, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that the Criminal Code ban on physician-assisted dying ‘infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice’ and thus violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 2015 April, Canadian Supreme Court, Quebec Secular Movement v City of Saguenay, rules unanimously that prayers in city councils are unconstitutional. Justice Clèment Gascon says state neutrality ‘requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular [religious] belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief’ 2015 May, a New Zealand parent, Jeff McClintock, takes his daughter’s school, and the NZ Attorney-General, to the High Court to argue that religious instruction in public schools is a breach of New Zealand’s Bill of Rights.
Consider the following:
Offcuts from T. David Gordon ‘The Decline of Christianity in the West? A Contrarian View’, Ordained Servant Online, May 2007. Full paper at http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=44.
Gordon is an American Presbyterian.
Key quotes in bold
Indeed, if there is any real evidence of the decline of Christianity in the West, the evidence resides precisely in the eagerness of so many professing Christians to employ the state to advance the Christian religion. That is, if Ellul's theory is right, the evidence of the decline of Christianity resides not in the presence of other religions (including secularism) in our culture, but in the Judge Moores, the hand-wringing over "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, and the whining about the "war on Christmas." If professing Christians believe our religion is advanced by the power of the state rather than by the power of the Spirit, by coercion rather than by example and moral suasion, then perhaps Christianity is indeed in decline. If we can no longer say, with the apostle Paul, "the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly," then perhaps Christianity is indeed in significant decline. If we believe we need Christian presidents, legislators, and judges in order for our faith to advance, then we ourselves no longer believe in Christianity, and it has declined. Christianity does not rise or fall on the basis of governmental activity; it rises or falls on the basis of true ecclesiastical activity. What Christianity needs is competent ministers, not Christian judges, legislators, or executive officers.
The apostle Paul was apparently quite content with the Roman magistrate not being a Christian believer. He encouraged the believers at Rome to submit to such a magistrate, in part because even he, without the light of the law of Moses or the teaching of Christ, would be a "terror to evil conduct," and as such, was a "minister of God for your good" (Rom. 13:3-4). All Paul appealed to the magistrate for were his rights as a Roman citizen; he never asked for any special dispensation as a Christian (Acts 25:11, 28:19).
As American Christians, thinking about these matters in the early twenty-first century, we would do well to remember the American Christians during the time of the founding of our Republic, who only desired from the state the protections other citizens had, nothing more nor less. The only relation between state and church desired by these founders was one of toleration and equal protection; that the state would permit the free assembly of peaceable citizens for either religious or non-religious purposes, and would permit, in this sense, the free exercise of religion. The relation of state and church, as conceived by the Continental Congress, was minimal. This minimalist approach has met with two hostile reactions since the sixties: often the hostility takes on the form of denial, and on other occasions the form of disapproval.
The deniers continue to argue that ours was/is a "Christian nation," without citing any convincing historical evidence. Sometimes this is done by confusing the theocratic Massachusetts Bay Colony with the Republic as a whole, and sometimes this denial takes the form of quotations of individuals associated with the founding (e.g. John Witherspoon) who professed Christian faith. Neither of these will survive critical inspection, however. Massachusetts, for instance, was but one of the thirteen colonies eventually represented at the Continental Congress. William Penn's religiously free Pennsylvania was also there, and was given the same enfranchisement as Massachusetts. Since Pennsylvania was practically founded as a refuge for religious dissidents, one can be sure that its representatives would have approved of no theocracy, and of no establishment. Similarly, quoting individuals such as Witherspoon does not prove that ours was a Christian republic; it merely proves that Witherspoon was a professing Christian. I am a professing Christian also, but I am writing with all the zeal I can muster against the idea of establishment or theocracy. I am a professing Christian and a professing anti-Constantinian, and therefore my profession of faith does not imply that I am Constantinian.
Perhaps the language of "Christian nation" is itself confusing, and should disappear altogether, to be replaced by a choice of two expressions: "Christian republic" and "Christian culture." These terms would bring clarity to the discussion, because I, for instance, would have little objection with saying that late-eighteenth-century America was, largely speaking, a Christian culture. It was a culture influenced not only by the Constantinian West in general, but by Anglican and Puritan England in particular, and among its major intellectual influences (though by no means restricted to it) was Christendom. Its other major intellectual influences were both distant and recent: Athens and the Scottish Enlightenment. Thus, it was a culture that was "Christian" in the sense that the prevailing choice of religious people was Christianity, and in the sense that all members of the culture were familiar with the basic truth-claims and ethical principles associated with it.
This "Christian culture," however, was self-consciously not a Christian republic. The framers appear to have gone out of their way to exclude any explicitly Christian sentiments in the documents themselves. Students of the Constitution, for instance, have found many phrases and clauses that are borrowed, word for word, from David Hume and John Locke, and the conceptual indebtedness to the British Enlightenment is greater still. Yet there are no similar phrases from the Christian Scriptures or creeds. Considering the profound literary influence the Bible had on the colonies, it is a rather remarkable historical fact that a few biblical phrases did not leak into the document accidentally. The framers were careful to protect religion's free exercise, but they were equally careful to avoid establishment.
Some do not deny the minimal relation between state and church in the early Republic, but they nevertheless disapprove it, and dismiss it as an undesirable concession to secularists such as Thomas Jefferson. This theory is plausible, in the general sense that the founding documents required a great deal of compromise among the colonies, not the least of which touched upon slavery. But it is only plausible, and not historically accurate. The opponents of establishment were as often religious as irreligious. Some, such as the Baptist Roger Williams, or Pennsylvania's William Penn, are well-known. Others are less so, and I'd like to mention the example of American Presbyterians in the early pre-republic, not only because their history is less well-known, but because our institution, Grove City College, has historically been associated with American Presbyterianism.
Mr. Jefferson believed the separation of church and state produced a better state; Hanover Presbytery, following their northern Presbyterian colleagues in 1729, thought it produced both a better state and a better church. American Presbyterians, therefore, joined other religious and secular individuals in separating church and state. Such separation cannot be dismissed as a secularist movement alone, since the arguments were also religious.
Contemporary Constantinians conveniently overlook the religious arguments, and often dismiss the separation of church and state as incipiently secularist, but the arguments and actions of Presbyterians in the eighteenth century (and their nineteenth-century commentators) refute such ideas starkly. Presbyterians before and during the early Republic argued on scriptural and theological grounds for the complete separation of church and state. They frequently cited Jesus' dictum that "my kingdom is not of this world," quoting his statement to "render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." They cited the apostle Paul's insistence that "our citizenship is in heaven," and argued that the only service that pleases God is that which is freely offered from the conscience. If contemporary Constantinians wish to disagree, they have every right in a free society to do so; but they are not free to ignore history, nor are they free from the obligation to counter theological reasons with theological reasons, and scriptural argumentation with scriptural argumentation.
A Naked Public Square?
Few misunderstandings are more common than the notion that separation of church and state implies a "naked public square." Separating the institutions of church and state does not, in and of itself, have any consequences at all for the public square. Individuals in a free society may speak their mind on all issues of public consequence, and may promote their views by any arguments they choose. Abraham Lincoln was perfectly free to saturate his Second Inaugural Address with biblical themes and quotations. Dr. King was entirely free to address public policy with the teachings of Holy Scripture, including such well-known Christian ethical principles as the Golden Rule. Such reasoning may well fall on deaf ears, of course: Why should individuals who do not acknowledge the Christian scriptures as a source of moral or religious truth be persuaded by appeals to them? But in a free society, we are free to articulate unconvincing as well as convincing arguments, prudent as well as imprudent reasoning, and ineffective as well as effective rationales. My own opinion is that religious reasoning is not very effective in persuading individuals in a post-modern culture, but such talk is entirely permissible in a culture that separates church and state.
Whither Christianity in America?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that if Christianity is waning in America, it is not because there are secular people in America, or people of other religious persuasions, since such individuals have always constituted a substantial portion of our culture. If Christianity is waning, the evidence of such decline is that religious people themselves have lost confidence in God's ability to promote his worship without the coercive power of the state. If religious people themselves prefer Caesar's sword to the sword of the Spirit; if religious people disbelieve in the power of the Christian gospel to compete on a level playing field; if religious people no longer believe that Christ's example and words have the power to attract people to him, then perhaps Christianity is indeed in decline. But the decline has nothing to do with an assault from without, and everything to do with unbelief from within.
There has been some decline in culture religion in the United States over the last two centuries. A secularist such as Thomas Jefferson knew the tenets of Christianity, was familiar with the Bible, and understood the influence of each on the culture, and appealed to such influence when it suited his purposes. Secularists in the early twenty-first century may be less familiar with Christianity or the Christian scriptures than Jefferson, and may be more thin-skinned about appeals to them in the public square. But true Christianity still exists in the churches; and, more importantly, where it may be in decline it is almost never due to persecuting pressure from without, but to weak faith from within. My greatest fear is not the decline of culture religion, since the presence or absence of such culture religion strikes me as having almost nothing to do with the vitality of true Christian faith and practice anyway. My fear is that those who fear the decline will resort to employing the coercive power of the state to rescue and/or preserve culture religion; a resort that will, in my estimation, damage the evangelistic cause of true Christianity profoundly.
This article was originally presented as a paper at "The De-Christianization of Europe: From Nicaea to Nietzsche," a conference sponsored by the Center for Vision and Values of Grove City College, on April 12-13, 2007.