Church and State

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I saw this article by Nova Spinack (internet entrepreneur, and pragmatist) who is advocating a separation of corporate interest and state. He patterns this after the separation of church and state (Establishment clause).

Except that most people today don’t understand certain truths about the founding of our country, the establishment clause, and freedom of religion. While I don’t claim to be an expert – I want to push a non-political view forward that will help us (Christians) understand what the founding fathers intended.

1) The constitution does not advocate a “separation of church and state“. It prohibits the government from estabilshing a state religion, and from legally compelling citizens to adhere to beliefs and practices of any one religion.

The founding fathers were not afraid of religious doctrine. Most of them were faithful, religious men. They were afraid of tyranny – and of allowing a tyrant to use religion as one more means of gaining control and usurping people’s God given rights and freedoms. The establishment of the Church of England was a precise example of this, and was relatively fresh in the minds of the founding fathers, many of whom had recent ancestors who had emigrated to the Colonies to escape this tyranny.

The notion of “Separation of Church and State” is a “reading” or interpretation of the Establishment clause. It goes beyond the literal reading toward a position where the government cannot involve itself in religious matters in any way. It has various positions in that it cannot advantage any one religious organization over another. It cannot promote the views of any religion in its laws or in its actions.

2) The signers of the constitution did not envision a federal government that is (or needs to be) as it is today. The founding fathers fear of tyranny lead the to propose a government that didn’t have much power, or much to do over day to day life. In fact the governments primary job was to protect the freedoms that had been so hard won.

The founding fathers limited the power of federal government in favor of giving more power to the state and local municipal governments. This was intentional. I believe that our current governments system of exerting control and influence over state and local municipal policy by threatening to withold funding to local systems who are not compliance with legislative or executive policy would be perceived by our founding fathers as an unexceptable tyranny.
Our federal government has become very invasive in our day to day life. Over the years, we have continued to allow/support the oversight of federal government into increasingly numerous and detailed aspects of day to day life in the USA. Decisions that our founding fathers expected to be made freely at the local and state levels of government are continually being advocated and usurped by the federal system.
3) The concentration of power in the federal system has created a system that promotes a whole enterprise of paid advocates (lobbyists) whose entire job is to influence the passage of laws that advantage one industry or belief system over another.

If the power had remained decentralized as the founding fathers had envisioned, this system would not be effective, or existent. While lobbying has been a part of our federal government from its early days, it is the power that the federal government has assumed that makes the citizens queasy. We tend to feel somewhat disenfranchised as government itself has become a business. Our vote does not feel as meaningful or important as it once was, because the day to day act of governing has been handed off to a self-sustaining enterprise.

Since the great depression, there has been a strong trend toward government involvement in day to day life. Both parties have proposed and passed legislation that has impacted education, employment, housing, healthcare, transportation and other aspects of day to day life. This trend has gradually eroded the role of the individual, the local government, and the state governments in these aspects, at times creating as many problems as they solve. But the key problem in my mind is the erosion of individual responsibility and decision making.

4) We hear now from “anti-religious” advocates which want to interpret the “separation of church and state” as saying that no ideas of religious origin or nature are to be supported by any government organization.

I have heard Christians say equally heinous things like “America was founded on Christian Principals and we want to go back to our Christian heritage”. The fact was the authors of the constitution were “deists” — more closely aligned with the Unitarian church (not universalist) than any protestant Christian denomination. Sure, our constitution was founded on principles aligned with the Judeo-Christian tradition, because that was essentially the basis of “Western” thought. I get really aggravated when Christians say stupid untrue things, even more than I get aggravated when others do. We don’t have any more right to promote our value system than anyone else. Our founding fathers believed in the free market of ideas. May the best ideas win. Everyone holds that their personal beliefs and convictions are “true”, and superior, else they risk being considered a charlatan for promoting ideas they know to be false for personal advantage. That said, the current politics of the “religious right” wants to “return” to something that never really was.
The “free exercise clause” of the constitution explicitly prohibits the government or its agents from interfering in religious practices – provided those practices do not violate other freedoms and rights granted by the constitution. From my reading, however, there is no constitutional clause that says that individuals who are elected officials or government agents are required to renounce personal religious beliefs. Nor is there any constitutional language that says religious thought is inferior or that secular thought is preferred.

SO Mr. Spivack – your notion that separation of church and state means removing all influence of religion on government is flawed. That is not what the constitution intended, or says. However, your idea that we can place legislative or constitutional limits on corporate advantage is interesting. The first amendment to the constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom to petition the government tends to protect lobbying. However, prohibiting the government from acting (either legislatively, or through executive order) in a way that gives advantage to individual corporations, or industries has some merit, but I want to explore the implications of that idea in another post.


Our founding fathers did their best to protect us from tyranny, originating in any source they could imagine. I do not believe that they foresaw economic tyranny deriving from the large corporate entities that exist on a global scale as they do today. But those corporations are artifacts of the industrial age, and the economics of scarcity. The new “information age” is ruled by an economics of abundance, and those corporations may be “eaten” by the software / information abundandance, over the course of a generation or two. Mr. Spivack is an entrepreneur of the information age. He should be aware of this. Perhaps he is simply advocating a position that would hasten the demise of the large corporation. hmmm. self-interest?

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