Abstract There has been much debate on whether or not the United States has been doing the right thing by keeping church and state as separate entities rather than keeping them entwined as had been the standard for centuries prior to the country's founding. The list of influences this law could affect is substantial, ranging from the workplace to school functions. Even the way people decorate their offices and houses has come into question from time to time. However, remarkably, every person has a different style of argument and a different way of looking at the available facts. I intend to compare two very different argument styles on both sides of this issue, and how two capable writers use completely different methods of research, facts, and interpretations to propose their opinions.
Should Church and State be Separate? Alan Wolfe (2002) speaks about many of the implied hypocrisies during the centuries-long debate over separation of church and state. While most people are brought up to question hypocrisy, Wolfe claims that some level of it is necessary to allow for compassion from the audience. "Surely we should want our anti-clericalist's to have a touch of belief about them, especially when compared to the truly cynical." Wolfe (P 14, 2002). In his book, Separation of Church and State, Philip Hamburger called many of the politicians .".. opportunistic" however; their type of behavior is often seen throughout our society today.
In his article, "Church and State Should be Separate," Wolfe (2002) uses lawyers as an example; The history of American jurisprudence is filled with examples of lawyers seeking to build the strongest possible cases for their clients or causes, dropping one argument and employing another if it promises a greater chance of success, even if it seems to contradict the first. (P 13). Throughout his argument, Wolfe also cites the court case, "Everson vs. Board of Education," which placed separation of church and state into constitutional law in 1947. Prior to this case, the set of rules and ethics, God's or Man's, that should guide us, the citizens, had been debated but never determined. On the other side of the spectrum stands Steve Bonta.
Bonta contends that separation of church and state is a historical mistake waiting to happen. He uses examples from the French Revolution, in which they attempted the same ideal -- giving the power to the people -- and it failed them miserably. Bonta uses quotes from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to support his claim that we were each given "inalienable rights" from God, not from humanity, and therefore God should rule over the nation. Alan Wolfe makes his opinion clear that church and state were separated in 1947 by ruling of the Supreme Court in the Everson trial, and it should remain that way to protect the rights of all citizens. His belief is that integrating the two powers would ultimately lead to further corruption of the government. He also states that keeping church and state together would lead to favoritism of one religion over another, undermining the very ideals of "Freedom of Religion." Steve Bonta claims that the modern interpretation of documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, has been perverted from the actual meanings and intentions of our founders.
His belief is that the first amendment, on Congress .".. making no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," was not meant to keep a wall between Church and state (P 12), but rather to protect the Church from being separated. Bonta believes that while the United States does not have an official, national religion (such as Episcopalian in England), it was founded on Christian values and morals, which have been entwined throughout our earliest documents and laws, making it impossible and impractical to separate. While Alan Wolfe makes a strong case by using court cases and discussing the years of debates over this issue, his largest mistake was using Philip Hamburger's book. He uses quotes throughout his text, exemplifying why church and state do not have to be together, but he does not discuss why they should actually be separated.
Philip Hamburger does not state in his book that they should be separated, and Wolfe even points that out in his essay, along with the fact that Hamburger does not offer any other alternatives and ideas regarding separation. Rather than building his argument that the two entities be separated, Hamburger merely bashed the idea that they be together. While this type of argument does not make a very credible argument that church and state be separated, it does make a very strong case that church and state should not be integrated into one power. Steve Bonta made many more mistakes in his argument than Wolfe did, however. Bonta's essay was strongly opinionated, and very well articulated, but it lacked facts. His arguments relied on interpretations and points of views on historical events in which none of us could have known what had actually happened.
Interpretation is always going to be different from person to person, and there is no way of knowing what message an author is trying to convey without hearing it from the author himself. Classically, this is a case of comparing your inner feelings about a subject with someone else's outward appearance, which is impossible to do and be accurate. While his opinions are certainly valid, they do not make a very credible case for his standpoint. Wolfe made the strongest argument because of the facts that he used, such as court cases and court rulings, and by providing examples that modern people could relate to. He does not rely on interpretations of writings other than literal denotations of the wording. Bonta's examples and arguments circled around historic events that no one today could relate to.
No one actually knows for sure what was going through the minds of the mobs during the French Revolution other than unhappiness with the government at the time; we will never know for sure whether that unhappiness was derived from a lack of God in the government or not unless we are able to find original documents (such as diaries) that would support either side. His interpretation of the wording in our Constitution is based on the writings of the English government, which has a national religion. He also contends that because we had been under English rule for so long before writing the Constitution, that many of our ideas came from England's laws, meaning we should use them to interpret our own meanings. Again, though, there is no way to tell if our own laws were written to try to emulate English rule or abandon it without original thoughts and opinions of the people at the time. I agree with Wolfe that church and state should be separate. I believe that integrating them would lead to a new "Dark Age" similar to the one in which the Catholic Church reigned supreme over so many lands, keeping citizens living in poverty with little or no hope of bettering themselves.
Favoritism of one religion over another would also lead to more prejudice and unethical happenings in everything from school and businesses to career paths and job security. I also believe that when one religion stands above another, there is always a risk of another holocaust, even if on a smaller scale. Any of the above events would completely negate our Constitution and lead to the utter destruction of our foundation. Americans have come to rely on and trust their freedoms, even if they take them for granted from time to time, and while some would be thrilled to have a religious establishment placed in an area of power, the majority would see it as a lie from the get-go that this country stands for freedom, and all trust in the government would falter, leading to either another American Revolution or tyrannical rule." Church and State Should be Separate" Alan Wolfe.
Books and Culture September/October, 2002. Retrieved January 08, 2005 from the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center Database." Church and State Should not be Separate" Steve Bonta. New American July, 09, 2002; vol. 18, p. 1. Retrieved January 08, 2005 from the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center Database..