Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Free Exercise of Religion

"Separation of church and state" is the catch-phrase that dominates most discourse, as opposed to the actual words of the First Amendment. (From a friend)

Thomas Jefferson coined the term separation of church and state in comments and remarks. It is not part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. The first amendment to the constitution has this to say about religion and government, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…………….”

Jefferson’s comment is interesting and important but it is not the words of the Constitution. He also commented that there should be a wall of separation between church and state. That too is his personal comment; it is not part of the Constitution.

Congress is not to prohibit the free exercise of religion. When a religious group makes a statement, supports legislation and spends its money to help get laws passed, they are well within their rights to do so. If the congress or the government restricts the right of religious bodies to participate in public discourse or to influence legislation they are in violation of the Constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion.

The IRS has decided they can take away a church’s tax exemption if a church group supports a candidate for office or supports legislation. That ruling is a direct restriction of the free exercise of religion. The tax people are telling church groups that participation in the democratic process is punishable. I hope religious groups will wake up some day to that miscarriage of justice and infringement of their rights.

Proposition 8 in California raised the question of church and state for many people. While I totally support same gender marriage, I also uphold the right of religious groups to participate in the democratic process. I champion the right of Episcopalians and Unitarians to oppose Proposition 8. I reluctantly support the right of Roman Catholics, Mormons and evangelical Christians to support it. We all should support the full rights of everyone, including religious people with whom we disagree.

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