I am glad that I live in a country that offers the freedom of religion. It would not be pleasant to live where I would be fearful for my life and liberty simply for owning a Bible or gathering with other believers to pray and worship God. Living in a country where we have the freedom to believe what we want about God and worship God as we see fit is a great privilege and a great benefit.
But is the freedom of religion a guaranteed right? The first amendment to the constitution contains these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since this amendment is part of what is known as “The Bill of Rights” many people believe that the freedom of religion is a “right.” We demand this right, fight for this right, and sue other people and organizations whom we feel infringe upon this right.
The Separation of Church and State
I am not a constitutional scholar, but let us consider the idea of the “freedom of religion” from several angles. First, let us look at the freedom of religion from a historical and political perspective. The section of the First Amendment to the Constitution which deals with religion is known as “The Establishment Clause.” It says that congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Politicians, theologians, judges, and constitutional lawyers have debated for centuries what exactly this means, but it is from this statement that people get the idea about “the separation of church and state.”
The Separation of Church and State is Not in the Constitution
Strictly speaking, the idea of “the separation of church and state” is not in the constitution. Most people think it is, but the constitution says nothing of the sort. It simply has the Establishment Clause, which is interpreted in various ways, one of them being “the separation of church and state,” which in turn is sufficiently ambiguous to be applied in numerous different fashions.
Most people today believe that the separation of church and state is a good idea. I suppose it is, because we are fallen human beings, and whenever a group of people get too much power, especially the combined powers of government and religion, such a combination of powers is usually accompanied by the terrible abuse of that power. We see this in countries today where there is no separation of church and state. Where the government controls the religion (such as in China and most of the Middle East), there is great abuse by the government upon people who want to practice a religion different than those allowed by the state. So separating the two powers of government and religion creates checks and balances for each, and allows greater freedom for the people who wish to follow the spiritual dictates of their heart.
The Separation of Church and State is Not in the Bible
However, from a theological perspective, the idea of the separation of church and state is not biblical. In biblical times, government and religion were always interwoven, and even the eventual government of Jesus will be a Theocracy, a complete and perfect intertwining of government and religion. The idea of the separation of church and state resulted from Enlightenment ideals in response to how religion is often used by government to dominate and control its citizens and make war on other nations.