October 23, 2005
I was listening to Boortz on Friday, and one of his callers was railing against the ACLU for “trying to take religion out of society.” Boortz corrected him, and mentioned that they were trying to take religion out of government, not out of society. But these days, what’s the difference?
In the past, the federal government was a small and a lean entity. It was not an intrusive plague on every part of every day of your life. Without even talking about regulation, Arnold Schwarzenegger made a great point in a speech a year or two ago about taxes. From the time you wake up, to the time you go to sleep, and even while you slumber, you’re being taxed. Your income is taxed. Your sales are taxed. Your utilities are all saddled with hidden taxes and regulatory charges. Owning a car requires a registration tax, as well as your driver’s license “tax”, and excise taxes on your gasoline. There is no escape from the taxing system of our government.
These days, from the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, and even while you slumber, you’re regulated by the state. There is almost no aspect of life not touched by government regulation. In fact, The Art of The Blog issued a challenge to readers a few weeks ago to state what portions of life were not touched by government. About the only thing I could come up with were the thoughts in my head, and the esteemed probligo could only come up with “lying on my back in the sun watching the clouds pass by”. But think about it. The regulations overnight controlling what sort of air conditioning and heating you can have, as well as all the codes and zoning laws related to your house. In fact, simply owning a house is a taxable activity. When you go to work, you need to deal with a host of OSHA regulations, a minimum wage act, several books worth of HR regulations, all sorts of tax code cutouts to try to influence you or your employers behavior and benefits, etc. Driving to and from work, you are subject to government rules and regulations. When you go to eat, you have city health codes and/or FDA rulings.
When you ask about the separation of church and state*, how can you claim a difference between what the ACLU is doing and actually trying to remove religion from society in general? The state has encroached on so many levels of our daily life that in many ways, there is little difference. A major question is what sort of role religion can play in public schools, even to the limited question of religious groups using public school property as a meeting place. Is that a problem of the separation of church and state, or a problem of state encroachment on education? President Bush has tried to involve government funds in religious charities, and it has caused unmitigated uproar. Is that a problem of separation of church and state, or a problem of government encroachment on private charity?
If the state had a limited role in our daily lives, the doctrine of “separation of church and state” would be a non-issue. Nobody in modern times, with the exception of folks like Falwell, Robertson, and bin Laden, want to see a day where we have a true “establishment” of religion. That word, in 18th century times, meant something different than it does today. It spoke of things like religious tests for office, taxes on “dissenting” denominations or religions, and direct government funding of The Church and clergy.
When the state is a part of every little bit of our lives, however, the separation of church and state becomes a separation of church and society. It angers some people that the ACLU fights so hard against Christianity being such a large part of our society, but the larger point is missed. The ACLU is legitimately fighting against the encroachment of religion onto government, but government has grown so large that they are tearing religion out of what normal people call “society”.
Walter Williams calls the medical costs borne by society due to people not wearing seat belts or helmets a problem of socialism, not a problem of personal choice. Likewise, this is not the fault of the ACLU or of the doctrine of separation of church and state, it is a problem of the state becoming too involved in society. Fix that, and the problems with the ACLU will go away.
*Yes, I realize that the “separation of church and state” is not anywhere in the Constitution, and was simply a quote by Jefferson in an 1802 letter. However, it has become a fixture of constitutional law, and whether that is correct is a discussion for another day…
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