Fort Wayne is nowhere near Manhattan, yet the recent proposal to build the Park51 mosque and cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero 9/11 has the Summit City boiling. Conservative pundits and Christians alike are outraged. While the location may be admittedly in bad taste, the building of a mosque is a part of American religious freedom, something about which the Constitution of the United States is quite explicit.
The Constitution is clear that we have the freedom to express ourselves publicly and religiously, even though the government has been systematically demolishing that freedom with the removal of various Nativity scenes, crosses, and Ten Commandments from public areas. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and many of the same Christians who were saying that the government had no right to intervene in religious expression are now petitioning that same government to block Muslim religious expression, all based on the alleged connection between the attacks of September 11, 2001 and Islamic Jihad, and a dubious connection at that. Does anyone else see the extreme hypocrisy of this? Do American Christians want freedoms that they would deny American Muslims?
What does “Separation of church and state” really mean? How are we applying it today? And most importantly for Christians, what does Jesus teach on the subject?
Separation of church and state is not a phrase found in the Constitution; that much is plain. Is the principle found in the Constitution? You bet. The 1st Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Government is not allowed to meddle in our religious freedoms. Period. These days, what we hear predominantly is that Christians are not allowed to apply their Christianity to politics or law, for that would be “the church” imposing its views on others, as if American Christians are proposing that the rest of the nation “convert or die.” Christians oppose this because the Constitution only blocks religious organizations, not religious expression itself, from being foisted upon the government.
So why would Christians then petition the State to impose restrictions on another religion’s expression by denying Muslims the freedom to build a mosque? The Constitution is equally frank that no one religious group may legally dominate the government, but it does not give Christianity supremacy over other religions, despite the rhetoric that this is a “Christian nation.” John Adams, perhaps one of the most overtly Christian Founding Fathers, said, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.” True, its principles are founded upon Christian heritage, but the government itself does not align itself with any one religion. This is because Adams knew that it is not right to compel someone to follow your religion; if he has the right to be a Christian, then a Muslim has the right to be a Muslim.
So what’s a Christian to do? We must first ask ourselves, what does the Bible teach? When Saul, Israel’s first king, was sacrificing to the LORD, the prophet Samuel rebuked him sharply for disobedience to God. When king Uzziah lit incense in the temple, the priests said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God.” (2 Chronicles 26:18) Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) When Pilate told Him, “…Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above…” (John 19:10)
It could be said that the notion of separation of church and state is a biblical one. There is a domain that belongs to the church and not the government, despite anything the government may think or say or do. There is also a domain that belongs to the government that does not belong to the church: the authority to carry the sword. The Bible repeatedly says that the State is God’s instrument in justice, that it is those who do evil who should fear the State, that we are to obey the authorities that have been set above us. It is only when those authorities directly compel us to violate the word of God that we have any ground to disobey, and even then we have no right to avoid the consequences of that disobedience. Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego, as well as the apostles and early Christians, did not shy away from facing death for the cause of truth. It is our American pride that wants to disobey the government with impunity.
Mark Long, a Fort Wayne resident and co-founder of The Reality Check, wrote recently about the mosque issue. “If we deny them, then it will in turn, someday, be used to deny us free expression and/or worship in a place of our choosing. We are either a nation of laws, or we are not.” Meanwhile, the ACLJ is campaigning furiously to have public opinion change the tide and block the rule of law. What sort of precedent is that for a supposedly Christian organization?
If Christians support the State in blocking the construction of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero on private property, then we have forfeited the right to protest the removal of Nativity scenes, crosses, and the Ten Commandments from public areas. Christians must uphold the law, whether we like it or not.