Keeping Church and State Separate
Essays in Response to Oklahoma State Question 790
Stating the Problem
Oklahoma State Question 790 is asking citizens to remove Article 2, Section 5, of the Oklahoma Constitution. Article 2, Section 5, reads, “No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.” This set of essays will provide a clear understanding of the issues and an argument why eliminating Article 2, Section 5, would be unbiblical, historically demeaning, legally indefensible, and impractical to implement.
For the sake of argument, let’s say State Question 790 passes by a majority of the voters and is upheld by the courts. Afterwards, a logical question will arise. How will this new relationship between church and state be administrated by state legislators? Will Oklahoma need to establish a new department of government to oversee these new funding programs? Who will determine which faiths will get funding and which faiths will be left in the cold? Where will this revenue come from to fund these new faith based initiatives?
Oklahoma Department of Faith Based Initiatives
Welcome to the Oklahoma Department of Faith Based Initiatives. This new department of state government will need a budget, staff, headquarters, and policies to function. With a dwindling state budget, Oklahoma will need to raise additional revenue in order to fund this new department. Even more importantly, there will need to be a new set of policies that guide the implementation of this new church/state entanglement.
There will be a set of questions that will need immediate attention. What will be the qualifications for churches or faith based organizations to receive funds? Will there be certain faith groups excluded from funding? If all faiths are welcomed, will there need to be an officer of compliance? Will the churches and denominations of state legislators be excluded from receiving funds, because there seems to be a direct conflict of interest? Will funding requests come with state mandates, especially nondiscrimination employment laws that churches have enjoyed for so long? Will churches need to start paying state taxes as contributors to the system? All of these questions, and many more, will need to be decided before the coffers of the state will be opened to churches and faith based organizations.
Open Door for School Vouchers
School vouchers for sectarian schools is the true reason behind the latest effort to strike Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution. There is no question that certain churches and faith based programs would like to have state coffers opened, but the real goal of SQ 790 proponents rest on their hope that taxes can be utilized to pay for private Christian education through a voucher program.
With the elimination of Article 2, Section 5, state legislators will immediately begin crafting a school voucher bill. Proponents like to think this idea is new to the country, but as history recalls this debate occurred in 18th Century Virginia between Patrick Henry and James Madison. Henry argued that the state should subsidized private Christian education while Madison (and Thomas Jefferson to some degree) claiming that Henry’s proposal would be an establishment of religion. Madison wrote his now famous Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments to defeat Henry’s effort.
School vouchers for sectarian schools continue to violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, so there would be a strong possibility that the voucher program would be ruled unconstitutional based upon the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition, if the voucher program were to be upheld, can Oklahomans imagine how much more revenue would be cyphered from public education? Funding for public education would be reduced yet again.
Welcome to the Oklahoma State Capitol’s Outdoor Monument Museum
At the heart of SQ 790 lies the desire for Christians to use the Capital grounds to plant a monument of the Ten Commandments. This issue is what spurred the creation of this current state question, but there are certain applicable issues that need to be addressed if the state begins to permit religious groups to plant monuments upon the capital grounds.
First, let’s address the religious component of the argument. Proponents of erecting the Ten Commandment Monument argue that the monument is not religious, but demonstrates a legal history back to Moses. Not religious? Really? Have proponents even read the Commandments? Exodus 20:2-12 records the first five commandments that deal specifically with expressions of faith,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:2-12, NRSV).
Second, if the state permits one religious group to plant a religious monument on the grounds of the capital then they must allow all religious groups to follow suit. Just imagine all the monuments that could possibly be standing on the capital lawn: The Ten Commandments Monument, Statue of Budah, The Hindu God Vishnu, A Mormon Bible Monument, The Satanist Statue, etc.). It is beyond belief that Oklahoma legislators would permit these others statues, which in turn would produce more lawsuits leading to more loss of state revenues.
Religion Looses It’s Prophetic Voice
When the wall separating church and state begins to crumble, then a path towards prophetic silence follows. As history reveals, when church and state are entangled the church ends of being a pawn of the state. No longer do prophets rise up to right the wrongs of their culture (slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.), but the state is now able to muzzle prophets through forced taxation and legal manipulation.
No longer can Nathan raise his finger to David to declare, “You, O’ King are the sinner!” (2 Samuel 12:7). When the wall of separation is demolished, the king/state has all the power. Religious leaders turn into mere pawns of government, using their influence to manipulate their congregations to follow the whims of the state. With money flowing into church and faith based programs, it becomes quite difficult for prophetic voices to bite the hand that feeds them.
In conclusion, the inability of the state to implement this new reality – absent Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution – is truly perplexing. Government oversight and influence will begin to rise over churches and faith based organizations, the size of government will increase with a new department or agency, other state programs will be reduced as tax dollars are diverted, and the church will suffer as they become more dependent upon the state for funding religious programing.
Therefore, the logical conclusion to these essays is that any attempt to dismantle the wall that separates church and state is a bad idea for both!