IN the current issue of Liberty, the magazine of the North...

Salmagundi

October 04, 1994

IN the current issue of Liberty, the magazine of the North American Division of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Samuel Rabinove of the American Jewish Committee reminds readers of the reasons behind the separation of church and state. Here are some excerpts:

"In my view, religions will fare better if they encourage the government to keep hands off, neither hindering nor helping them. Any religion that cannot thrive without governmental assistance does not deserve to thrive. No religion should be beholden to government, but rather all should be free to bear prophetic witness against government if events so require.

"Meanwhile, no government should behave as if it's a synagogue or a church. It should not perform functions for its citizens that in their rightful free exercise of religion they are capable of doing for themselves without involving state machinery or money. Government, under provisions of the Constitution, should not subsidize religious schools, whose chief reason for existence is to propagate a religion's faith.

"Many religions have blossomed here and have actively participated in American public life, in large measure because of separation of church and state. At times there have been unfortunate departures from that principle, to the detriment of religion. Hence, those groups that uphold the separation principle are usually among religion's strongest supporters. In 1988, as part of the bicentennial observance, the Williamsburg Charter reaffirmed America's commitment to religious freedom: 'Far from denigrating religion as a social or political "problem," the separation of church and state is both the saving of religion from the temptation of political power and an achievement inspired in large part by religion itself. Far from weakening religion, disestablishment has, as a historical fact, enabled it to flourish.'

"America, to deal with its moral dilemma, needs the positive values that religions proclaim. The challenge is to incorporate these values into public life without breaking down the separation of church and state, the principle that has allowed these religions to flourish."

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