Regarding Religion's Role in Government
By Rev. John-Brian Paprock, Coordinator, Madison Area InterfaithNetwork
(A response to Wisconsin State Journal editorials & letters, 1/24 & 1/31/99)
In a country where religious freedom is a founding principle, it seems strange to read letters and opinions of people with religious conviction seem so against one of our most cherished freedoms. But are they? It also seems strange to see Atheists use this opportunity for religion bashing, when it is the same religious freedom that gives them the right to be Atheists. It would be tremendously simplistic, and perhaps even harmful, to suggest that this is a debate between Atheists and Christians alone. If it is, it should not be. These are core issues that confront people of diverse belief systems everyday.
As entertaining as extreme views are, they do not represent the majority for whom belief (or non-belief) is personal, intimate and part of their way of life. In fact, those concerned should understand that religion does not happen in a vacuum. It is, more often than not, integrated into an individual's value system and deeply impacts that individual's way of interacting in society. In our society, this includes voting for laws and lawmakers and influencing public policy. Separation of Church and State is important, but the State cannot be a "religious-free zone" either. In fact the "separation of Church and State" was designed to protect religious minorities. To legislate "religious free zones" goes against the core of religious freedom and freedom of belief. If there are places in our society that do not allow for this freedom, then we are moving away from being a free society. Being intimately involved with the tremendous diversity of spiritual and religious beliefs in our area, I can say that religious persecution and intolerance permeates our society. There are inequalities. To clarify this point, allow me to ask a few questions: What are acceptable religious and spiritual beliefs? When and where are they acceptable? Now, take a moment to answer the same questions for those in society that do not believe what you believe. Can you see the discrepancies?
Perhaps, since religious freedom is a personal freedom and right, defended since the founding of the United States, it ought to remain personal. When it does cross into the domain of public debate, I believe it would be wise and prudent to remember some key ideas:
The debate about religion's role in government has been interesting and well deserved. It should always be a topic in the public square, because of the intimate connection between what we believe and the policies we support.