Mutterings about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism being unacceptable to evangelical Christians or Mike Huckabee’s convictions being a tough sell to the nonreligious lend valuable insight into the widespread misconceptions among the voting public. Whisper campaigns about Barack Obama somehow being a secret Muslim show how anxious so many people are to dangerously intertwine spiritual concepts with their governmental philosophy.
The robust separation of Church and State at the federal level that we enjoy as Americans was never intended as an attack on people of faith; rather, it was designed to guard against the sort of tribalism that ensues when this wall is not present. While religion could be established at the state level, it was understood for centuries that the federal government had no role in this sphere whatsoever. This is a concept that conservative Christians who view government meddling with suspicion should not scoff at, but instead readily embrace as a guarantor of social cohesion.
After all, why should government be involved in religious matters in the first place? If the only reason for government’s existence is to protect citizen’s life, liberty, and property, regardless of race or religion, why should they have any say on religion? Enforcing contracts and protecting the states from invasion are things that can be embraced by Christians, Jews, and agnostics alike. The few functions that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants to Congress are religiously neutral; this stems from its authors admiration for the ideas of localism.
Settling matters at the local level has long been a hallmark of America, a principle intended to apply as much to religion as the economy. Various religious groups will soon be pitted against one another in circular infighting if it is accepted that the central government is the arbiter of religious matters. Christianity would be reduced to just another special interest group grappling for scraps at Congress’s altar; the simple solution is to simply leave the federal government out of this matter completely.
This is precisely what our Founders sought to avoid by leaving issues of religion out of Washington’s reach. Controversies ranging from same sex marriage to drug laws need to be settled at the level closest to the people as possible, whether by state government or various localities. Letting those in Washington have any say on religious issues or matters of personal conviction is a concept that should be abhorrent to anyone who holds that state’s rights and political decentralization are an essential component of our republic.
Of all world views, conservatives should be the least likely to assault Church/Stat separation. A commitment to limited government and greater personal freedoms requires that issues like these not be decided by the sort of coercive means found in Washington. This tenet was meant to be a safeguard for people of faith, not a bludgeon used against them. It allows individuals to live peaceably in communities where their worship experience is free from social engineering by some distant bureaucrat. Liberals and conservatives alike need to pause and reconsider their penchant for looking to Washington to solve all of society’s ills; fidelity to the Constitution would require nothing less.