How this question is deliberately twisted by political and religious leaders.
Let us begin with two official documents where the question of the relationship of church and state is examined.
From the American Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, ratified on December 15, 1791:
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.
These two documents govern what we call “the separation of church and state.”
Translated from “legalese” into conversational language, these two documents proclaim the following:
- Our American government was created under the patronage of God, that is the church (here the church in its spiritual meaning – not in its ritualistic behavior).
- Inasmuch as the church in the United States is represented by many religious movements, not one of these religious movements is supposed to become dominate, subordinating all the rest to itself.
And that’s it!
The religiousness of a state implies that all legislation of such a state must be driven on the basis of those spiritual rules which ensued from the One God and were made concrete in the spirituality of the people who created the new state. The separation of church and state implies that no religious movement can be declared central and ruling over all the others. And that demands some kind of a general concept of God and His directions for the organization of human society on our earth – such a concept with which the various religious movements in our country would agree.
And there has been such a concept from the very beginning. It is the Ten Commandments, received from God on Mt. Sinai through the Jewish Prophet Moses. It is what underlies the spirituality both of the first pilgrims who arrived in this country and the first Jews who found here every avenue for life according to their spiritual principles, and the inhabitants of the 13 English colonies who created the United States of America. Thus, the Ten Commandments of the Torah have laid from the very beginning at the heart of the Judeo-Christian spirituality of this country and the activity of the state.
Any state’s function consists of the issuance of laws and their implementation. The essence of any law is to compel people under fear of financial losses, the loss of freedom or even the loss of life itself to do everything related to the category of “Good” and not to do what is included in the category of “Evil.” But the categories of “Good” and “Evil” are spiritual categories. Consequently, American legislation must be directed at the encouragement of “Good” and the punishment of “Evil” in accordance with the requirements of the Ten Commandments, that is, in accordance with Judeo-Christian spirituality.
That is how the “separation of church and state” should be understood according to the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: all legislation should be within the framework of the Ten Commandments of the Torah (the Old Testament).
It should be self-evident. But, unfortunately, it all is distorted by many political and religious leaders. And it is distorted in order to retain political or spiritual authority.
How does such distortion help democratically elected leaders to retain political authority?
Many of us think that the chief thing in democracy is to elect “worthy” people to the government, and inasmuch as they are “worthy,” they will govern us correctly. Most likely, there is some quantity of those really worthy among the elected who sincerely wish to carry out the “voters’ covenants.” But at the present time, for the majority of politicians trying to be elected, government work is a well-paying job with an excellent salary, superb medical insurance and unprecedentedly high pensions. One cannot receive all this in ordinary employment. Therefore, the main thing in which all elected government officials are interested is to keep their job. And for that they have to be elected again and again and again. And for that they have to bypass the Ten Commandments, having replaced the constitutional spiritual interpretation of the “separation of church and state” with an unconstitutional political interpretation. Why? How does it help politicians to be elected repeatedly?
Just what in the Ten Commandments can prevent a politician from being elected repeatedly? Almost everything.
The Commandments forbid the creation of and praying to other gods, but a politician wants to be worshipped like a local deity – the magical giver of all the benefits to their subjects: such a relationship to him guarantees election.
The Commandments demand one day a week – for the Jews it is the Sabbath – to be devoted to God, but the politician want this day to be used for his election campaign: the longer election campaign increases the likelihood of successful elections.
The Commandments urge honoring one’s parents, but the politician wants young people to honor him first: therefore, many politicians try to change the education system, replacing the religious Ten Commandments in it with non-religious lessons of “social justice,” of that “justice” the politicians promise to create.
The Commandments urge not being untrue to one’s wife, but the politician, knowing his own sins, does not want to talk about it: attracting attention to his personal problems may lower the probability of election.
The Commandments call for not coveting the property of other people, but the politician wants to expropriate property from the small number of the rich and give it to a large number of the less well-off: it increases the number of people who vote for him.
So therefore, politicians (not all, of course, but many) say to us: forget about the constitutional interpretation of the “separation of church and state,” forget about the Ten Commandments – that is what I say!
Well, okay, let us suppose that politicians really are interested in a distorted interpretation of the “separation of church and state” for retention of their authority. Just how does such distortion help religious leaders retain spiritual authority?
Among religious leaders – rabbis and ministers – there are many who do not set forth very well how to translate the instructions of the Ten Commandments into practical legislation, that is to direct their congregation toward specific political actions for the creation of the Better World according to God and according to the Torah. It isn’t easy for them to resolve which political personalities truly understand the Ten Commandments and will obey them if they elect them, because the Ten Commandments make up their spirituality. And they, as well as many politicians, try to replace the constitutional “separation of church and state” with something of their own. According to their own definition religion is by no means to interfere in politics, and such an approach allows them to conceal a lack of understanding of true spirituality directed at activities in the advancement of the Better World according to God and to preserve their own spiritual authority.
Thus, a true constitutional interpretation of the “separation of church and state” demands from us Jews an active influence on legislation in our country so that the Ten Commandments be the basis of all laws enacted and of all political activities in domestic policy and foreign affairs.