Lately there has been quite a bit of hubbub on various social media sites about the role of religion in government and politics. I’m going to make some friends and enemies by saying that I personally believe that its role should be nonexistent, as a protection to both religious and secular individuals. That said, I believe a bit of history and explanation is in order.
Where does the idea of separation of church and state come from?
From a young age in the United States, many history and government classes teach about something called the separation of church and state. The general idea behind the phrase was set as a constitutional standard with the first amendment in 1791, as the first of ten amendments detailed in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment, as many already know, prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, or impeding the free exercise of religion, and emphasizes the importance of a plethora of other freedoms. The phrase itself comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to a Baptist congregation, stating that “believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” The importance of adhering to the separation of church and state is that it both keeps the government from interfering in the religious lives of individuals and churches, while also keeping what then, and now, constitutes as a religious majority from exercising political power in a way that would harm those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or simply choose not to identify themselves with a label at all.
So why is it that oftentimes religion gets mixed with government?
I would venture to say that it is a generally accepted fact that individuals develop emotional ties to their political and religious ideologies. Oftentimes the two get melded together; to temporarily play off of a popularized stereotype, one doesn’t identify just as a Christian or a Republican, for instance, they identify as a Christian Republican. The same could hold true of any different mix of religious and political identities, or lack thereof. That isn’t “bad”, or “good”, but merely how we as individuals seem to function.
What does libertarianism have to do with any of this?
What’s beautiful about libertarianism is that the political tenants that I hold dear could not care less what you as an individual believe. As long as you support free market values, respect individual rights, and don’t try force your lifestyle on someone else, the political philosophy could not care less if you believe in, or worship, one god, many gods, no god, or the flying spaghetti monster. My father jokingly calls my political views the ideology of “live and let live”, and I would say that’s fairly apt. Libertarianism hinges on the importance of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. There is no “check this religion” to fit into the “cool kid’s club”. Libertarianism at its core supports the separation of church and state in the sense that it doesn’t allow for force of one group of people, or individual, over another – also labeled the nonaggression principle. The adherents of libertarianism are just a group of people from different backgrounds with many beliefs coming together to say that we have a right to self-ownership to the fullest extent, and I, for one, think that is something that we can all rally around.