Opinion: Whatever happened to separation of church and state?

Lindsay Bookout

Abbi Pittman

Lindsay BookoutDuring the vice presidential debate last Thursday, I was that annoying person on your Twitter feed tweeting my every thought about the debate.

My most passionate tweet concerned moderator Martha Raddatz’s question of the candidates’ positions on abortion based on their religion.

“We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this,” Raddatz said. “And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

Wait, why does that matter? I thought. Isn’t there a separation of church and state?

The First Amendment of the Constitution explicitly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” and “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

In the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli signed by John Adams, a clause about religion in America declares, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

On top of that, most of the founding fathers were Deists, not Christians. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity, according to freethought.com.

All the evidence is there: America is not a Christian country. It is not a religious country. If I do not subscribe to your particular religion, I do not have to abide by your religious laws. That is what freedom from religious persecution means.

So I was shocked that religion was even brought up in the debate.

In response to Raddatz’s question, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan explained that he and his church believe that life begins at conception.

This showed me that he could not separate his personal life and his political life, and that he was choosing to impose his beliefs on others.

Vice President Joe Biden took the opposite side.

“Life begins at conception,” Biden said. “That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

“But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.

“I — I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court — I’m not going to interfere with that.”

Simply because Biden showed America that he can believe one thing but accept that others believe another, I’d declare him winner of last Thursday’s vice presidential debate.

If religion is brought up in the presidential debate tonight, I hope that the candidates will distinguish whether or not they are followers of the First Amendment. Because if one of them isn’t – if one of them puts religion before the United States Constitution – I do not want him running my non-denominational country.

Perhaps it is easier for me to separate church and state because I do not belong to a specific religion. But for those of you who do and who can’t understand that not everyone has the same beliefs as you, please don’t get involved in politics.

Bookout, a sophomore English and French major from Charlotte, is an opinion writer.