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Does ADF Believe the Constitution Contains a "Separation of Church and State?"

October 17, 2017

I always find it amusing to read the blogs put out by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the radically secularist organization.  The blog posts are so full of cliche and fantasy, that it strains credulity to try and believe them.  The most recent "contribution" to the hyperbolic musings of the AU blog was this little piece that trumpeted that ADF has now "converted" to AU's position, and now believes that "separation of church and state" is in the Constitution.  AU claims that, "The Alliance Defense Fund has suddenly become an ardent supporter of church-state separation." Well, let me state in no uncertain terms that AU is dead wrong.

ADF has not suddenly "converted" and is certainly not joining with AU in its march to radically secularize society.  No, ADF does not believe that the phrase "separation of church and state" is in the Constitution.  And anyone with a modicum of reading ability can read the Constitution and know that the phrase does not appear anywhere in the text.  And, lest there be any doubt on the issue, ADF stands in complete opposition to virtually everything espoused by AU and its philosophy.

Let me tell you how this all happened.  ADF filed a lawsuit against the Town of Mission, Kansas, over its driveway tax.  The basic gist of the lawsuit is that the newly-instituted driveway tax is a property tax in disguise and thus churches should be considered exempt.  The City of Mission, however, is calling the tax a "fee" and is charging churches in order to subvert the property tax exemption for churches.

Since the lawsuit was filed, I have given a number of interviews on the case, including the interview cited by AU with Religion News Service where I was quoted as saying, "It makes no sense to tax churches and to limit their ability to provide their services, and it does damage to the constitutional separation between church and state."  AU seized on this quote to argue that ADF had suddenly converted to believing in the "separation of church and state."

First, AU never checked to make sure that I was quoted accurately.  And anyone who reads news stories, or has ever been quoted in them, knows that sometimes a correct sense of what the interviewee was trying to convey is not contained in one quote.  That's certainly the case here where I was definitely not intending to convey that the Constitution contains a "separation of church and state."

The quote I made was in the context of a larger argument about the fact that there is a proper understanding that church and state should be separate in some ways.  This is a view that ADF has always adhered to and fought for (which is also Jefferson's view), that the state is prohibited from in any way attempting to control churches.  Jefferson's "wall" metaphor was intended to protect churches from intrusion and control by the state.  In fact, in the very next paragraph, the article states, "He acknowledges that church-state separation is generally not an argument made by his conservative Christian law firm; but in this instance, he says “there should be a separation here."

What I was trying to convey (perhaps not as articulately as I could have) is that specifically as it relates to taxation, churches should not be taxed by the state. There should be a separation there that recognizes the sovereignty of the church in matters of religion and that prohibits the state from attempting to exert its sovereignty over the church in a manner that could destroy the free exercise of religion.  The Supreme Court has stated before that the power to tax involves the power to destroy.  Thus, when the government exerts its power to tax churches, it can also exert its power to destroy them.  That's not the free exercise of religion no matter how you look at it.  It is in this context that the state should remain "separate" from churches.

So there is a proper way to understand that state and church should be separate, but it is not AU's twisted view of that phrase which seeks to silence pastors and churches, rewrite America's history, and radically reinterpret the Constitution to remove all religion from the public square.  AU's construction of the "wall between church and state" is meant to snuff out the voice of faith from the public square.  There are literally scores of cases where AU has demanded that the sword of the state be brought to the necks of people and institutions of faith.  Let's remember that AU is committed to state-controlled churchesno Ten Commandments in public buildingsno high school graduation ceremonies in church buildingsno prayers before legislative assemblies, and not even allowing students to have a moment of silence before the school day because they "might" choose to pray.   These, and many other things AU is committed to, serve only to usher in a radically secularized America that is completely at odds with our foundational principles and the Constitution itself.

AU's attempt to paint ADF as converting to its position is pure theatrics without any substance - it serves only to evoke the reaction I had when I read their claim - laughter.

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