Creech’s Staggeringly Stupid Take on Church and State

You know, people of all political and religious persuasions hold dumb opinions and say dumb things. But if you come across something so egregiously moronic that it causes your jaw to slump into your lap at the fact that the person writing it manages to tie their shoes in the morning, there’s a good chance it was written by a Christian right winger. Exhibit A: Rev. Mark Creech and this mind-blowingly idiotic column about separation of church and state.

It’s interesting that much of the focus today on the First Amendment has to do with the so-called “separation of church and state.” Yet, following the first two clauses concerning the freedom of religion there are additional sections about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and petition for a redress of grievances. Many today, who would quickly proclaim there is an absolute, two-way, impregnable wall between church and state, somehow also assert that for some reason it stops there, and this same impregnable, two-way wall is considered anathema when it comes to other freedoms mentioned in the same amendment. In other words, there is no “separation of speech and state,” no “separation of press and state,” and no “separation of public protests and state”.

Wow. Seriously, that is some grade A, world class stupid. If he had any reading comprehension skills at all he would notice that the religion clauses are written differently from the other clauses of the First Amendment. It’s the only provision in the First Amendment that pairs up two different limitations on the government — it may not violate a person’s right to free exercise of religion, nor may it impose religion on those who don’t share such beliefs. That’s why Jefferson and Madison (you know, the guy who actually wrote the damn thing) used the phrase “separation of church and state” to describe the intent of those particular clauses — which has nothing at all to do with the other clauses.

He blathers on for several paragraphs about how absurd it would be to declare a separation of free speech and state, or press and state, or protest and state — and he’s right, of course, that would be absurd. Which is exactly why no one does it, because those clauses are logically distinct from the religion clauses. Why he thinks this is a good argument is beyond me. He then moves on to beat up a straw man version of separation of church and state, a convenient one that makes him out to be terribly persecuted:

The point here is such assertions with regard to free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to peaceably assemble and redress grievances, would be ridiculous and gut the very purpose of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, with respect to America’s first freedom, the freedom of religion, this notion of a two-way impregnable wall of separation between religion and its moral influences on the state is erroneously accepted. And God help the supposed religious fools that hope to correct it.

Yes, that argument is so much easier to defeat than the one that is actually made in favor of separation. No one believes that the First Amendment forbids religion from having a “moral influence” over voters. How could it possibly mean that? Citizens can cast their votes on the basis of their religion all they want and no one can, or even wants to, stop them. He says this several different times in the article, that separation has to do with not allowing people to “bring your opinions to bear on the political process.” This is quite a ridiculous straw man.

Nothing in the First Amendment was ever meant to suggest our nation’s Founders were trying to protect the state from the church, the government from the press, etc. The purpose of the first ten amendments to the Constitution was to create a one-way wall to protect the citizenry from the government, not the other way around. They were setting up a barrier to safeguard the public from abuses of power, not to save the state from the church or any other function of the people.

There’s almost a coherent thought in there, but it’s buried in bad arguments. It’s true that the First Amendment was written to protect the individual, not the government. But the Establishment Clause does exactly that, it prevents the government from imposing someone else’s religion on the individual. That is an abuse of power just as surely as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause.

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