One would believe that at this day and age it would be in general consensus that church and state simply do not mix. This has been proven a multitude of times in cases such as The Church of England that basically led to the Revolutionary War, to the Salem Witch Trials, which arguably may have never happened had a theocracy not existed. But not so, my dear readers, as any decent member of the, "Christian Right" would tell you, the problem with our country is that it is, "god-less."
Summarizing the Issue
Most of use know what the separation of church and state is, but allow me to summarize. Separation of church and state is the idea that in all of their actions, proceedings, legislating, meetings, etc, that neither the church or state have any effect on one another. That means that the churches remain untaxed, no one is forced by the state to follow any given religion, and on the other side, religion does not attempt to pervade government in any manner, whether it be in the legislative, executive, or judicial branch. Theoretically this is not possible, one can not force congresspeople to not allow their religious views to affect their legislative decisions, the same can be said for the President, Supreme Court Justices, and any and all state, local officials. One would have to first pass a law making any actions deemed religiously fueled to be illegal in the political process, than unilaterally punish anyone who decided to act against this. But not only would these be the actions of a totalitarian state, even from the view of atheism this would be discrimination against individuals simply for what they think.
I have heard arguments on both sides that violate the idea of separation of church and state, from my atheist colleagues remarking that we should indeed tax the churches, to congressmen arguing that their religion is at the forefront of their legislative ventures. Both sides fail to recognize that when either side has exchanges with the other, disaster ensues.
If and when a government taxes the church, it by default adds legitimacy to their legal claims. If the church contributes to our government, they will argue they should be allowed to participate in our legislative process. In my opinion, it makes more sense to isolate, in every manner, the church from the state. Do not allow them to participate as a group in campaigns, whether it be fundraising or running polls, do not allow religious argument in a judicial hearing (It is already for the most part considered invalid argument within a courtroom.), and remove any mention of a "god" from existing and future government agencies, branches, documents, statues and the like. Through this method we may not be able to eliminate religious thought from our legislators or other officials, but they will have to come up with valid legal reasoning for their bills, actions, and speeches. The end point being that the government itself should not endorse any religion, regardless of whether it's officials do. After all, these are secular institutions.
A History You May Not Care About
So what happens when the above idea is misconstrued or completely disregarded? Let us traverse down history lane, if for only a moment.
It would take a very long time to discuss every interaction religion and government has had over time, and far escape the scope of this op-ed, so I will simply mention a few examples of what happens when there is no separation of church and state.
My first example will be of the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is notable in history for many different accomplishments, but one of the most interesting being the way in which it handled it's conquered areas religions. For the most part these areas were polytheistic in nature, and so the Romans allowed them to continue their worship, so long as they agreed to make sacrifice to the Roman gods. This worked, until they came upon two certain monotheistic religions by the names of Judaism and Christianity. The religions forbade the worship of other gods, and so their followers refused to make sacrifices to the gods of the Roman Empire. Though for a short period the Romans tolerated Judaism, the same tolerance was not lent to Christianity, and resulted in the eventual mass persecutions of both Jews and Christians. All of this eventually ended when Christian leaders came to power, and in turn began attacking the pagan religion of the old Roman Empire. Notice a pattern here? Regardless of what religion the government was endorsing, it only led to the legal persecution of adherents to other religions.
Next on my list is the Spanish Inquisition, it all seems rather arbitrarily violent to me. Short and sweet: The king and queen of Spain endorse Catholicism as the country's national religion, and authorize the inquisition, which consisted of the jailing and torture of anyone deemed a, "heretic." Some 30,000 people were killed as a result.
There was a large struggle between the Catholic Church and the king of France, the pope issuing bulls to directly contradict the king, and the king using military force against the church, so on and so forth. This lead to the eventual escaping of the church to Rome where Vatican City was eventually recognized.
King Henry VIII, whom started the Church of England, really had the whole ordeal backfire when it resulted in protestants leaving for the new land, and making it the major religion in the region. Ergo making the King less popular, and people less likely to follow his decrees.
Puritans, (Really just protestants from England.) created a theocracy in Massachusetts not long after landing there, which eventually lead to terrible happenings such as the the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
There are many, many more examples of what happens when religion is one with government or governments interfere with religion that I simply do not have time to list here, and most of my examples come from a western culture standpoint, because that is what I am most familiar with.
Modern Effects of Religion in the United States Government
Anyone with a smidgen of sense can see that the United States government is a mess today. The President and Congress are in an eternal deadlock where nothing can be accomplished, and the Supreme Court resists making decisions because it's conservative judges do not like the possible outcome. Why is this? There are many reasons, but one obvious candidate is extreme sects of certain major political parties that have gained control of Congress through their ability to fund campaigns.
The specific group I reference is the, "Religious Right" or more aptly, "The Tea Party." A group of self righteous individuals who can justify any given one of their outrageous beliefs through their religion. If they had it their way Christianity would pervade every aspect of our government. I would not put it past them to demand the deportation of every non- Christian had they the ability.
These groups want to instill non- evidence based classes in public school systems, ergo moving to indoctrinate children over the years with concepts they simply believe in. Some states have even allowed for this to occur (http://mic.com/articles/80179/14-states-use-tax-dollars-to-teach-creationism-in-public-schools). It could be happenstance that the states that use tax dollars to teach creationism are some of the more conservative states in the union, but I have my doubts.
These same individuals argue against abortion, marriage equality, and a whole slew of other issues on a basis of religion. They dream of a regression towards a theocracy.
The separation of church and state remains as important now as it was a hundred years ago. As shown earlier nothing good comes of mixing the two, whether it is the government intervening in religion, or vice versa. Their collision will almost always mean death and destruction, or in some ways worse, the distortion of our rights as human beings. Whether it be in the courtroom or in the classroom, religion simply needs to stay out of politics.
And to all my critical thinking friends out there, I know the amount of money certain churches make and are tax exempt for outrages you, believe me I am not a fan either. But do you really want to lend them leverage in the political landscape? The less they are allowed to contribute to our taxes, the less say they have in our politics, agreed?