Why separation of “Church” from State?

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By Esmail Nooriala

Putting aside for another occasion to delve into the notion of “separation” mentioned in the above title, I just intend to explore the reasons behind the usage of the word “church” (rather than “religion) in formulating the principals of the secularist school.

In fact, although secularism has everything to do with the concept of religion, many people do not notice that in its formulation you cannot find the word religion. So, one can ask why the original framers of secularism have not chosen “religion” instead of “church”?

To find an answer, let’s search for the synonyms of the two words:
“Church”: Chapel, Parish, Mosque, Temple, etc.
“Religion”: Faith, Conviction, Credo, Dogma, etc.

One can immediately see that where the first group points to a building or place that has a function and a lot of employees, the second group talks about those phenomena that reside not in the external world but inside the mind of the faithful.

Now, imagine that you want to separate an abstract notion from a material establishment that usually is known as an “institution”. It is certainly an impossible task. You may change the meaning or focus of an abstract phenomenon in the mind of a person but you cannot physically separate it from an external and material spectacle.

As a rule of thumb, only an institution can be separated from another external and material entity. If a “state” is to be separated from anything, the other end of separation should also be an institution too. Thus, when it comes to the selection of a word representing something equally external and material as “state,” nothing can be selected but an institution: a church, a mosque, or a synagogue.

This very simple fact tells us that you cannot stop religious people to run for the office in a democratic society, especially with deep roots in the soil of secularism. This school does not stand against religious inclinations that reside in the mind of its beholders. It rather entails that only an establishment or institution related to that creed could be, or actually should be, separated from the institutions of a “state”.

In other words, secularism is not against religions but endeavors to bar the assimilation of their material manifestations (churches, mosques…) with that of the governance.

And in a final note, we have to bear in mind that, at least in the US where the question of such separation was formulated, the notion of separation of state and church did emerge from within the church rather than the state. Roger Williams, who was the first public official to use this sentence, opined that an authentic Christian Church would be possible only if there was “a wall or hedge of separation” between the “wilderness of the world” and “the garden of the church!” He actually believed that any government involvement in a religious establishment would corrupt the latter. *

But, those days have passed. Nowadays we are experiencing a reversed trend. Today it is the state which is being invaded by the church forcing the state to protect itself from the integration of religious establishments into its own fabric.

And there is a great benefit in this reversal. If Roger Williams was worried about the emergence of corruption in the Church by the State, we now have ample information about the devastating nature of that corruption which is caused by the amalgamation of the church into the establishments of political power.

A modern society, with an extended multitude of traits, cultures, creeds and religions, cannot be ruled by the establishment (or church) of a single denomination. Such a phenomenon would immediately bring all sorts of social discriminations and ultimately will ruin the fabric of a plural society.

Consequently, in this day and age, only a secular democratic government would be able to safeguard the legal equality of its citizens.

(Iranian Secular Democrartic Movment

The opinion expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITC

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