Separation of Powers and Religious Liberty

I have been interested in religion/faith and politics from as far back as I can remember. Mostly from my early 20’s. These are the kinds of questions I lose sleep over. Not in an anxious sort of way, just in an OCD sort of way. 🙂 One question that seems to come up time and time again has to do with equal treatment between religion and non-religion in the public square.

A number of years ago, I came across the Kuyperian view of things that gave explanatory power to these questions, however, (at least the materials I have read) they didn’t seem to respond to this question in substantial ways.

Kuyper, if you may recall, talked about the different spheres of society, each having distributive authority from God. For an example, the police have their own authority and a union has it’s own authority. Neither authority should be “omni-competent” taking over the other sphere’s authority. The police can’t take over the union and carry out their responsibility nor should the union do the job of the police. This is essentially what Kuyperians say is an injustice. I personally can bear this out with my job and that of Canadian Customs whom, in the past have expected me to do their job for them at times (I crossed the border fourteen times a night on a round trip. I have never had a problem with American Customs in this regard).

What you see here is what conservatives have always talked about and of which you can read in many of the writings of conservative websites and think tanks from some of their brightest thinkers—a separation of powers— plain and simple. I’m all for this because of my view of human nature. I believe that power can corrupt (not that it does so necessarily) and thus too much power in the hands of a particular sphere or authority is detrimental to the common good.

As an aside, Kuyperian political philosophy is actually conservative in this manner and I came to see this the more I delved into sphere sovereignty. Interestingly, I have a friend of mine who comes to LIBERTARIANISM from a Kuyperian position. Yet, Kuyperians will tell you that sphere sovereignty is different from conservatism and surely different from libertarianism. However, the reason I think Kuyper and conservatism are closer is not because of something I’ve discovered on my own but because it has actually been written about in books like Mark Larson’s book: “Abraham Kuyper, Conservatism, and Church and State’’ where he lays this out very succinctly.

It seems to me that where Kuyperians, conservatives and libertarians all lay their heads down is in this area of separation of powers. They may do so for various reasons but one of the underpinning reasons has to do with justice over-all.

Having said that, I think this touches on the first paragraph of the equal treatment of religion and non-religion in the public square stated above. It’s not so much a question of fairness (for life is hardly ever fair) but one of justice. How do we, as a society, do justice to religious belief and non-religious belief in the public square without establishing one or the other? Again, it comes up time and time again in battles that take place in the courts. For an example, the statue of Satan being placed next to the Ten Commandments in a public square-how does a society do justice to both?

An aside: Satanism is most assuredly a belief system and so I would not say it is UNBELIEF, thus I think it would differ from atheism which seeks to be free OF religious experience. Concerning belief and non-belief though, how does a government seek to do justice to both of those?

At the moment, I’m reading, “Secular Government/Religious People” by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle

I can’t say much about the book because I’ve just gotten into it other than this:

In there, they argue that a “secular government” is not necessarily hostile to religion and establishes an official religion of secularism. Kuyperianism will tell you that in many respects the role of government is to act in a judicial manner between the differing spheres (something the authors recognize). A further implication of this separation of authorities (authorities here can mean the different religious authorities as well) is that government:

“…does not promote religious worship, oversee religious indoctrination, or exercise religious authority. Instead, that responsibility belongs solely to the people and their voluntary religious communities.”

That being the case then, my question is, can the public “space” be filled with religion or no religion? So coming back to our example of belief and non-belief in the public square, would it be the case of government, not endorsing any particular religion per-se, but by allowing religious belief in the public, is that not essentially a violation of government backed religion? Would it violate the rights of those with “no religion?”

The authors as far as I can tell may get into this question but for now they say that each side:

“…ignores half of the “Constitution’s distinctive way of connecting secular government and religious people.”

That is,

“One group exalts the secularity of the state but dismisses the religious character of the people, and the government’s legitimate responsiveness to that character. The other group denies the distinction between the government and the people, and expects the government to mirror and celebrate the community’s (usually the majority’s) religious identity.”

For me, at this point, “no-religion” IS religion. It IS religious. That to me seems to be an important question I hope the authors address. For there really is no violation of establishment of religion when all is religious. If the character of the people is religious, as the authors say, then atheist or theist, a government is ultimately going to violate, at a fundamental level, one party’s religion.

About BBBCanada

Love to read. Politics fall along the sphere sovereignty tradition of Kuyper, Skillen and the Center for Public Justice. Theologically, I fall somewhere between Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostalism and Open Theism within a post-conservative/neo-Calvinist tradition. View all posts by BBBCanada

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