Religious Freedom Day Today and the Real Meaning of the Separation of Church and State

Source: Time

By James Lankford, who is a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma; and Dr. Russell Moore is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

We are told that one should avoid discussing two things at the dinner table: religion and politics. Clearly they have never eaten at our dinner tables. Religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions. But these discussions do not have to be polarizing or combative. Intolerance of another person’s faith is a personal choice, not a legal requirement.

We are also told that we “should not mix religion and politics.” Again, this saying has a powerful truth: that when religion is used for political purposes, it empties religion of its eternal meaning and becomes just one more cynical method of acquiring power.

But there is also a disclaimer hidden in that phrase: that sometimes when people say “Don’t mix religion and politics,” they actually mean “Don’t bring your faith into the public square where I can see it.” In other words, hide your faith outside of your place of worship because we have a “separation of church and state.” Separation of church and state is too important a concept to be misused — especially not as a tool for silencing opposing views. As a matter of fact, on National Religious Freedom Day, it just might be as important as ever to consider the true meaning of church/state separation and religious freedom.

Congress’s 1992 resolution that made Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day — a designation reaffirmed by every President since — was based on the anniversary of the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson. This act inspired and shaped the guarantees of religious liberty eventually found in the First Amendment.

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