The Separation of Church and State

The issue of the separation of church and state is usually the first question raised when promoting church-based social services in public schools. While the term “separation of church and state” does not appear in our Constitution, the 1st amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ….” The original intent, as outlined by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 in which the phrase “separation of church and state” was derived, specifically referred to a separation of government infringing on the rights and freedoms of the religious, and not the other way around.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama contended that “the challenges we face today—from saving our planet to ending poverty—are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach.” [1] While President Obama did not specifically call on the church to assist in that statement, it was an acknowledgment of the dire situation our nation is currently facing.

The Implementation of Good Works

Good works that are implemented by religious organizations are in effect the exact same types of activities that are implemented by secular organizations which benefit a community. If independent public or private organizations are encouraged to serve their communities, religious organizations with social service initiatives should as well. “The United States ought to use any resource available to better communities, and if faith-based organizations are willing to provide community services with clear secular purposes, they should be encouraged to do so.[3]

Critics of faith-based initiatives argue that it is not possible for religious organizations to separate their belief systems from their services. Yet, it is possible to offer social services to those in need without forcing religious beliefs on them. And while offering to them the potential for making a decision to seek more information about the impetus behind those who are helping.

Outreach to the community by the local church does not constitute an infringement of church and state separation. It allows the church the same freedoms of offering much needed social services as other organizations.

[1] http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2008/07/obama_backs_faithbased_service.html
[2] http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp
[3] Small, Andrew. Faith Based Initiatives: An Appropriate Alliance Between Governments and Religion? http://truboverbal.blogspot/2010/01/faith-based-initiatives-appropriate.html