Pushing back against Democrats' misshapen ideas about church and state
It's old news now that the Archbishop of San Francisco, having looked at Nancy Pelosi's career-long, full-throated support for unlimited abortion in America, finally announced that, as long as she's within his diocese, no one may give her Communion. It's a logical thing to do because her position offends one of the Catholic Church's core doctrines. Leftists, however, are horrified and have been accusing the Catholic Church of violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. It's time to set things right.
The moment the news went out, Democrats started wailing about the failed separation of church and state, with this as a representative tweet:
I’m still waiting for that separation of church and state we were promised— Tara Dublin 🇺🇦🌻 (@taradublinrocks) May 21, 2022
They also instantly demanded that the government tax anti-abortion churches, with this as another representative tweet:
Separation of church and state? If they are no longer separate then I guess churches should be taxed.— Michael LoRé (@michaellore) May 20, 2022
Those tweets reveal a fundamental failure to understand the American system. The First Amendment imposes limitations on the federal government regarding religion: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof[.]" That is, the government may neither establish nor interfere with a religion.
This restriction reflected the fact that large numbers of people had come to America to escape Britain's state faith. In the 16th century, Christians were executed for rejecting the official church. In the 17th century, they were forced to worship in secret. And in the 17th and 18th centuries, they (along with Jews) were taxed to support the Church of England and deprived of access to education and jobs.
That's why the Founders wanted the federal government to stay out of religion. However, they firmly believed that religiously shaped values (by which they meant the Bible-based Judeo-Christian faiths) were an integral part of good government. As John Adams, who was there from the start, observed, "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
The "separation of church and state" language that leftists love to sling about came from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. He used the phrase to make clear to the Baptists that, per the First Amendment, the government would not seek to interfere in their religious practices:
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Like his fellow Founders, Jefferson wanted the state out of the church, not faith out of the public square.
A good example of how this works arose when I had a conversation with a leftist about the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision, which found an implicit right to in the Constitution to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. He couldn't understand why conservatives were worried about the constitutional implications. After all, he said, the church opposed abortion, but that hadn't created a constitutional crisis.
He was stunned when I reminded him that the church doesn't commit abortions...but it does perform marriages. If the government insists it perform same-sex "marriages" because people have an implicit constitutional right to such a so-called marriage, that creates a head-on collision with the church's explicit right to have the state refrain from telling it how to conduct its business. The government doesn't get to push the church around, but the church does get to teach, preach, and impose on worshipers its core tenets.
In Pelosi's case, the church is not creating abortion policy, nor is it giving abortions. Instead, the archbishop is staying within his wheelhouse: Pelosi may freely advocate for unlimited abortions. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is equally free to deny her access to the spiritual benefits of the church.
This is, in fact, a perfect example of how religion should function under the First Amendment. Were the government to penalize the Catholic Church (or that specific diocese) by taxing it for daring to demand that its parishioners comply with Catholic doctrine to receive Communion, it would be a blatant First Amendment violation, breaking down that "wall of separation between Church & State."
Leftists dream of forcing religious people out of the public square. In the leftist world, they cannot worship, bake cakes; take photographs; arrange flowers; run for office; vote; or, if they are a religious institution, place on worshipers practical and doctrinal burdens inconsistent with leftism. This is a bass-ackwards understanding of the First Amendment and needs to be challenged at every turn.