“Separation of Church and State” generally refers to separation of the religion from politics. As the First Amendment of US Constitution clearly indicate that “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ”. This principle has always been seen as the symbol of a modern state.
1.”Separation of church and state” is an important concept of Christianity
The idea of “separation of church and state” originated from Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This saying was also considered by Protestants later as the doctrinal basis for the principle of separation of church and state. In the historical process of the development of Christianity, this principle has not been truly practiced for a long period of time. For example, Catholicism had been advocated theocracy. One of the consequences of the unity of church and state is religious persecution, such as the brutal persecution of Protestants by the Catholic Church for hundreds of years; another consequence is that the combination of church and government produces huge secular interests and leads to the utilitarianism of belief. The practice of Catholicism for nearly a thousand years has shown that the unity of church and state is not beneficial and harmful to faith.
2.The History of the Development of the Concept of “Separation of Church and State” in the West
In view of the various historical deeds of the Catholic Church, Enlightenment thinkers reflected on the relationship between the church and the state and proposed that secular power should be higher than religious power, the state should be free from the influence of religion, and the church has no right to interfere in political and social life. During the French Revolution, churches and priests who refused to compromise got punished, many monasteries and churches were burned, and the land and property of the church were divided up. The French First Republic, which was established later, first established the principle of separation of church and state. In 1882, churches and schools in France were officially separated, and the cultural and educational undertakings were turned to be led by the state, and a public secular school system was established.
The “Separation of Church and State Act” promulgated by France in 1905 is a landmark act, which stipulates that the church and the state are separated, and the people enjoy freedom of education and freedom of belief. This is the French version of the separation of church and state: religion belongs to the private sphere, belief is a personal choice, and public power has no right to interfere; at the same time, the government that belongs to the public sphere should be free from the influence of religion, and the government cannot use public power to fund religious activities. Instead, the principle of “secularity” should be adhered to. The French Constitution of 1958 formally established France as an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. “Secularity” has become one of the core values of France, and together with the famous “liberty, equality, and fraternity” are called the four creeds of the French Republic.
3.”Separation of church and state” is an important principle of modern Western countries
The “Hijab Bill” passed in France in 2004 is a symbolic act that modern countries insist on the separation of church and state. The bill stipulates that it is strictly forbidden to wear religious symbols with strong symbolic meanings in public places, including large Christian crosses, Jewish caps and Islamic headscarves.
In 2020, France experienced the “Black October” incident, in which middle school teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded by extremists for showing students caricatures about the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in class. On November 18, French President Macron made a request to the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) to submit a “Charter of Republic Values” within 15 days, making it clear that Islam in France is a non-political religion. It was also required that the document must explicitly recognize “republican values” (i.e. secularity), that Islam in France was a religion and not a political movement, and that it was free from foreign interference or dependence. This approach in France is seen as an important manifestation of France’s insistence on the separation of church and state.
Compared with France, a secularized Christian civilized country, the United States is still regarded as a Christian country. But the separation of church and state has also become a basic principle of American political life. Although there are also some right-wing groups who advocate theocracy, none of them can change the provisions of the US Constitution and Americans’ belief in the principle of separation of church and state.
4.”Separation of church and state” has become a common concept in modern society
The concept of “separation of church and state” has been deeply rooted into the sense of the people in modern countries, including European and American countries, and has become a mainstream view or a social custom. Once someone tries to violate this principle, there will be a backlash or a new social trend of thought will arise.
Contemporary Neo Atheism in Western world is an ideological and cultural trend that has emerged in the intellectual elites of European and American countries since 2006 to criticize religious extremism and fight against religion, especially Christianity. The rise of the neo atheism trend and the frequent activities of some non-religious belief groups are aimed at the excessive penetration of religion into the political and cultural life of the United States, and the strong dissatisfaction with the phenomenon that religion participates in politics and is entangled with politics.
The “9.11” incident was the trigger for the rise of the neo atheism. Neo atheists oppose the participation of religion in politics, and strongly criticize the reality that the principle of separation of church and state has been destroyed. Neo Atheism resolutely defends the principle of separation of church and state, the principle of separation of education and religion, and opposes religious interference in politics and social life.
Non religious groups such as The American Humanist Association (AHA), the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the American Atheists and the Secular Coalition for America (SCA) regard the infiltration of religion into politics as a “social nuisance” and strive to bring down the theocratic regime from the altar.
In short, “separation of church and state” is a content of Western civilization and an important symbol of a modern country, and it has become the consensus in modern society.