Many of us grow up hearing about the separation of church and state in the United States. And the idea seems relatively simple. Religion or religious bodies and the civil government should not be too intertwined. That’s the idea. But that idea, the separation of church and state, is really more of a paraphrase of some language by Thomas Jefferson. The real language keeping these two powerful forces apart comes from the First Amendment and the prohibitions against congress’s “establishment” of a religion or the prohibiting the “free exercise” of religion.
Now anyone who’s ever watched a courtroom drama or seen some law and order knows that there is a difference between the letter and the spirit of the law. There is just no way that a few letters, a few clauses, in an amendment to the Constitution could cover all of the scenarios it’s meant to cover. And so over centuries, capitals, schools, streets, parks, and a lot of other places have become places where the spirit of this part of the nation’s laws have been present. And in this area, history is as full as the local news with examples of how the spirit of the law is at work.
There is the famous case of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or known to its insiders lovingly as Pastafarianism. This fun group and its members take small steps to exercise their religious freedom by doing things like wearing pasta strainers on their head in official government photos. But the kindness of their underlying reason for taking this act is to set precedents for all person of faith to be able freely to exercise their faith in ways that a state might try to intervene, most notably with headwear.
I know that yesterday I longed to be as separate from the state as I could be. Personally, I had no interest in speeches, counter-speeches or much else. I took some free exercise in a run around Diamond Head with a friend who just arrived back from working on a cheetah rescue and rehabilitation site in South Africa. We sat after the run in the cool grass, flicking the flies away. And one thing he mentioned after returning home was noticing here how much a one-time spirit of conversation and discourse among even his close friends has morphed recently into what are received as accusations of judgment and ensuing attack/counterattack.
When I think of my life, the liberties I so heartily love, and the happiness i doggedly pursue, more and more I am convinced that these have much less to do with the letter of any ideals I hold than they do the spirit in which I practice those ideals. Some use the letter of the law so they can wear strainers on their heads to protect those who might wear a hijab. Others follow the spirit of a faith all their own to heal the world’s fastest land animal. But however dissimilar these approaches seem, both are merely different voices in the unending, undying, uniting conversation of love.
And may it always be so.
Rev. T. J.