Charles C. Haynes is the founding director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.
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At Play in the Fields of Church and State
IN JUNE, THE U.S. SUPREME COURT ruled in favor of a Lutheran church in Missouri seeking state funding to replace the gravel yard of its playground with a softer surface made of recycled tires. But was it a victory for religious freedom or a violation of the principles separating church and state? Sojourners associate editor Betsy Shirley interviewed Charles C. Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, to help sort it all out.
Sojourners: Let’s start with the basics: Where does the idea of “separation of church and state” come from?
Charles Haynes: The Establishment Clause—or, more accurately, the “no establishment clause”—is the part of the First Amendment that separates church from state, preventing the entanglement of religion and government that has been the source of repression and conflict for much of human history. But it also protects the right of religious groups and individuals to participate fully in the public square of America.
First Amendment Protects Everybody’s Religious Freedom
Louisiana State Rep. Valarie Hodges used to be a big fan of school vouchers.
“I liked the idea,” she explained, “of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”
Hodges got a First Amendment reality check when she discovered that Christian schools wouldn’t be the only religious schools getting tax dollars.
“Unfortunately, it (vouchers) will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” she said in June. “We need to ensure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”
Although Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher plan passed last month without her support, Hodges vowed to keep looking for alternative ways to “support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools.”
Beyond the fact that some of the Founders were not Christian, Hodges appears confused – to put it mildly – about the implications of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom for all, including American Muslims.