Most people realize that religion has no place in politics. When the Constitution was crafted, clauses throughout the document and the Bill of Rights made sure of that. The only views more dangerous than political ones are religious ones. Therefore, the two should never mix. In political governance and discussion, religion must be avoided because it causes people to act irrationally and without logic. Religion is not based in fact, but instead in possibility and faith. For effective governing, political views need to be grounded in the basis of the factual, and not those of the possible, non-factual.

A separation of church and state shouldn’t be a one way street. While the government must keep its influence away from various religions, these religions must respect government and keep its influence away from government. The separation must not only occur internally within the government, but externally in the community of political discourse.

The dangerous results of the collision of these two points of view were on display for Dr. George Tiller, a family physician caught in the middle of a debate between law and religion. Tiller was a regular celebrity in the world of abortion activism. He was a frequent target of those against abortion and faced legal and physical attacks. Anti-abortion activists threw numerous lawsuits at Tiller in attempts to shut down his clinic. Once, they went as far as to bomb the building.

On May 31, Tiller was shot to death by a pro-life extremist, ironically inside his church. The killer, although possibly mentally ill according to a statement by his brother, appeared to have tied religion to his views on abortion. But he wasn’t the first to attack Tiller — the doctor was shot in both arms back in 1993. Tiller bore the brunt of the anti-abortion angst for no good reason, and paid the ultimate price. For over two decades, he was harassed for nothing more than doing his job.

Tiller wasn’t an evil man. He was a doctor who used legal means to help women who felt that the most prudent course of action for them was abortion. But anti-abortion groups chose to target him as some sort of symbol for the pro-choice stance they disagreed with. As a result, he was antagonized frequently by protests outside his home and work and even on a national stage. Bill O’Reilly would rile up his followers against Tiller, calling him by the nickname of “Tiller the baby killer.” While O’Reilly may not have coined the term, frequently using it with his national audience didn’t help qualm the hatred of Tiller.

Incidents such as these are why separating religion and politics is essential to a civil society. Whenever religious matters enter those of law, irrational conflict ensues. Imagine what terrible things would happen if the government made decisions about invading other countries on non-factual information (and thank you, Bush administration, for proving my point). Religion is simply never a sound base for government policy.

But try as some might, religion often plays the largest role of all other outside influences in American politics. One could argue that most of the current differences between Democrats and Republicans are in social issues, where conflicting opinions are largely based in religion. From abortion to gay marriage to education to foreign policy regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, many of the modern political issues are wrought with elements of religion that can’t be shook no matter how secular the government wants (or doesn’t want) to be. Religious influence is why for the last handful of years public schools have been forced to teach “abstinence only” sex education. Religious influence is why homosexuals can’t marry in most states. Religious influence is why the oath of office is taken on a Bible, instead of a government-related document, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Religious influence is why the pledge of allegiance refers to God and why the current president seemed scared to talk about Islam during his election campaign even though he’s Christian.

This is not to say following a religion is evil or foolish. Religion often helps people form their values and morals, which are essential attributes in public servants governing the country. But it’s not a platform on which one should make decisions in regards to sensible governance. As Sinclair Lewis — and, later, Ron Paul — said, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Religion impedes rational government, and the ideal of a separation between church and state seems lost in the current shuffle.

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