An expert on church-state relations says conflict between the two is inevitable and probably healthy.
Yale University Law Professor Stephen Carter recently delivered the University of Nebraska College of Law’s Winthrop and Frances Lane Foundation Lecture, entitled “The Current Situation in Church and State.”
Carter, author of The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion, says many religious activists have grown more cynical about government and many in government respect religious freedom even less than when the book came out 20 years ago.
“So, if there is a church-state problem in America, and I think there is, it’s a problem of both sides not, I think, properly respecting the space of the other,” Carter tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.
Carter says many misunderstand the phrase “separation of church and state;” first believing it’s in the Constitution (it is not) and then getting it backwards.
Until recently, Americans interpreted the phrase as keeping the state out of the church’s business, not keeping the church out of politics and government. Carter says the two clauses in the First Amendment, the free exercise clause and the establishment clause, work together to protect the broadest space possible for religious freedom.
Carter says religion can provide a forum for dissent, which is important in society.
“That power of religion, that ability to inspire people in ways they will actually go against the law and suffer the consequences is one of the things that makes it both so powerful and I think to a lot of people so scary,” according to Carter.
A heavily-regulated society, according to Carter, makes conflict between church and state inevitable.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Yale Law Professor and author Stephen Carter. [9:30]
Select the following image to view a video of Author Stephen Carter’s speech to the UNL Law School.