The Meaning of Separation

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The press release announcing the creation of OFANP declared:

The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama
supports firmly – not only because it protects our democracy, but also
because it protects the plurality of America’s religious and civic life.

what does the principle mean? Certainly that there can be no official
religion in the United States–like, say, England’s Church of England.
But go much beyond that and, these days, the disagreements quickly
begin. Take, for example, a little tempest that the religious right has
been brewing up over the stimulus bill. It prohibits use of federal for:

(C) modernization, renovation, or repair of facilities–
        (i) used for sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity; or
        (ii) in which a substantial portion of the functions of the facilities are subsumed in a religious mission

Once upon a time, such separationist provisions would have seemed innocuous: public funds aren’t supposed to pay for religious facilities. But now, the Traditional Values Coalition wants its folks to draw this conclusion: “OBAMA BIG SPENDING BILL STIMULATES ANTI-CHRISTIAN BIGOTRY.” And when an amendment based on that proposition was rejected, its sponsor, Sen. Jim Demint (D-SC) was moved to say, “This is a direct attack on students of faith, and I’m outraged
Democrats are using an economic stimulus bill to promote

It is for this reason that lip service to “the principle” of separation falls far short of what’s necessary. The meaning of separation today is very much up for grabs. And the president needs to make clear what it means to him.