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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Church, state are nation’s odd couple

Church and state are like Jack Klugman and Tony Randall (that’s an “Odd Couple” reference for everyone under 30). Many citizens of this country argue these two should be separated, but like Oscar and Felix, the two can coexist peacefully despite being a comic mismatch.

Church is that shiny building people attend to pay homage to their creator. State is, well, consult your third grade social studies book if you want to know more about the government.

Church and state are separate — to an extent. Although the First Amendment mentions “freedom of religion,” our money says something about God and how we trust him. The Declaration of Independence, The Gettysburg Address and the extended version of the National Anthem makes reference to God.

Yet the Framers neglected to say “freedom of religion” meant “freedom of Christianity.” Did they forget to specify — or did they understand the concept of religions better the ACLU?

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded to ensure that religion be stricken from the government. They’ve supported the removal of any religious reference in government.

Any religious reference? Or any Christian reference?

Granted, governments can’t endorse a specific religion. Good idea, because while the majority of the United States is Christian, not everyone is.

So, can these two entities share a nation without driving each other crazy? (Cue the catchy theme song.)

The village council of Swanton, Ohio is considering adding prayer to the beginning of meetings, the Toledo Blade reported yesterday. The sentiment among officials in and around Swanton is that “if nobody complains, then it’s OK.”

It’s no surprise that praying before government meetings isn’t a hot topic in a rural Ohio town.

But if Swanton is played by our messy tenant Oscar Madison, what happens when the ACLU of Ohio — played by Felix Unger — walks in the door?

Something hits the fan.

Felix is going to scold Oscar that religion is messy and has no place in this apartment. Oscar is gonna say that his religion isn’t hurting anybody, but Felix will say “this is worse than the time you sat on the couch in your underwear drinking milk out of the carton!”

So what’s worse, a small Ohio town incorporating prayer at the beginning of meetings, or a columnist trying to reference a 1970’s TV show in a college newspaper?

The ACLU of Ohio’s legal director Jeff Gamso told the Blade that opening a council meeting with a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer is “clearly unconstitutional” because of that whole “neutral government” argument.

There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the presence of religion in a governmental meeting. Religion is just a proclamation of faith. If Swanton picks a universally pleasing prayer that each spiritual being applies to their own faith, Felix’s anal retentiveness ought not rain on their parade.

Religion is necessary in life and it’s necessary in government. William Federer wrote a column on the Free Congress Foundation’s Web site detailing three reasons he believes religion belongs in government: the rights of people, the accountability of actions and the equality among mankind.

Keep in mind he never said which religion — just its presence.

That’s where ACLU has a beef against religion in government. The “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the “… so help me God” uttered by witnesses before they take the stand and elected officials being sworn in — the ACLU sees all of it as Christian endorsement.

If Oscar and Felix were able to coexist for years on television, maybe it was because they — like college roommates — made some provisions here and there. Suppose that if Felix tolerated a mess here and there, Oscar would agree to cover up his naughty bits when he walked around the living room.

Maybe government should make some compromises as well: No Lord’s Prayer before meetings. No Ten Commandments in courtrooms. They can pray before meetings, or have some “religious moment” each spiritual official can recognize.

Similarly, maybe non-Christians, atheists and agnostics can lighten up about the presence of religion and hopefully learn that religion doesn’t hurt anybody, even if it takes place in a government setting.

I have a feeling that neither democracy nor religion are leaving any time soon. It won’t be canceled in lieu of another wacky sitcom. The characters won’t be typecast. So there’s nothing left to do but make the best of it.

And if we learned nothing from this column, we learned that the theme song from “The Odd Couple,” once stuck in your head, doesn’t go away — even after you incorporate it into your writing.

Send comments to Matt at [email protected].

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