IS SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE GOOD?
By: Danny Royer
As a Bible-preaching pastor in Utah, I see a unique side of the church-state separation issue. While many of my evangelical colleagues around the country have been fighting to keep crosses and nativity scenes on
government property, I have been campaigning to remove religious identification from Logan’s police cars and official stationery.
You see, I live in Utah’s Cache Valley, a farming community about 100 miles north of Salt Lake City. While there are 11 Christian denominations represented here, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) is by far the largest religious group, claiming the allegiance of over 70 percent of the population.
This majority status sometimes makes public officials insensitive to the beliefs of those who are in the minority. As a result, a depiction of Logan’s Mormon temple found its way onto the city’s official logo, and from there onto city letterhead and law-enforcement vehicles.
The temple was not a surprising choice. An imposing structure built with hand-carved stone, the edifice stands on a hill in Logan and is visible from just about anywhere in town. But to me, this centerstage status still didn’t make it an appropriate symbol for a city government that is supposed to represent and serve individuals of many different religious perspectives. The Logan temple is forbidden territory not only for
“Gentiles,” the Mormon term for non-members, but also for Mormons who fail to abide fully by the church’s strict rules.
In a letter to Logan city officials, I registered my complaint. To my surprise, the Associated Press carried a news item on my letter and erroneously added that I had charged a violation of the First Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution. The story was reported nationally, with heavy local coverage.
By the time the AP agreed to retract the inaccurate statement, Logan’s mayor, fearing litigation, issued an executive order removing the temple logo from all city properties. City officials were no doubt aware that the courts do not look kindly on government endorsement of religion. In a similar incident in the city of St. George, Utah, for example, local officials lost $85,000 in a lawsuit challenging its practice of subsidizing
lighting costs at the temple.
In a private meeting, the mayor scolded me and insisted that I was only hurting my reputation and embarrassing my church. I assured him that I had never intended to file a lawsuit and that my congregation and I love our city and pray for its leaders.
I was asked to express my opinion further to the city council and residents at the next official meeting. After giving a short speech, I took a torrent of questions and criticism. I was referred to as a “little man,” a “problem causer,” and even “the Anti-Christ.”
I suspect these occurrences of church-state mingling are common around Utah. In another incident I witnessed, the U.S. Post Office in Roosevelt, Utah, flew the American flag at half-mast when Mormon prophet Spencer W. Kimball died. I demanded to know why, but got no response from the postal clerk.
Let me make my position clear. My primary concern in all of this is not the violation of church-state laws. Instead, religious conviction motivates my objections. I do not acknowledge Mormon temples, prophets or gods. It would violate my conscience to pay respects to a person I believe to be a false prophet or bow down to false gods.
Maybe fundamental Christian leaders should recognize that not all advocates of church-state separation are atheists out to undermine religion. I wonder if they realize the effect that their drive to establish daily organized prayer in the public schools could have on my family and congregation here in Utah? It could mean Mormon teachers leading our children in prayers we object to.
When it comes to something as sacred as religion. I think Americans should be given the option to follow their own consciences without government interference. As Christians, we would do well to remember the apostle Paul’s admonition to “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal. 5:1).
(The above material appeared in the September/October 1992 issue of Ministries Today.)
Christian Information Network