Commentary: Separation of Church and State

Karl Salmon is a former Jamaican Foreign Service Officer, who served in the Jamaican Consulate General, Miami, FL and Jamaican Embassy, Geneva Switzerland, before emigrating to Canada and currently working in Project Management. His interest in writing began at 14 years old when he wrote the poem "Eventide" to reflect on the senseless fire in 1980 that took the lives of 146 senior residents. He is an amateur and leisurely writer who pushes the boundaries to engage readers on various and sometimes uncomfortable topics.

By Karl Salmon

Separation of Church and State is a theoretical concept that defines distance, allowing citizens the freedom to practice any religion of their choice and preventing the government from officially recognizing or favouring any religion in government-run environments that the public relies on.

One religion should not take dominance over another in environments where the religious values were not founded on. Individuals can pray in school, but public schools should not require students to pray. Students may be taught about religion in schools, but public schools should not teach a religion.

I reflected on my progression through the Catholic, elementary, primary and high school institutions of learning in Jamaica. Included in the curriculum to nurture and develop students into mature and well rounded graduates was the subject of religion. In addition to learning the teachings of Catholicism, we were also required at the start of assembly to bow our heads in reverence to pray and give thanks to the Deity.

There were no objections or concerns from student or their parents to this ritual because it was assumed or expected that student who accepted admission to these institutions were of the Catholic faith.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because these are Christian institutions; a significant number of schools in Jamaica were founded by bishops, Jesuits, priests, or missionaries. They carried out the evangelizing mission of the Church, integrating Christian education as the core subject within the school’s course of studies. “Founded on high ethical principles based on the moral teachings of Christianity” ~ Ardenne High School.

There is a distinct difference between religious indoctrination and religious education.

The Christian founded schools reinforced the Christian belief and teachings.

Religious education, on the other hand, teaches students about the various communities of faith.

Religious education is important in schools because it is an essential component for a broad and balanced education. It provides a significant and distinctive contribution to the school’s curriculum by widening students’ knowledge and understanding of different religious beliefs and practices as well as their influence on individuals, communities, and cultures. It allows students to evaluate and respond to a wide range of important questions in relation to their own spiritual development.

Both variations of these religious exposures have their merits. However, an ethical dilemma is apparent when religion encroaches into non-religious environments.

Government Bias

Most governments were formed to create organized policies to protect the welfare of the civilians and fulfill their need for the betterment of the nation, while striking a balance with individual choice.

Separation of Church and State not only allows citizens the freedom to practice any religion of their choice, but also prevents the government from officially recognizing or favouring any religion.

This means that government cannot endorse, favour or enforce one religious belief over any other, because it cannot make laws related to the establishment of a religion, or can they restrict the free expression of religious beliefs.

Jamaica’s Motto: “Out of Many, One People”

Our national motto, “Out of Many, One People”, was based on Jamaica’s multiracial roots. The motto is represented on the Coat of Arms, showing a male and female member of the Taino tribe standing on either side of a shield that bears a red cross and five golden pineapples.

“Out of Many, One People” replaced the Latin motto “Indus Unterque Serviet Uni” which translated: “The two Indians will serve as one”, or “Both Indians will serve together”
It was discarded because it was deemed to bear no relation or relevance to modern day Jamaica.

This national symbol is in contrast to our National Anthem.

Here are the opening lines:

Eternal Father, bless our land
Guide us with thy mighty hand
Keep us free from evil powers
Be our light through countless hours…

In preparation of Jamaica’s independence, the government opened a competition to the public to write the lyrics of Jamaica’s future national anthem, which would be judged by selected members of Jamaica’s House of Parliament. The winning script was chosen in 1961 and was written by The Rev. Hon. Hugh Sherlock, an ordained Methodist minister.

I have not delved deeply into the criteria for the song’s lyrics but I gather that such lyrical content should invoke a feeling of national pride, strength, and above all, inclusiveness.

The anthem continues with a deep reliance on the Christian Deity.

Judicial proceedings

I am not a lawyer so I will not attempt to navigate the legal parameters of these complex arguments. However, from my peripheral view, I would think that judicial intervention into decisions taken, on either side, is only permissible if the principle of natural justice was not followed.

Religious bodies can express their concerns about legal government activities they deem as immoral, such as gambling. However, they should not demand a seat at the negotiating table. Different religious groups have different views on gambling, so one could just imagine if every religious faith demanded their involvement.

Government, religious leaders, and their supporters should welcome and advocate the concept of Separation of Church and State. Separation goes both ways; It is not only important to keep religion out of government, it is important to keep government out of religion. It not only protects the government from interference by religious organizations, but protects religious organizations from interference with the practice of their beliefs by government, as long as those beliefs do not involve inhumane practice.

The lack of separation between church and state weakens the capacity of the government to protect the rights of its citizens to practice their religious beliefs freely. It also allows citizens to enjoy a free and fair democratic environment without bias.

Separation could, however, turn out to be a difficult challenge in Jamaica. Perhaps a futile effort, considering the fact that the Queen of Great Britain is both head of the Anglican Church and also the Head of State of Jamaica.

Jamaica’s Religious Affiliation (2011)

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.



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