Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pandora’s Box: Separation of Church & State in the US

by Wes Bishop

            Early in his administration, former President George W. Bush created a special office known as the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Unable to get backing in Congress for the creation of this new office former President Bush relied solely on an executive order to keep the office in existence. Bush drew criticism from many Democrats and moderate Republicans for this act. Some cited the violation of separation of church and state, while others claimed that it was wrong for the President to bypass Congress to create a new executive department, when he knew the legislative branch did not support it. Fair criticisms, yet for all who were conscious during the past eight years it comes as no surprise that the conservative President Bush interpreted the Constitution liberally.

            In a recent move, newly elected President Obama has decided to keep the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Just as Bush created the office through executive order, so too is President Obama keeping the department, again leaving Congress bypassed. This act has drawn criticism for President Obama, with skeptics pointing to the violation of separation of church and state, and the excluding of the legislative branch in decisions of government.

            President Obama attempted to answer these concerns in a speech this February 5. “The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another or even religious groups over secular groups,” Obama stated before a gathered group. “It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”

            According to this line of reasoning President Obama is claiming that the best way to keep religion and government separate is to have a government office ran by a religious leader that allocates money to various religious groups to do a job for the government. In short, the government is working with a religious organization, and therefore they are no longer separate.

            However, there is the claim that President Obama will not permit these organizations that receive money to discriminate hiring practices based on religion or sexual orientation. Yet this claim fails to acknowledge the fact that President Obama will not always be the current President. Already social conservatives are learning this lesson, by supporting and allowing President Bush to create this office they are now forced to see their tax dollars going to religious and secular organizations they do not support. Social conservatives failed to realize the power they gave Bush is the power Obama inherits. Sadly, supporters of Obama’s decision are making the same mistake. As of now the office will not be used to discriminate against gays or limit a woman’s choice in pregnancy, but when Obama is out of office what will occur? Obama, no doubt will walk the ambiguous line he has drawn in regards to separation of Church and State, but the next President may not be so cautious.

            In Greek mythology, there exist the story of Pandora and her lethal box. According to the myth Pandora was commanded not to open a box she was entrusted to keep closed. Ignoring her instructions, she opened the box and from it, evil spirits were released upon the human race. No matter how much she wanted to Pandora was unable to take back what she had done.

             Much like Pandora, Obama and social liberals will someday be faced with the same problem. This is shown in history, in 1995 former President Bill Clinton signed a presidential directive allowing the practice of extraordinary rendition, a practice that legally allowed the U.S. to hand over suspects to another country. At the time there was little concern, as many defenders pointed out Clinton would not abuse the power. However, during President Bush’s administration the practice was used to deny legal rights and engage in torturing suspects.

            Mythology, just like history, seems destined to repeat itself, especially when politicians and the citizenry fail to learn both.

Wes Bishop is a senior at Ohio University. 

He can be reached at

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