The October 8 New York Times
contains a lengthy but interesting report on the relationship between Church and State (registration required)
. Many states, as well as Congress, often give church-run enterprises like day care centers tax and regulatory breaks that other non-profit and for-profit businesses don’t get. Author Diana B. Henriques suggests that this is patently unfair, and that churches don't deserve special privileges. I agree. She hints, however, that the solution is to force churches to be regulated like everyone else to even the playing field. I disagree; the real problem is that the government is stepping into areas in which it has no place.
The supposed problem is, if there's a law that violates the tenets of a particular religion, or that makes it difficult for a religious body to worship or function, we have a violation of the Free Exercise of Religion clause of the First Amendment. But if the law is amended to exempt or accommodate people of faith, then the government is favoring one (or some) religion(s) over others and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (commonly called the Separation of Church and State).
But this is a false dilemma. In truth, you can't have religious freedom without both personal freedom and economic freedom. The State tells you that you have religious freedom, but then the State imposes its own rules on you: what you can eat, what drugs you can take, which doctors you can see, who you can and cannot marry, how you raise your children, where and when you can operate your business. It imposes discrimination laws on you when you might want to give preference to fellow members of your church. It taxes you less for some of your economic and lifestyle decisions, and taxes you more for some others. It teaches your children things you might believe are untrue, supports “art” you might find immoral, and scientific research you may think is unethical.
Big Government can't help but violate the Free Exercise Clause, because the obligations it imposes are often incompatible with the individual's conscience. Big Government also can't help but violate the Establishment Clause, because it imposes values contrary to those instilled by religion. In addition, high taxes and competing public institutions (like schools and hospitals) make it harder for religious institutions to function. Big Government has to either incorporate religion, absorb religion, or eliminate religion. It's impossible for Big Government to be neutral towards religion.
The Separation of Church and State is only possible with downsized government. That is, if we are to separate Church and State, we'll also have to separate School and State, Parenthood and State, Science and State, Medicine and State, Art and State, Charity and State, and Market and State. Otherwise, the “separation of Church and State” is meaningless rhetoric.