Is Violence Inevitable without a "Separation of Church and State"?

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries" - James Madison.

From 1775-1783, the American Revolutionary War was fought between Great Britain, and 13 of its North American colonies, which had declared their independence from Great Britain under the name of the United States of America.  On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the 13 colonies, declaring their independence from Great Britain.  

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States of America and one of its nation’s founding fathers was the principal author of the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence; which read that “all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“.  Even though it was the promise of independence that brought these colonies together, they still had differences, and as a way of hashing out those differences, the Articles of Confederation were adopted.  As with everything new, there are bound to be imperfections the first time of asking.  And this is what the founding fathers realized with the Articles of Confederation.  20 ratifications to the Articles of Confederation were proposed.  Of the 20 ratifications proposed by James Madison was the first amendment.  His draft of the first amendment read “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed. The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable. The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature by petitions, or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances”.  It is with his guidance that the House and Senate passed the First Amendment (along with the rest of the Bill of Rights), which was adopted into law on December 15, 1791.  The First Amendment reads as follows; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

In today’s society, violence against people in the name of the church or a religion is still common practice.  The degree of violence can vary.  While some of the violence perpetuated can be physical, some of it is emotional.  In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates, legal and illegal forms of stoning have been reported.  Men & women who have been convicted of adultery or homosexuality are sentenced to death by stoning.  This is in accordance with the Qur’an’s Sharia Law – a religious law governing the people practicing the Islamic faith.  In countries like Iran for instance, as of 2013, stoning was not mentioned in the country’s legislature, yet punishment remained, because it is Islamic Law.  In the United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, stoning is legalized in accordance with country’s judicial legislature.  In Iraq, stoning is illegal, yet it is carried out my Islamic militias like the Islamic State (ISIS).  The Islamic State also misrepresents the Qur’an to justify its killing of non-Muslims, and people who are choosing to leave the Islam Religion.  Those are just some of the physical violence perpetuated in the name of the church and religion.

In the Western world, it's where one witnesses the emotional violence that is perpetuated against certain people in the name of the church.  It is especially common in the United States of America, where certain people discriminate against other people citing religious freedom.  This form of violence of the other’s mind, making them seem any less human can be traced to as far as back as the days of slavery.  Misrepresentation of the Bible was used to dehumanize black Africans, and having them classified only a fraction of a human being.  Today, it is the same religious freedom argument that is being used to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.  First, it was in Indiana, were the state was proposing to pass a discriminatory law which would have had the power of legally giving businesses the right to deny gay couples services on the grounds of religious freedom.  It never materialized to anything as major corporations like Apple Inc. threatened to boycott the state of Indiana.  Even though it never amounted to anything, this proposed bill had the hallmarks of Jim Crow laws of the segregationist South of the 1900s, United States of America.  North Carolina did manage to pass a law that prohibited transgender individuals from using bathrooms of the gender they identify with post-transition.

In the United States of America, where the First Amendment enforces the separation of the church and state, it's also used in turn by interpreters to enforce religious freedom laws that some states have either adopted in the past or are adopting today.  In the Islamic countries, there is evidence to show that in some countries there is no separation between the state and the mosque.  In others like Iran, the judicial legislature points to a separation of the state and mosque, but the mosque is still allowed to override the judiciary by permitting stoning.  In others like Iraq were it is illegal to stone, and where there is a separation of state and mosque, violence are still carried out by militias and they are not prosecuted; mainly because the country is in a state disarray and anarchy, with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and or the Taliban in control of parts of the country.

In conclusion, the separation of church and state does not guarantee a violence-less society.  There is less bloodshed, yes, but violence persists.  This violence is both physical (of the body) and emotional (of the mind).  In the end, differences will always be there, as no two human beings are alike.  Therefore, our very different society and civilization would be best served if we learn to be empathetic and tolerant towards and of those different from us.  It's only through empathy and tolerance of our differences that can each and every individual realize their pursuit of happiness.

Edward-Mekondjo Nailenge is African by birth, but a citizen of the world by choice. He is an opinion writer at aKoma.  He can be reached at

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