In the Coastal Journal of Oct. 19, there was an opinion piece titled “America must return to Judeo-Christian moral absolutes.” The writer cited several mass shootings as “senseless violence.” It was interesting to note that he omitted the second largest massacre, the June 2016 killings at the Pulse night club in Orlando, as well as the murders of 9 black people at a church service in Charleston, South Carolina.

I wonder why he didn’t find attacks against gays and blacks equally reprehensible.

The writer laments the hate and violence in America, as most of us do, but he implies it is a new phenomenon and due to the enforcement of the separation of church and state. If you study our American history, you will find that this is simply not true.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” Over the 230 years since the Constitution was ratified, there have been numerous Supreme Court cases clarifying the separation of church and state.

The first amendment was part of the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution to ensure that our new country would not repeat the history of our European ancestors with their entanglement of political power and religious influence. If you look at the horrendous carnage to human lives wrought by the struggle in England between the Protestant and Catholic churches during the reign of Henry VIII and later his daughter Mary, you can readily see what happens when the church and state become entwined.

This struggle was common in other European countries, as well over many decades. When the Europeans came to America embracing the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, they brought with them the “ Christian” ideal that God intended them to conquer and rule this land. They decided that the genocide of the people already living here was acceptable in God’s eyes.

Once the colonists were established in their various colonies, they set up what amounted to little theocracies with the church leaders overlaying public law with religious belief. This resulted in the very harsh Blue Laws in New England, which included 13 capital offenses and made not attending church a crime. Women were not allowed to participate in government or speak in church. Quakers were banned, branded, maimed and killed in Massachusetts, and innocent people branded as witches and murdered in Salem.

Are these the fundamental values the writer is proposing we return to?

The free exercise of religion clause of the Constitution allows people to worship, but it does not allow them to force their religious beliefs upon others. That is the problem with allowing only one religion to erect its symbols in the public square. It is public, belonging to all.

Once religious belief comes out of its house of worship and into the public space, it automatically bumps up against the rights of the people who believe differently or hold no religious belief at all. This is why the Supreme court in the ruling McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) decided that “religious instruction in public schools was a violation of the establishment clause and therefore unconstitutional.”

Other cases including Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), as well as Stone v. Graham (1980) all spoke to preventing the establishment of one religion in the public schools.

The writer implies that in doing so, schools are no longer teaching “values.” He states that “Our school systems in the 1960s and 1970s succumbed to the pressure and decided to suspend the teaching of values.”

This is simply not true. There are, and always have been, many values taught in our public schools, including honesty, respect, responsibility, compassion, treating other people fairly, justice, equality, and in more recent times, treating people with disabilities as valuable, contributing humans. Too often conservatives equate values with Christian ideology.

Indoctrination and teaching broad values are not synonymous. While every religion may hold some of the same values in common, so do nonreligious philosophies. Religion does not hold the patent on goodness, kindness, morality or ethics. The idea that embracing the teaching of only the Bible can result in the reality of the Founding Fathers’ democracy is completely unfounded.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness “ become a reality when the Constitution is adhered to and the rule of law is at the core of the democracy.

Hatred does indeed breed violence, as Mr. Landrith states. However, the idea that the path to nonviolence runs through the church is absurd.

Our current administration touts its support from evangelical leaders, while simultaneously failing to condemn violence by white supremacists. Many supposedly moral church members actively promote violence against gays. Historically, many religious people turned a blind eye to slavery and lynching of the black Americans. Many have regularly been enthusiastic supporters of our wars. The conservatives decry the values of society, while responding with silence when their elected political and religious leaders break most of the Ten Commandments repeatedly. This silence speaks volumes to their “values.”

So, perhaps the violence problems in the world today result not so much because the people have left Church, but the Church left its own roots. Perhaps if they were to take the “log out of their own eye” as the Bible admonishes, they could see the speck in the eyes of others.

The result might be a kinder less violent world. They could lead by example. The Church may indeed have a place in society, but it is not in the governing of the country. That is best left to the rule of law, given to us by the Founding Fathers in the form of our Constitution.

Susan Chichetto