Putting Reagan’s Church & State Quote In Context Shows A Hypocrisy

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quote image of President Reagan supporting separation of church and stateI had a Facebook friend post the image to the right of this text that shows a quote from President Ronald Reagan that seems to support the separation of church and state. I like to check these kinds of things out because I don’t want to pass on a false quote. When I found out where the quote came from, the story is a lot bigger than this small 300×300 image. Learning the full story shows a classic politician speaking out both sides of his mouth.

 

In case you can’t the see image above, here is the transcript of the quote:

“We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.” – Ronald Reagan

It is part of a larger speech President Reagan gave at Temple Hillel in Valley Stream, NY on October 26, 1984:

We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.

At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral. And government should not make it more difficult for Christians, Jews, Muslims, or other believing people to practice their faith. And that’s why, when the Connecticut Supreme Court struck down a statute — and you may not have heard about this; it was a statute protecting employees who observed the Sabbath. Well, our administration is now urging the United States Supreme Court to overturn the Connecticut Court decision. This is what I mean by freedom of religion, and that’s what we feel the Constitution intends.

Reagan Speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream

I agree with 99% of what he says here about the separation of church and state. I firmly believe it “requires government to be strictly neutral.”

I was curious about the Connecticut court case Reagan mentions in the last paragraph. It must be some massive burden on people trying to freely practice their religion.

It turns out Reagan was wrong to support keeping the law.

The US Supreme Court upheld the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down the statute. Their decision said:

Held: The Connecticut statute, by providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath, violates the Establishment Clause. To meet constitutional requirements under that Clause, a statute must not only have a secular purpose and not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion, its primary effect must not advance or inhibit religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602. The Connecticut statute imposes on employers and employees an absolute duty to conform their business practices to the particular religious practices of an employee by enforcing observance of the Sabbath that the latter unilaterally designates. The State thus commands that Sabbath religious concerns automatically control over all secular interests at the workplace; the statute takes no account of the convenience or interests of the employer or those of other employees who do not observe a Sabbath. In granting unyielding weighting in favor of Sabbath observers over all other interests, the statute has a [p704] primary effect that impermissibly advances a particular religious practice. Pp. 708-711.

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985)

The state law struck down gave special treatment to people who observed the Sabbath which violated the religious freedom of the employers and other employees who didn’t observe the Sabbath. The law allowed the state to override all secular interests at the workplace.

As usual a conservative politician seeming to support separation of church and state only supports it when it helps the religion he/she agrees with. President Reagan’s support of the law totally contradicts what he told Temple Hillel about the government being required to be neutral in church/state issues.

The quote is valid and I agree with it even though Reagan was speaking out both sides of his mouth.

I will use the quote image and pass it on to religious conservatives bitching about not being able to control laws and the government with biblical principles.


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  • Foye Lowe

    Thanks. Confirmation was what I was looking for. The explanation of context was a good bonus.

    • Max

      Ditto!