One of the biggest obstacles to advancing democracy in the world, especially in the Middle East will be the issue of separation of church and state. But there are some very strong moral and logical arguments to do so.
George Washington said, “Do not let any one claim to be a true American if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics.” And John Quinsy Adams said, “The Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth [and] laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”
America's founding fathers were devout Christians that had every intention of bringing their Christian values to their new nation. But why then did they go to such links to ensure a separation of church and state in the US constitution, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”, the very first words of the Bill of Rights?
It's important to understand why civil law and religious law must remain separated. Civil law deals with man's relationship to man and religious law deals with man's relationship to God.
It's the story of genesis where God first grants man the freedom of choice. He could have simply withheld the apple from Adam and Eve, but he allowed them to choose. In the end, we are all ultimately judged individually by God as a result of the choices we make throughout our lives.
Any attempt to codify religious tenants, which always leads to enforcement by coercive force, interferes with God's will to grant us the free choice that gives him the means to judge our moral character.
Religious clergy of every kind are there to be teachers and guides to assist their followers to a purer relationship with God. The followers have an obligation to only follow a leader that is worthy of his position in the eyes of God.
The instant a cleric attempts to codify religion through government, he defies God's will and automatically disqualifies himself as a moral representative in the eyes of God. The mullahs in Iran have crossed this line.
Their use of oppressive means to enforce Islamic law denies individuals their freedom granted by God and therefore they forfeit the moral purity to be worthy as representatives of God. They also lose their secular authority because they no longer morally and legitimately represent the true values of Islam, which they claim to derive their authority from.
God recognizes the mullah's impurity, therefore creating the obligation of every single Muslim to rectify this contradiction to God's will by rejecting the cleric's legitimacy.
As the power of any religious leader grows, the temptation towards corruption that all power brings causes many to succumb. The freedom for his followers to abandon him and his corruption is vital. Each individual is obligated to God and not to the protection of another human being's power base.
But by no means is religion meant to be absent from politics. On the contrary the separation of church and state strengthens and protects religion by insulating it from the corrupting forces of secular power. The shared moral purity of a religion's members then becomes a positive influence to the integrity of secular civil law.
Also, when civil law protects the freedom of individuals to voluntarily join or leave a particular religious sect, it forces the religious hierarchy to earn the respect of it's membership through the morality of its actions and not through physical force. The more ethical the religion, the higher the standards it can demand of it's individual members which in turn strengthens the moral character of the civil law they create.
The concepts behind the separation of church and state are complex and the lure of an Islamic state or any other religious based government may seem seductive on the surface, but as the mullahs in Iran have shown, these forms of government ultimately insult the religion they were meant to honor.