One of the unfortunate consequences of the political doctrine of the separation of Church and State is the banishment of religion from the realm of politics and the day-to-day life of the government. The Founding Fathers and Mothers never had that intention. The mechanism of true government was to be wielded always by mature human beings who were faithful to their belief in God.
But the truth is that everyone votes based on a set of internal beliefs that are private, in that they exist in the hearts and minds of the individual citizens. Even atheism is a belief with a structure and consequences that affect the practical everyday life of the world.
So the separation of Church and state cannot mean that you put your internal beliefs to the side, making them of no importance, when one goes to vote. This is absurd! What the founders of our amazing form of government meant by the separation of Church and State is that the State would leave religion alone and allow it to exercise its importance by influencing internally the individual before he or she makes external decisions that affect our nation.
This does not mean that we Catholics, for instance, work to pass laws that enshrine the Catholic Faith as normative for the nation. There cannot ever be a system of law that is based on a kind of ‘Catholic Sharia’. Nor can that be true of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or Atheists.
But we are called upon to use the accumulated wisdom of the Scriptures and Church teaching, both in their doctrinal teaching (e.g. the Incarnation of the Word of God) as well as in their moral teaching (e.g. Thou shalt not kill), to legislate and form a government that enshrines these basic principles that affect everyone regardless of faith or tradition.
In this sense, religion is anything but a private affair. Its basic principles affect everyone. Because our founders were (for the most part) people of faith, embedded in our Constitution are certain principles derived from our Judaeo-Christian world view. The premises that we all work out of are inherently Christian. That does not mean that they are unacceptable by people of other faiths or of no faith. But they are the very substance of our assumptions about life and how we can live happily and fruitfully in this world.
The opposite is a prejudice which cannot hold water even in a limited sense. How often have people said today (especially among the ‘nones’: those of no faith or explicit adherence): “I am spiritual but not religious”.
What that often means is that I have a private connection with God that makes me feel good and I don’t need any organized structure (Religion) to involve me. This becomes very private in that there is no overt commitment to anything.
This goes against the grain of every spiritual tradition in the world, Christian or non-Christian. There is a great unanimity in all faiths that one cannot grow in spirituality unless one surrenders and submits to the spiritual discipline of growth and development. A friendship or relationship cannot grow or prosper without commitment. The avatars of the ‘I am spiritual but not religious’ school have nothing in common with spirituality. It is just a personal expression of the political prejudice that ‘You can believe in a God here in America, but a God who does not matter.’ In a sense, the personal is political!
God matters in everything we do and in every decision we make. The spiritual is, by its very nature, a religious stance. What the ‘nones’ call spirituality is a form of self-help psychology that has very limited results outside the occasional suspension of the natural and hard task of living.