Local column: Exceptions to First Amendment separation

Churches and other organizations must sometimes cross out of their First Amendment separation from the state to report criminal behavior, writes Jim Delmore.

In Matthew 22:21 Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

While Jesus was referring to taxes, it can easily be extended to a broad range of complex state/church issues. What stronger endorsement of separation of church and state could one want?

Fortunately there are many who appreciate the many merits of this separation and, as a result, take action to make our nation, states and cities better places to live. A recent example was the action of a Mormon bishop to report a rape to the local authorities as oppose to dealing with it within the church or, even worse, to cover it up. This was absolutely the right thing to do! This contrasts to past actions within the Catholic Church where a few priests committed criminal acts that were dealt with by the Bishop and never reported to the authorities. Criminal prosecution clearly belongs to government and when it is not escalated to the government, society and democracy are damaged.

We might also extend this “principle of separation” to organizations other than churches although they are not covered in the First Amendment.

There have been incidents within scouting programs that were not reported to authorities. There was the example here in eastern Idaho where molestation took place at a Boy Scout camp. There was controversy as to whether or not to report these actions to authorities or to hush it up. Fortunately it was reported and the perpetrators faced our state’s legal system. Cover ups have occurred in a variety of sporting organizations, both at various schools and at private organizations. Failure of these organizations to report such incidents corrupts from the inside, something that greatly weakens the organization.

My belief is that all organizations, if they survive long enough and get large enough, will eventually attract a few people who will use that organization as a cover for evil purposes. It behooves each and every organization, church or other, to expose any of its members who commit criminal acts to the appropriate authorities. Furthermore the public should be appreciative of these actions and should not hold that organization in low esteem for having taken the step of purging itself of the offender(s) and reporting any criminal acts.

It is true that many of our laws overlap with church teachings. However there are many differences among various religions. With eligible voters electing our legislators there is no one religion that can force its beliefs on the general population and we end up with laws that have wide support from the majority of the population. There can be no stronger concept necessary for democracy that broad support of the population for the law.

This concept of separation of church and state provides broad protections for both the general population as well as the churches. People are free to practice their religions (or not) as they see fit as long as they do not violate the law. This has served our nation well and should receive total respect.


Delmore is a retired scientist.


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