One-first century rebel once said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto God that which is God’s.” It’d be a bit of a stretch to suggest that Jesus was endorsing a separation of church and state, and putting words in Jesus’ mouth has occasionally gotten people either burned alive or a lawsuit from the ACLU, so it’s best to avoid that.
That being said, the separation of church and state has become one of the founding principles of our society. Though the interpretation of the law may vary, the belief in its legitimate standing in our body of law is generally unquestioned. But one has to be careful that their religious and moral beliefs do not subtly or bluntly become public policy. Governance is a difficult business, especially over a vast and diverse country like the U.S.
A country’s diversity or lack thereof should not set a degree for the mandate of government impartiality in religious and moral matters. The United States is fortunate that there is such diversity on so many different levels that philosophical tyranny of a majority ranges from difficult to impossible, but finding that fine line between maintaining a moral society and making your morals that society becomes even more difficult in a country where one branch of a religion or ethnicity has an overwhelming majority. One need only look at the influence Christianity has had on this country’s governance to see that.
However, this can and does go the other way. Ensuring freedom of religion should not mean freedom from religion, but this arguably happens in certain countries that have taken measures to prohibit, for example, the wearing of certain religious clothing such as crosses, head scarves, etc. in public places. Ultimately, it is a sum of a country’s people that make its national identity, not what one group, whether a majority or not, believes is right and wants to impose on the rest of the country. Ironically, making laws that suggest that certain people are outcasts leads to them feeling like outcasts. Why should an Algerian immigrant in France, for example, accept the French way of life when they haven’t accepted him or her as being legitimately French?
The danger with creating an atmosphere where everyone either has to be on the attack or defense about religion and moral matters is that no one ever wants to talk about it, many of them for noble reasons. But stifling discussion and openness about faith leads to the prejudices and stereotypes that drive groups further apart, which only further expands the perceived divide between different groups.
The fact that these people of varying faiths can get along when they aren’t discussing their faith should be an indicator that they aren’t so fundamentally different that they can’t hold a simple conversation. Most people have more in common than they have differences. The way you achieve a true melting pot is by establishing civil peace based on what brings different people together rather than what divides them, and what divides them should not lead to one’s dominance over the other. That’s not civil peace; that’s civil war on a different level.
Returning to the point, the separation of church and state is a delicate balance and must be appreciated as such. As long as people have the internal ability to make their own decisions, the entirety of a population will not share the same beliefs. One would find some differences even in a country of two people. It’s not the government’s job to decide who is right; it’s to govern properly.
In the end, the best way to ensure stability and order among a population is to get involved as little as necessary to prevent chaos.
Keying off of that, the amount of destruction and doom brought with a same-sex marriage or a woman choosing to wear a headscarf has thus far been minimal.