Utah Professor Warns Lawmakers Not To Mix Church And State

A Utah lawmaker’s hearing designed to bash the separation of church and state went awry in July when the main witness turned out to be a supporter of Thomas Jefferson’s church-state wall.

Sen. Parley Hellewell, a Republican from Orem, called the hearing to air his anger over court decisions applying church-state separation. He attacked the court for restricting the teaching of religious dogma in public schools and said such decisions run counter to American history.

“They are all things that are made up, just like the separation of church and state was made up,” Hellewell said. He added, “When you don’t allow prayer in schools, we’re letting a minority religion – atheism – rule.”

The Deseret News reported that Hellewell hopes to introduce legislation to restore “what was done for the first 150 years” in public schools. The newspaper added, “Instead of focusing on the rights of the minority by prohibiting prayer, he would prefer to grant the majority the right to pray publicly without forcing the minority to join.”

Hellewell invited Fred Gedicks, a Brigham Young University law professor, to speak on the topic of church-state separation during the hearing. But if Hellewell was hoping to add some academic gravitas to his separation bashing, he must have been quickly disappointed: Gedicks, a fellow Mormon, took the opposite tack.

Gedicks, the News reported, recalled his experiences living in Macon, Ga., where, he said, the majority evangelical Christians spoke of Mormons “like we sacrificed cats in the basement.” His children, Gedicks said, would have been singled out for abuse in school if it were not for the First Amendment.

Observed Gedicks, “I was glad that in public society…they did not have to defend their religion.”

The professor then pointed out that many religious people want to see more religion in government but only if it’s their religion.

“It’s not that people just want to have a religious ceremony, they want the government’s stamp of approval,” he said. “They want their religious ceremony to be the official ceremony.”