Tuesday, July 4, 2006

On the Divorce of the Church and State

It has been noticed from the very beginning of their relationship, that irreconcilable differences exist between the Church and the State. The Church is a much older woman for one thing. She is theocratic, monarchical, dogmatic, convinced of her uniqueness and trueness as the Church of God. She is run by a feudal hierarchy that was old before Democracy was born, and whose kingdom is not even of this earth. Meanwhile, the State is democratic, liberal, and in so far as it operates by the Rule of Constitutional Law, it is supposed to be governed by reason, even demanding the greatest budgetary priority be given to education, science and sports. (Mabuhay Manny Pacquiao!) Yet who is to say who has done more good?

SEPARATION ENDED THEOCRACY If truth be told, in fact, the Catholic Church and the Philippine State are no longer formally a married couple, as they were in Spanish Taliban times. They will never live together again in the Palace of Power, (if Allah and Buddha and José Rizál have anything to say about it.) But as they are both united in working for the good of those indivisible units of body and soul called the human beings, they have also signed a Contract which governs their relationship in an inviolable state of Separation. But the Constitution is not a contract between equals, in so far as the Church and the State provisions are concerned, for when they were divorced in 1898, it was agreed all earthly power would go to the State.
Yet when democracy ended theocracy by separating the Church from State Power, the State Power itself was strictly and severely limited by the Bill of Rights provision on the Freedom of Religion:
1987 Constitution (Bill of Rights) Art III Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

Perhaps the greatest common misconception about the Principle of Separation of Church and State is the notion that it commands the Church and State to mind their own businesses and not to meddle in each other’s affairs. Strictly speaking, that is only half true! The Bill of Rights provision on Freedom of Religion actually contains three specific limitations or prohibitions, all of them entirely directed at the State:

(1) The State must not "establish" or promote Religion;

(2) The State must not prohibit the free exercise of Religion; and

(3) The State must not impose any kind of “religious test” on any citizen’s ability to exercise civil and political rights.

In effect, the Constitution commands the State to be neutral toward Religion and all the different Churches, but not vice versa! Most popular misconceptions about Separation and many of the erroneous statements being made about what the Constitution these days arises, in my opinion, from not understanding this simple fact.

Most people find prohibition #2 above easy to understand. Freedom to worship is such an obvious human right since it is just a special case of freedom of speech, and organized Religion is nothing more than freedom of assembly, which we all cherish and the Constitution obviously protects. But prohibition #1 has spawned a number of durable myth. Even Bishop Oscar V. Cruz says in his blog:
"Even if the separation of church and state is not written in the fundamental law of the land, its reality should be observed and its spirit should be kept. And even if the charter only prohibits the adoption of a state religion, this should be understood in its fuller understanding, viz., the church should not directly intervene in the affairs proper of the state just as the state should not directly interfere in the agenda germane to the church."

Bishop Cruz actually means that the phrase "separation of Church and State" does not appear in the United States Constitution. However it is Section 6 of Article II (Declaration of State Principles and Policies) of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states tersely, "The Principle of Separation of Church and State shall be inviolable."

But there it is also in Bishop Cruz's post: Church and State shall not meddle in each other's affairs. The State sticks to Politics, the Church sticks to Morality, and never the twain shall meet? Can this be what Separation actually means? How can morality be divorced from politics? It's a wrong conclusion based on a false premise about what the Constitution and democracy actually mean about "separation."

I mourn the possibility that these broad misconceptions have apparently RESTRAINED men like Bishop Oscar V. Cruz, (whose ongoing crusade against the numbers game jueteng incandesces). If so tireless and selfless a champion of the public welfare as Bishop Cruz labors under a false impression of what Democracy demands of them as moral and civic duties, then what other deeper errors are likely in possession of less careful intellects? Of course it is possible they also think the Church's own internal policies and teachings somehow instruct them to "not meddle in politics" I can only say: Read Deus Caritas Est--twice or thrice!

The only sensible interpretation I have found is that under a democracy, the Church is forever separated from STATE POWER. But it does not mean that any person is allowed to separate his conscience from his social duty, as Pope Benedict himself declares.

The best way I have found to really understand the Principle semantically, is to see that the word RELIGION and the word THEREOF refer to one and the exactly the same thing in the sentence, "No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Here the Constitution actually gives us a clever way of defining the demanded neutrality of the State towards “Religion”–by declaring that what it cannot promote it cannot also prohibit!

Thus for example, the State is clearly prohibited from establishing a “State sponsored religion” and requiring everyone to practice Roman Catholicism. Yet the State cannot do the opposite, which is to forbid everyone from practicing the same.

Notice however that the provision itself does not qualify the word RELIGION which means that it is not only the establishment of an outright official State religion, such as prevailed under the Spanish Taliban, that is prohibited of the State. An “establishment of religion” is really an archaic American expression which means anything that promotes Religion.

The Palace has wantonly and culpably violated the third prohibition by attempting to use the fact that Citizen Domingo Iniguez happens to be a Catholic and a bishop in order to curtail and question his civil and political right to file and sign an impeachment complaint, if his conscience so urges him.

And that of course is where the word “separation” is truly irrelevant and immaterial to this discussion. For there is no “separation” — no possible contradiction — between a man’s moral conscience and his social duty.

You know who said this? Why, Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est!

I hope the Palace continues to distribute “God Is Love” far and wide, to every citizen, village and town. Benedict gave it to Gloria for that purpose, knowing she doesn’t understand either the Constitution or the the Church’s teachings on this.

>

But I think the Bishops finally comprehended it, perhaps as we did, only very recently. It’s as subversive to tyranny as anything Thomas Jefferson ever wrote, or his tokayo, Benjamin Franklin! By the way:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA! (My Liberty Is Your Liberty!)

The ground is shifting under the Palace, because the Church has found its one strong voice–in Rome! Now may they find it also in themselves.

RELATED POSTS:
Bishop Iniguez Separates the Church from the State
Has GMA Lost the Catholic Church? - Part 2
Has GMA Lost the Catholic Church? - Part 1
A Proposal to Address the Political Impasse (One Voice)
"Noli Me Tangere!" Jesus said to Mary Magdalene
Press Freedom and Organized Religion Are Freedom of Assembly

UPDATES:

2004 COMELEC Automation: I think there is far more than meets the eye to the issue of the failed Comelec automation project of 2004. My previous posts on the matter are:

Davide and Goliath: Trust But Automate
Was the 2004 Automation Junked Deliberately?

On Talkback with Tina Palma last night, Comelec Chair Ben Abalos claims the machines they bought are still around. Perhaps they should be used next year...Chito Gascon was right...next year's elections should be automated!

Manuel L. Quezon
produces some wicked humour in Church and Calabasa for PDI today. The Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez may have opened up a Pandora's Box in recommending the impeachment of Resurreccion Borra. The logical has happened this morning with the announced coming impeachment of Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos.

Korina Sanchez Roxas Debuts

ABSCBN News unfurled Bandila last night with a dramatic video of accused coup plotter, Scout Ranger and West Pointer General Danilo Lim "withdrawing support" for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo purportedly sometime last February just before a State of National Emergency was declared. Although Palace Chief of Staff Mike Defensor was quick to call it proof that PP 1017 was justified, Senator Rodolfo Biazon bemoaned, with supreme irony, the kind of justice that rewards General Angelo T. Reyes for self-declared mutiny on 19 January 2001 and General Danilo Lim's coming punishment for a "withdrawal of support" that he never carried out! Meanwhile, Angelo Reyes has been amply rewarded all these years for his actual treachery to the Military's oath of loyalty to the Chain of Command, to a soldier's word of honor! Yet General Reyes, who subsequently also accepted three successive Cabinet positions from the beneficiary of his 2001 "withdrawal of support) (Defense, Local Govt and now Environment and Natural Resources) stands on the most exalted legal and judicial grounds for he has no less than two landmark Supreme Court decisions that blessed Edsa 2's withdrawal of support for the Presidency by the highest active military officer. Nothing establishes the parameters of acceptable Regime Change in the Philippine Jurisdiction more definitively than the Edsa 2 Erap cases, Estrada versus Arroyo (March, 2001) and Estrada versus Desierto (April 2001). I expect there to arise a greater appreciation of the essential toxicity of these two decisions to the national security. One curious thing about the Bandila exclusive is that it IS exclusive. No one else claims to have a copy of this tape other than ABSCBN News -- not even the Military nor the Palace -- both of whom quickly claimed to have no knowledge of its production or existence. There is some suggestion that it was scheduled to be aired as a signal that the Military was doing an Edsa 2 Re-Run and withdrawing support for GMA, possibly in coordination with the 20th Anniversary celebration of Edsa 1 last Feb. 24 in Makati, which was indeed led by former Pres. Cory Aquino and attended by most of the democratic opposition to GMA. But clearly, this tape was not made by ABSCBN itself, so there have to be others who must testify as to its provenance. As Rep. Roilo Golez was telling Twink Macaraeg earlier this afternoon, the videotape of Gen. Danilo Lim was never actually aired or shown in public (until Bandila broadcast it nationwide last night!), so it falls under rules of evidence very similar to that in the case of the Garci Recordings.

But I really like what Commodore Rex Robles told ANC News just now...There is something mysterious and incongruous about that P5 million reward for Gringo Honasan and the whole yarn about Oplan Hackle and the Leftist Rightist Coup Conspiracy, when what is now emerging is an entirely different and more embarrassing possibility...the Marines and Scout Rangers almost deposed Mrs. Arroyo last February, via a 2001-style withdrawal of support and a civilian-military demonstration of public moral outrage, featuring Cory Aquino and General Generoso Senga, instead of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and General Angelo Reyes.

There is also this puzzling detail: ABSCBN is characterizing last February's events as a "coup d'etat" that was foiled when General Danny Lim and Col. Ariel Querubin supposedly failed to convince Chief of Staff Generoso Senga and Marine Commandant Renato Miranda to join the coup d'etat conspiracy. Some "coup d'etat"! The Bandidos try to convince the Sheriff to join their gang one day before the coup and the whole thing fails when he politely refuses and confines them to barracks instead after running to the Palace? Is that what General Danny Lim learned at West Point?

13 comments:

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

There is a fourth specific limitation or prohibition which is "The state should not favor one church over and above the others."

During the Spanish times the Catholic Church and the State were a "formally married couple." DJB, the marriage may have ended but they continued to live together in the Palace of Power. The government of Gloria that ousted the duly elected government of Erap epitomized this living together in sinful exercise of power that they had the gall to call "people power."

What is happening between the State of Gloria and the Catholic Church is nothing but a LQ. Once they agree on who should be the boss, they will kiss and make up.

Jon Mariano said...

It is convenient for an unsound government to muddle what is clear and simple to serve its purpose.

The consitution is so clear on the separation of the Church and State, yet look what is being discussed: not what the law says, but what meaning they gave to what is written.

Juan said...

Hi Dean, nice day,
With all due respect to our legal eagles, the issue of the principle of the separation of the church and the state is only a result of or, in the particular circumstance at hand, secondary to the primary issue of the mental state of the head of state being separate or far from reality, much more from the church and the constitution.
In short the root of the problem is not legal but mental, in fact, the head of state could not be made to understand the obvious nor admit the truth. But there is a legal solution for the problem of the state but not for the head. The separation of a head of state, whose head is in a very bad state, from the seat of power of the state could be based on the Constitutional provisions on her disability to govern. Article VII. Sec.11 provides for when “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. Congress “determines by a two-thirds vote of both Houses, voting separately, that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice- President shall act as President; otherwise, the President shall continue exercising the powers and duties of his office” Also.Section 12. "In case of serious (mental) illness of the President, the public shall be informed of the state of her (mental) health."
But the state of mind in the lower house is the same as that of the head.

Who then will address the state of the nation that in is as bad a state as the mental state of the head of state who is separated from reality, the church, the constitution and the people.

Could the church people be the last phalanx of defenders of the people -- and the state?

jhay said...

what a coincidence, we just discussed the separation of the church and state in my religion class. Too bad that the approach was cathecesis in style not objective theology as it should be in the college level. Then again, being enrolled in a catholic insitution leaves no choice.

Bernardo F. Ronquillo said...

My symphathy goes to Gen. Lim. However, their plan of action was quite obvious and they were telegraphing their punches and worst were following the blueprint of the last coup d'tat that toppled Erap. They were predictable. All Gloria had to do was to plug all the holes.

If anything is to happen it will come from an unexpected source and will not follow an old blueprint. And it will be spontanuous. If ever.

Heathen Dan said...

The only sensible interpretation I have found is that under a democracy, the Church is forever separated from STATE POWER. But it does not mean that any person is allowed to separate his conscience from his social duty, as Pope Benedict himself declares.

What do you mean when you say that the "Church is forever separated from STATE POWER"? What is the church? Is it the institution, the congregation as a whole, or does it include individuals working in its behalf? In your earlier essay on values education courses teaching religious doctrines, it doesn't seem to be that the Church itself is exercising state power; but duly appointed public officials, who are motivated by religion, who are exercising it. When congress panders to the Catholic Church in opposing a divorce bill, is that a violation of the separation of church and state? When bishops and cardinals call for mass public opposition to charter change, does that imply that the Church can influence the State without needing state power? If the INC votes as a bloc because their church leaders asks their members to vote for certain candidates, is that grounds for taxing the INC (which is the case with the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA)? When the government listens to certain denominations when creating and implementing policy (especially if such denominations have bishops and priests who publicly flaunt their "moral conscience"), does that entangle the government in sectarian conflicts? When the head of state begins his/her public engagements with a sectarian prayer (or any prayer for that matter), does that imply that those that do not share the same beliefs become like second class citizens?

Rizalist said...

Heathen Dan,
You've asked very many good questions. But perhaps a common answer to them all exists in the following:

Only the State and its agencies can possibly be guilty of a violation of the Principle of Separation of Church and State.

It is not even THEORETICALLY possible, in my opinion, for the Church to violate the Principle, because the PROHIBITIONS explicit and implicit in the Principle apply entirely to the State.

The State Power is the coercive power of the Armed Forces and the government authorities in toto. Forever separated from wielding state power is what I mean.

Just like the Press is forever separated from the State Power, the Church must never wield it either. In other words, forever separated means that THEOCRACY is forever banned.

The "Church" is any Church or No Church. The "Church" is actually "Religion", which must not rule govt actions. Only Law and Reason. That's the deal in exchange for full freedom to practice any Religion and worship any God. Or none. That's the deal in the constitution.

When clergy call for mass public opposition, they are merely exercising their right as citizens, which the State may not, ever, make a "religious test" over.

In Deus Caritas Est, the Pope himself proclaims it: the Church must never become the State.

On taxation: I agree we should tax all religious organizations as we do common corporations.

Bloc voting to me is an exercise in freedom of assembly.

YES to both of your last two questions. Both are examples of violations of the Separation Principle,

By the State, Of the State, For the State.

Feel free to respond to this rather feeble attempt to deal with your barrage of good questions.

The Church cannot violate the Principle of Church and State because it does not apply to her: she cannot make laws, prohibit free religious worship, or force anyone to pass religious tests in order to vote or exercise political rights.

She is forever separated from the State Power that alone possesses these abilities.

The Bill of Rights merely limits the State's ability to exercise its coercive, legislative and executive powers over everybody.

More fundamental even is this: freedom of religion is a subset of freedom of speech. Organized religion is mere freedom of assembly.

Think of the Church as being the Press. All the same rules apply.

Heathen Dan said...

I wouldn't call your responses feeble. :p I can now see where you're coming from.

Only the State and its agencies can possibly be guilty of a violation of the Principle of Separation of Church and State.

It is not even THEORETICALLY possible, in my opinion, for the Church to violate the Principle, because the PROHIBITIONS explicit and implicit in the Principle apply entirely to the State.


The church could violate it by usurping governmental privileges. For instance, in parts of Mindanao the populace lives under Sharia Law (profiled some years ago in a TV news magazine program).

Or how about when government provides funds for religious organizations, and these organizations practice religious discrimination? It is a principle of the state not to engage in any form of discrimination: racial, sexual, religious, ethnic, etc. A catholic school or hospital that receives tax money and then actively proselytizes its students/patients is in direct violation of church-state separation. They should either stop their religious activity or their gov't funding should be stopped.

Indeed, it is odd that the church is one of the largest recipients of people's money. I mean, c'mon, they happily take money from PAGCOR and uses it to finance sectarian programs.

The "Church" is any Church or No Church. The "Church" is actually "Religion", which must not rule govt actions. Only Law and Reason.

Unfortunately, divorce is still banned in the Philippines due to the church's active opposition to it. The government's main line is to preserve the "sanctity of marriage," a nebulous concept that makes no sense in law or reason, but is understandable in a religious context. When the church has undue influence over the state, that it can even dictate the language used by the government, then the minimalist understanding of the separation of church and state is myopic to the extreme.

When clergy call for mass public opposition, they are merely exercising their right as citizens, which the State may not, ever, make a "religious test" over.

The religious test ban is for hiring or appointing public servants, or for accepting or rejecting prospective candidates, which your example does not really address. The Church has the freedom of assembly and they continue to exercise it by holding worship services during sabbath. But while mass is typically apolitical, political rallies are definitely something else. Again, it all goes back to the wall of separation. You don't need bishops in government for there to be a theocracy. A politically active church is just as dangerous to a liberal democracy as despotic mullahs. The same goes for voting as a bloc.

The Church cannot violate the Principle of Church and State because it does not apply to her: she cannot make laws, prohibit free religious worship, or force anyone to pass religious tests in order to vote or exercise political rights.

She can make laws by forcing legislators to do it for her. Again, it is naive to think that the current ban on abortion, gay marriages, and divorce is a purely secular decision, just because the laws don't have the cardinal's imprimatur.

The comparison with the press is a weak analogy. Indeed, since they have different roles in society, the framers of the bill of rights and the constitution have given them separate rules under the law. The church does have freedom of speech and assembly, but unlike any other entity, it has been singled out by the state to be forever separate from it. That means that there is something about the church that stands out from the rest. I believe it is because the church has a strong public base and can control the masses much more effectively than the law. The Rotary club cannot make anyone march day after day or to stop paying taxes. But the church can. It is this real possibility that influenced, in part, James Madison to promote church-state separation in the state of Virginia, and later in the US Constitution and bill of rights.

In the US, most court decisions in the last 40+ years have affirmed a broadened understanding of church-state separation, and where the state is just as suceptible to church interference as it is the other way around. And BTW, I am happy to see that you agree that the church ought to be taxed. Part of the rationale for not taxing them, aside from the supposed social role that churches function in lieu of the government, is that the wall of separation prevents government from taxing them. In instances where the church has been too political, the state revokes that group's tax free status; as I've indicated with the Southern Baptist Convention (which is why Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson do not hide their support for the Republican Party).

Rizalist said...

Heathen Dan,
My general position is that anything ordinary citizens, or assemblies of citizens, are allowed to do, or not allowed to do, the same exact rules apply to members of religions and their churches.

For example, when you say that churches can "force" legislators to enact certain laws favorable to their beliefs, that is not a violation of separation anymore than when the Rotary Club or a political party or a gender-based sector LOBBIES the govt for something. That is called exercising your civil and political rights. We can't say that people who happen to rely on wheelchairs might force the Congress to mandate funny lil ramps in front of public buildings. We can't discriminate against the differently enabled right? Same with a persons religious affiliation. So yes, if the religious in a country can convince, not force, their lawmakers to pass laws against divorce, that is constitutionally allowed, imo.

Regarding the strength or weakness of my analogy of the Church to the Press, look at the two provision that come one right after the other in the Philippine Bill of Rights, which is also in the US Constitution:

Section 4. No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.


I'm glad you brought that up because I didn't realize they were right on top of one another which only convinces me even more about my claim that freedom of religion is freedom of speech and organized religion is freedom of assembly, just like journalism and the organized Press, respectively.

If you will accept this analogy, we can also test further objections you may have to it, by asking what the equivalent treatment would be if we were considering the actions of the Press rather than the church.

For example, is it illegitimate for the Press to "force" the Legislature to pass laws against abortion or contraception or any other matter?

I say Churches have the same exact rights as the Press. It says so right in BOTH provisions above!

Heathen Dan said...

Thanks for your further clarification. I'd still like to hear your responses to some of the issues I brought up, such as the imposition of sharia law in parts of mindanao, state-funded catholic organizations that discriminate, and the church's influence in dictating government policy and law. If these are not clear-cut cases of church-state separation, or if the church is not culpable in any of the cases, then our views will be irreconcilable.

As I've pointed out, both the press and the church are singled out in the bill of rights, and while the wordings are similar, they are not the same. Indeed, if you see section 5 as two distinct ideas (estabishment and free exercise), then section 4 is analogous to the free exercise clause. The establishment clause is underdeveloped in your generally nuanced understanding of the constitution, and that is where I am putting the brunt of my disagreement with you. Let us read the clause again:

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion

What does this mean? In the narrowest sense, this means that the Philippine legislature cannot pass laws that establishes any single church or denomination as the official religion of the land. I argue that that is a myopic view and can easily be circumvented by religions motivated enough to use the government for their own ends.

Let us look at the divorce bill, which can never get going in congress. Opposition to the bill is generally a sectarian religious objection, specifically by the Catholic Church. Protestants are at best lukewarm on divorce, while muslims support it. Passing a divorce bill into law does not in any way infringe Catholics, who can happily continue not getting divorces. But by opposing the bill, they are in fact forcing everyone else to play by their sectarian rules.

Who's the culprit here? Primarily it's the weak-willed members of congress who pander to the influential religious groups and perhaps partake of their rich coffers. But again, as I've repeatedly pointed out, the Church is not an innocent bystander. The church has enough social muscle to strong-arm the law into legislating their beliefs.

What I am saying is that the wall of separation is a two-sided fence. Cause believe it or not, the government needs protection from the all-powerful church too. It has toppled two heads of states already, and it does so without appropriate checks, without taxation, and without public mandate. If the badge of religion is all that it takes to work above the law, I don't see why more politicians don't just change their parties to sects.

Please Rizalist, don't you see that you are giving carte blanche to one social establishment that has a history of tyranny and oppression? The church is not the press, the church has a different function from the press. The law makes it clear that it does not treat the church the same way it treats the test (or they should've just combined sections 4 and 5 already). It cannot be compared either with the press or with any other lobby group. Look in the US, religious lobbies are taxed as a penalty for playing the politics game. It is with the continued deference to the church that allows them to interfere with the law in ways that ordinary citizens cannot have the luxury of doing. In a dystopian world, some people are more equal than others, and my one vote is not quite the same as one vote from a vicar.

Heathen Dan said...

Oops, a typo, it should be press not test in the last paragraph. Mea culpa.

Rizalist said...

heathen dan, we are not so far apart as you may think. I oppose many of the church's policies on a number of fronts, like population and environment; but we must always be conscious of precisely what you have just brought up: that there is really more than the Catholic Church in the discussion we have been having about "the Church". So any curtailment we might wish upon the powerful catholics cannot but be visited in equal measure on some poor weak sect or the atheists. We never know.

But my essential disagreement with you is in the choice of tool you seem to want to use to oppose the initiatives and positions you don't agree with the Church on.

I am not giving Religion carte blanche to act above the law. I am just saying this particular law does not apply to the Church. It applies to the State. It's like wanting to apply laws meant for doctors to lawyers or carpenters.

Regarding the concessions to sharia law, I consider those violations of the principle by the State for acceding to them or finding no other compromise than utter surrender to it.

The worst example is in the public school curriculum, where religious objectives are built right into the statement of PelC and other essential parts of the thing we say we will teach the next generation.

But it is the State that is guilty of these violations. It alone has the Power to correct the practices and find better ways to bring democracy to life.

Heathen Dan said...

Indeed, I feel that our positions are not that different in the general. I just feel that you concede too much on the establishment clause.

It's not that I oppose the Church only when we disagree. Even when I agree with some of their positions (for instance, abolition of the death penalty) I still do not think they should play ANY SIGNIFICANT role in the political process (let us fight our own battles thank you very much).

The church is, again, vastly different from any other individual or entity. The framers of the US constitution knew that, if you read the writings of Madison or Jefferson. The church, any church, should be strictly separated from the state, and your concessions to this wall by only seeing the state as culpable in such violations (when in fact the church is more culpable) is a terrible idea.

That is the essence of the establishment clause, and it has been continually affirmed in the US courts. Neither the state nor the church shall interfere with each other. If the church sees it fit to flex its considerable public muscle in politics, then let government appoint bishops and collect tithes. The wall is a two way fence.