Separation of church and state: The solution to extremism


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a very different kind of threat to the world than other terrorist groups have before. The difference is illustrated in the very name of the terrorist organization: the Islamic State of the Levant. It's not a small group of unorganized, extremist believers with little to no ability of achieving their violent ends. Rather, it's a state—a community of people united under radical religious beliefs with the force of power at their disposal.

It's this power that separates ISIL from its counterparts and prompts the Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, to claim that ISIL is, “beyond anything that we’ve ever seen.” The type of power ISIL holds is a kind only accessible to an established government. Complete with a command structure, military prowess and funding. ISIL illustrates the importance of separation of church and state within each nation.

Extreme branches of religion will always exist, but without the force of government, the threat posed by such groups is minimal. There may be tragedies, such as 9/11, where an extreme religious organization causes great harm, but those are rare occurrences. True danger arises when the power of influence (religion) and the power of authority (government) are combined into one unit.

The power of influence is held by religious institutions. These institutions promote high ideals that people follow, once they are convinced it's morally right or necessary. Such ideals are present in every religion, from Christianity to Islam. In the name of every religion, good and great comes from people upholding such ideals—for the concept of morality in religion implies a duty to act on those ideals. However, the action undertaken by such groups is limited in degree of severity because they have no power of authority. Such power is held by governmental institutions. These institutions have the power of force, both financially and physically.

Although the Muslim state of ISIL is a threat today, history proves that there will be serious consequences if ISIL is allowed to continue without forceful opposition from other nations. From the crusades conducted by the Catholic church to the religious persecution in the early days of the 13 colonies, it's clear that when the church is backed by the power of the state, the result is religious persecution, discrimination and violence.

Each nation should seek to uphold the separation of church and state, otherwise its citizens will face the consequences seen time and time again throughout history. Such a separation does not mean a complete isolation of the two institutions. Rather, the separation of church and state, properly understood, seeks to create an appropriate partnership between religion and civil government: support without assistance. Only when world leaders recognize the importance of this principle will people be free from the danger posed by ISIL and future institutions of the same nature.