Monday, January 23, 2006

Separating Church & State

In Italy, a complaint against the Roman Catholic Church has been filed by an atheist who claims that it has fraudulently deceived people by claiming that Jesus existed. According to CNN,

Lawyers for a small-town parish priest have been ordered to appear in court next week after the Roman Catholic cleric was accused of unlawfully asserting what many people take for granted: that Jesus Christ existed. The Rev. Enrico Righi was named in a 2002 complaint filed by Luigi Cascioli after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth. Cascioli, a lifelong atheist, claims that Righi violated two Italian laws by making the assertion: so-called "abuse of popular belief" in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and "impersonation" in which someone gains by attributing a false name to someone. Cascioli says that for 2,000 years the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people by furthering the fable that Christ existed, and says the church has been gaining financially by "impersonating" as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, the son of Judas from Gamala.

Here's a question: if a complaint such as this one were filed in the United States, would any court ruling inherently violate the principle of separation of church and state? Would the state's ruling serve to respect one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise thereof?

If the complaint took place in the United States, one would certainly ask how a lifelong atheist would have standing; as a lifelong atheist, who has himself claimed to be "born against Christ and God," it is not likely that he has personally been a victim of fraud by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the United States, the question of whether the Christ exists is not one for government to answer.

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