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Tips for Defusing Separation of Church and State Debates in Your Community

With the holiday season rolling in, you might find that more and more opinion pieces on the Internet and in newspapers are about the separation of church and state, or the lack thereof. Many people perceive state houses having nativity scenes or singing religious Christmas carols before they start their legislative session to show that there is no separation between religion and government, a fact that troubles many people.

On the flip side, people could take comfort in there being a nativity scene at the state house because it is comforting and traditional. Some people might also take comfort in the fact that their government is being run with people who share the same morals as they do, which could lead to better law making in the opinion of those people. 

Regardless of what side you are on, you are going to find yourself in the middle of a relatively ugly debate if you let it get out of hand. Here are some tips for defusing debates about the separation of church and state during the holiday season.

1. Don't Call Names

If you are an atheist and don't like the fact that there is a nativity scene in the state house, you might be tempted to call the people who support that display of Christian belief as ignorant or superstitious. If you are a Christian who likes the nativity scene and does not like the fact that people who do not believe in religion or who are not practicing Christians are challenging its existence, you might be tempted to call the other people sinners or faithless. Name calling is not going to help your argument. Make it a policy in your community to simply walk away from a discussion the minute one of the groups starts calling the other names.

2. Listen

It can be easy to dismiss a nativity scene in the state house as Christians trying to seize control of government or opposition to the nativity scene as people not valuing your religion. However, these are both hyperbolic. Instead of dismissing the argument of the other side, try listening to it, regardless of what side you are on. This will allow you to gain empathy for the people you are debating with and treat them as human.

3. Compromise

Finally, try to strike a compromise. Maybe move the nativity scene outside the state house or have equal displays for all other religions in the state house. Do what you can to appease both sides.

To learn more about the separation of church and state and its history, check out books pertaining to the subject.


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