On the Separation of Church and State

By Brittany Handler

You know, my mom taught me that in polite company, you should never discuss money, religion, or politics. Well, I’ve already hit on politics here, so might as well go for religion too, ammiright?? (Maybe I’ll tell ya’ll my salary eventually, then we can cover all three!)

I was raised pretty Jewish. We celebrated Shabbat every Friday night and went to religious school every Saturday morning, and I loved it. I have loved being Jewish my whole life. Being Jewish was so much more than a religion to me; it was a lifestyle. It was all about seeing my family and spending time with my cousins and eating the best foods and everything in between. In high school, I started doing youth group, and Judaism worked its way into my social life too. On the weekends, if I wasn’t in a show, I was always hanging out with my youth group friends, whether it was celebrating Sukkot (my FAVORITE holiday . . . basically Thanksgiving combined with camping . . . ) or staying out late at the 24 hr. Steak 'N Shake until 2 am, eating cheese fries and, as my friends called them, “manwiches” (they were Frisco Melts). In college, one of my many jobs was teaching Sunday school at the local synagogue on the weekends, and I loved that too. I loved engaging with my students and hearing them ask the questions I have asked my whole life about god, Jewish values, and everything in between.

So religion has been a huge part of my life. But the separation of church and state has also been a huge part of my life. I grew up in public schools where we said “god” in the pledge of allegiance. (Thanks, Eisenhower.) That never bothered me specifically, but I thought it’d be cool to take god out of the pledge. I mean, I’m sure there were kids who didn’t believe in god in my school, and they shouldn’t have to say that word! I started thinking that at a young age too. We were a public school! We should be inclusive of everyone, including the kids who didn’t believe in any god.

In high school, a lot of the sports teams would put posters on their teammates lockers, cheering them on the day of a big game. Well one day I walked out of class, and the lockers of every tennis team member had good luck posters. Great! Except at the bottom there was a bible quote. I saw that and marched right up to my school’s principal and asked him to take those down. He told me, “But Brittany, that’s your bible too!” (It was the Old Testament.) I explained to him that I didn’t care, because it wasn’t everyone’s, and we were a PUBLIC school, and we lived in a country founded on the separation of church and state. It blew my MIND that a 15 year old had to be explaining this to an adult. But I was, regardless.

So what inspired this stream of consciousness? Well, I’m on a cruise vacation right now, and there is a Christian convention on the boat with me. Great! Jew conventions (youth group) are where I found myself when I was growing up and what got me through the awful years of high school. But, I saw one guy getting off the elevator yesterday. He had a shirt on with a cross that said “This shirt is illegal in 13 countries, let’s not make it illegal here.”

This shirt REALLLLY bothered me. Ask anyone I’ve been with the past two days—I cannot let it go. I think this shirt upsets me because THAT is what we are concerned about in this country right now? We aren’t bothered by the proposed ban on Muslims entering this country? We aren’t bothered by the idea of deporting hundreds upon hundreds of immigrants? We aren’t bothered that black men are getting shot on a daily basis for having car troubles on the side of the road? 

I get it, free speech and all. But sir, I assure you; you will always be allowed to wear a shirt with a cross on it in this country. I promise you that. Please, stop playing the victim. You are not in danger of losing your rights. Are you black? Are you Muslim? Are you Mexican? Are you gay? Are you a woman? In Hillary Clinton OR Donald Trump’s America, you will be just fine sir. You will still be able to wear your shirt, no matter who wins in November, BUT all these other people I just mentioned and MORE won’t be fine in Donald Trump’s America.