The Dalai Lama Supports Church-State Separation

America’s political leaders could learn a thing or two from the Dalai Lama.

During talks with lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, who retired from politics in March, not only emphasized his support for church-state separation, but also had the integrity to admit that he himself has violated the concept. From the Washington Post:

Addressing his retirement, the Dalai Lama said he had come to see the “hypocrisy” of his advocating for the separation of church and state while claiming leadership in both realms. “Now I can tell people religious institutions and political institutions must be separate,” he said. “My statement is now honest.”

It’s important to remember that the Dalai Lama’s simple message – that “religious institutions, political institutions, must be separate” – was first put into practice here, in the United States, by our secular constitution. Sadly, because of recent antics by the Religious Right, a foreigner visiting the U.S. these days might not recognize the concept in practice.

And could we blame them? Our longest serving governor, Rick Perry of Texas, has called on the nation and its political leadership to “come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” No less than three Republican candidates for president have said that they are running for our nation’s highest office because God told them to. One of them, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, believes in “end times” and has publicly prayed to God to end health care reform. The mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, believes God, prayer, and fasting are the only things that can solve her city’s budget deficit. And the list goes on.  

If our political leaders learn anything from the Dalai Lama’s visit this week, it should be that in a nation founded on church-state separation, lawmakers can’t act as both government officials and religious clerics.

They have to pick one or the other.

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