At City Club 03.18.05 NOTES: Debate on separation of church and state

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 03/18/2005 - 17:41.

The 3/18/05 City Club High School Debate Championship
offered attendees exposure to exceptional debating (which we rarely see in life), provided
informed, considered, diverse perspectives on an important issue (separation of
church and state), and broadened awareness of how much we all stand to learn
from the youth of the world. Undeniable conclusions are that the City
Club of Cleveland
is of great value to this community, we have much to learn from
considering diverse, bright perspectives from young intellectuals, and the
separation of church and state is an even more complex issue than most
inquisitive minds realize.

The High School Debate Championship is a City Club tradition
going back more than two decades. The proceedings adhere to defined rules of
"Lincoln-Douglas" debate that affirmative construction, cross-examination, negative
construction, and rebuttals. Strictly timed, contestants are judged by a
three-member panel on creativity, logic, and persuasiveness of arguments.
Unlike the tame, amateurish and uninteresting political debates to which we’ve
become accustomed on television, this debate was intellectual, exciting and
confrontational, addressing the challenging position “Democracy is best served
by a strict separation of church and state�.

The host of the event was Baker Hostetler and partner
John Parker introduced this session with an account of an Aesop’s Fable teaching us it is
not just quantity but also quality that matters, indicating the “lion� possesses the
carnivorous qualities needed to succeed in debate (and we suppose law). City
Club host Steve Bullock then points out that in an age when we make such a big deal about
sports the City Club takes pride featuring this very different type of
important competition. He further points out it is extraordinary that in a
state-wide competition of 100s of debaters the finalists are both from Hawken School.

The debate notes that follow are summary highlights - the pace is too rapid to capture a transcript or rich details, so consider this an overview of ubstance and process.

The side of the
issue presented by each debater is determined at the last minute by chance, and
it has been determined the debater taking the affirmative position is last year’s
debate champion, Hawken Senior Michael Koby Jaskiw, who opens the debate by
extending thanks to the sponsors, his school and family.

His affirmative construction begins that "religion lies solely between man and his God". The meaning of separation is to separate power –
legal control – funding – this does not exclude any religion or those involved in religion from
government, but expects their practice to remain outside government practice.
Strict means absolute. “My value is democracy� – he points out government makes
mistakes – strong religions institutions represent important checks on
government – provides effective moral guidance. As example, he points out in
1920’s in America eugenics became common place and some practices of
sterilization become mandatory in 30 states – Supreme Court upheld practice –
only opposition from religious sectors overturned such practice – explains
there are many cases where government does wrong, and higher moral compass is
required. Strict separation allows religion to stay independent – if church
gets government support it will prevent church from providing checks on
authority – may biting hand that feed it – if church depends on government
funding it pushes church from mission and purpose – risk of corruption.
Democracy needs many voices that criticize government. Need separation to keep
church independent. Thus, he sees if church becomes subservient to government
it loses autonomy and value to society, beyond religious practices.

Debater Alyssa Lane cross-examines on Michael’s strict separation
position – fascinating rapid-fire series of challenges to Michael’s positions,
terms and concepts – attempt to broaden focus and direct debate toward
alternative positions. The exchange was too quick to record, other than to say
each debater is articulate and well versed

Alyssa prefaces her negative construction with appropriate
thanks to sponsors, school and family, and dives in to challenge Michael’s
position for strict separation, favoring a loose separation between church and
state that allows more participative government – believes church
empowers/enables citizenry to assemble and debate, which supports moral compass
for state that Michael positioned is important – thus she sees Michael having
similar and ill-defined position. Alyssa introduces an interesting concept that
minorities, under-class and disenfranchised people need religious institutions
to assemble – realization church provides important learning and social
services not provided effectively by government - strict separation prevents
minorities, which are likely to convene through religion, to be included as
effectively in due process of government. This views church as fair/civil right
to assembly, and providing important social services (like homeless shelters,
meals, warm meeting places, community centers) which government fails to
provide, and considers funding that a role of government (and more cost
effective through church than as strict social entitlement program - points to study saying it would cost Philadelphia $1,000,000,000 per year to provide the social services provided by churches to 750,000 residents). She thus
brings up an intriguing concept of recent state practice as religious
apartheid, which she says stigmatizes religion, which she claims hurts citizens
and state (and she again positions that is consistent with Michael’s
affirmation of importance of church to check state) – her big interest here
seems to be equality. She says in affirmative case Michael too loosely defines
church and state and challenges his view that church is separate from religion,
and state is separate from politics - he sees value of church for moral compass
and takes a position that strict separation from state undermines religion – in
this she believes church is undercut from practicing beliefs and protecting
civil rights and acting as the moral compass Michael conceded government needs
– thus this strict separation does not work. Loose separation allows all
religions "equal accommodation" to exist and Alyssa believes state should help fund all

Next Michael drives a cross examination on the negative
construction. Michael focuses on specifics and seeks case proof/logic of
Alyssa’s social positions – they spar on terms and concepts. Again, the pace is
too fast to track – both debaters are impressive. Michael is more precise, with
smoother more direct delivery, but Alyssa seems more passionate and creative

In his first affirmative rebuttal, Michael states he’s not against religion, but doesn’t
support bias for them – believes they have operated independently with self
funding for 1,000s of years and should continue to do so - churches are
skeptical of human laws, so offer healthy checks of state, but there must be
strict separation of control so they remain independent – if they are state
funded they will fear to “bite the hand that feeds them� and so be compromised.
Further, he sees as impractical Alyssa’s position of funding religion with
equal distributions – how do you determine what is a religion and which should
receive how much for what services?

In her negative rebuttal, Alyssa says opponent needs to clarify his position – she
questions his position church and state are strictly separate now and doesn’t
see how he will accomplish that objective – she believes
marginalizing/stigmatizing all churches will radicalize some – she repeats
contention Michael’s position does not lead to strict separation, and so is a
nonstarter. Repeats need in marginalized and minority communities for church
sponsored social services and meeting places.

Michael is given the opportunity to close in his second affirmative rebuttal –
repeats “the value is democracy� – he does not find in Alyssa’s position a
need for state support of church – they can exist without state through
volunteerism – believes when funded by government they lose independence and
may be told by government what to do and will feel constrained against speaking
out – thus he is not opposed to church but rather feels strict separation is in
best interest of church.

When the debate concluded, the judging was held. There are not specific criteria of who should be a
judge of a debate - by nature anyone off the street or listening on the radio
should be able to decide who won. In this case, the judges selected Michael,
with praise for Alyssa as well.

As someone off the street, I considered who I felt won the
debate. My experience was that Michael was the more effective presenter today - more precise, with better eye contact and smoother delivery, fewer bobbled
words – more confident and forceful – clear, concise and “professional�... the more cutting lion. But I
found his position was rather summary. Alyssa seemed less
comfortable and was largely head-down – garbled a bit – but was forceful and showed conviction. More important, she was creative in thought and so expanded my perspectives
to consider such concepts as religious apartheid and the role of church in
marginalized society. I’d be more
compelled to agree with Michael if he took a more contrarian position that
church is unnecessary – Darwinian approach there is no god – he seemed to
position that church is essential to state without addressing the social issues
surfaced by Alyssa that people are marginalized by society, and government
often fails to use a good moral compass, so we need proactive interventions at
many levels, which only church has historically provided.

Wondering if my assessment was unique, I asked a few other
attendees at my table who they felt had won the debate and I heard from them similar
assessments – they expected Michael would win because his delivery was so
strong, but they were inspired and found creative the positions
presented by Alyssa. Thus, we left the debate conflicted both by what we
learned and by the outcomes of the occasion.

It would be valuable to learn from the actual judges why
they chose Michael, by what criteria, and what were their impressions of the
debate. And, it would be valuable to continue and expand the debate among those
who presented and attended, and the general public. I was surprised to gain
from the experience a higher level of enlightenment about important issues and
I now want to grow my insight further.

If you attended the session and would
like to share your perspectives, please feel free to set up an account here and
leave your comments.Â

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