The Situation

For reasons unimportant to the question all divine/infernal beings ceased contact with humanity in the dark ages. For reasons equally obscure they are now back and busier than ever. Law enforcement, mental health professionals, the legal system, and our nation's corrections system are struggling to deal with the influx of supernatural related crimes. The police utilize a field test to differentiate between the demonically possessed and mentally ill. The suspect is held in a position where they cannot see what the police are doing and exposed to various holy icons from various religions alongside control sample items in order to elicit a supernatural response. This is used to determine the presence of a supernatural entity as if they react to an object that a non-possessed person could not see they are possessed. This test is used to determine the entity's culture of origin, and the severity of the manifestation and helps to target the response (For Example, You don't bring a catholic priest to exorcise a djinn, and you don't bring a native American shaman to cast out a judeo-christian demon.) Tactical Squads of commando-priests, sometimes with an angel or other divine entity on staff are used similar to swat, they are called in to perform field exorcisms upon determining the presence of a malign entity. Keep in mind that all cultures demons, angels, and assorted spiritual entities are now real and said priesthood is not necessarily catholic or even christian. There is a need for a multitude of religious and spiritual holy men to serve as commando-priests. A squad will typically represent several religions.

The dilemma

A coalition of demon and infernal entity civil rights advocates begin pushing for demons to be granted person-hood and civil rights after a demon that is possessing a man claims that an exorcism would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Up until this point extremist groups have been using demonically possessed as a sort of supernatural suicide bombers in a series of religiously motivated attacks. The controversy surrounding this case is similar to that of the confirmed terrorists being tortured clandestinely in Guantanamo bay.

A movement to abolish the practice of using angel-squads and commando priests to conduct field exorcisms is started. Their chief argument is that government sanctioned religious personnel are a violation of the United States Separation of church and state. The Demon Rights Advocacy Group (DRAG) is essentially a new tactic by the infernal beings to gain power and cause more havoc, but their (non radical) human members are within their rights under the first amendment.

The Question

Would a militarized priesthood or the utilization of state sanctioned divine beings operating as law enforcement violate the United State's separation between church and state? Assume they only have jurisdiction over events involving infernal beings.

The debate over the separation of church and state has a long history in the U.S., where the story is set. Please include references in your answers.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Just a quick note: This story of yours sounds incredible. I'd if you're writing something set in this world, I'd love to read it when it's done! $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 16:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm story boarding and writing up a vague outline/synopsis right now actually. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about military chaplains and church-state separation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 21:27

9 Answers 9


It doesn't have to.

The First Amendment states (and this is my only knowledge of the separation between church and state):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This might prevent the state 'hiring out' the priesthood to organise their own operations and giving them extra privileges 'licence to kill' or something similar.

It does not prevent the state setting up its own 'Supernatural Response Units'. The specialists being members of their respective churches is no more a conflict than a university professor also contributing to developing army combat equipment.

Now it would be illegal if that professor got the job because they happened to know someone in the military. At least if they did not also independently verify the professor was suited for the job. Conversely it would be illegal to offer extra research grants as a reward for their service.

To be safe the state must hire specialists based on what they can do rather than who they are. We need someone who can banish Judeo-Christian demons for example. We will interview whoever applies and hire whoever does that best. The fact that most of the applicants are ministers of some sort is not our problem, provided we do not turn away non-ministers.

To save trouble the state might set up a licensing body that issues certifications so potential employees do not have to be re-tested each time. The job application says "Applicants must have a LvL X Exorcism certificate".

The tricky part is to set up a legal fiction that effectively categories these certificates by religion without making specific reference to the Churches themselves. This might be as simple as categorising demons by physical appearance:

Subsection II(e) -- Class (A) Spirits: Class (A) spirits are characterised by one or all of the following. Humanoid appearance. Size and strength exceeding human capability. Intelligence an speech ability equal or below human level. Hooves, horns and/or bat like wings. Affinity for heat. Brutish and masochistic disposition.

Requiring a class (A) certificate is essentially requiring a Judeo-Christian minister without explicitly referencing any particular Church.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Case in point: military chaplains.Professional religious people employed by the state. $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ I'd note as well that the OP notes that members of various faiths are present (by necessity as each faith can banish their "own demons". This by definition meets the criteria of not "respecting an establishment of religion" or singling out any particular religion to promote. All are both needed and welcomed in the fight. $\endgroup$
    – VerasVitas
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 16:23

I'm only going to be able to speak for the Catholic side of this.

Under current Church law, priests cannot officially work with law enforcement in this manner without being defrocked.

Contrary to how many Catholics present themselves with regards to politics, the Holy See recognizes complete separation of the Church from any and all states that are not the Papal States. Although they can advocate for specific political issues, no official member of the Church's hierarchy is allowed to:

  1. Advocate for a specific candidate (this can result in a gag order)
  2. Run for a political office (this can result in being kicked out of their order)
  3. This is the dicey one for you: They cannot act as government agents in such a capacity that they may potentially - and I mean even the slightest potentially - receive conflicting orders from their secular and religious superiors. You can assume that in this case they would be expected to choose their religious orders over their secular orders or be kicked out, but the reality is that the Vatican will never allow its officials to be placed in a position that would risk this to begin with.

The reasons for this are actually pretty old. If you want the whole story for background to incorporate into your world building, then I recommend reading biographies of Pope Pius VI and military-political histories of Napoleon's invasion of the Papal States. The way I understand it, Napoleon demanded that Pius order the Papal subjects to obey French rule, and Pius' political response was to begin the process of issuing orders that consolidated the Papacy's political authority over Papal subjects instead. The separation between secular and religious authorities is just one branch in a whole litany of edicts that have to do with consolidation of Papal authority, that subsequent Popes continued to make throughout the 1800's.

The way you're describing

Tactical Squads of commando-priests, ... are used similar to swat. ... militarized priesthood or the utilization of state sanctioned divine beings operating as law enforcement...

sounds exactly like what the Vatican will go out of its way to avoid. Catholic priests would not be allowed to officially join these squads of multiple religious.

Now having said that...

What can believably happen is for the Church to issue edicts specifically instructing priests how to respond to requests from law enforcement and possibly cooperate in a non-official capacity. If you're going to have Catholic priests, these rules will have a big impact on your world building, and it may help to research when and how priests are allowed to cooperate with law enforcement currently (for instance, priests who report that someone confessed to having committed murder can be excommunicated).

Slightly less realistic, but still within historic precedent, is that the Church would create a new order of priests or revive an older order to specifically deal with demonic threats. These are the types of individuals who would think of themselves as a SWAT or commando team - just compare the Jesuits' concept of being "Soldiers of Christ" with a global mission to a stereotypical diocesan priest thinking of himself as the person who loves and cares deeply for his small parish. This leads to another research topic: stereotypical Jesuits have particular attitudes, and Catholic readers will expect your story to reflect this. Google "Jesuit jokes" to get an idea. But again, these will be teams made up exclusively of members of this religious order, which would cooperate with law enforcement under the direction of specific edicts from the Holy See.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Possibly see a revival of the Templar's? DEUS VULT! $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 18:01
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ This leads to the question of whether defrocked clergymen who retain their faith also retain their ability to perform exorcisms. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 18:03
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Daron Exactly. And that in turn raises the question of whether or not reconstructed religions - Wicca, for instance - that don't have (in the same sense as Judeo-Christian or Eastern religious philosophies) an unbroken historical tradition would have these abilities in the first place, or if the types of exorcisms Wiccans could/would perform were coopted by Judeo-Christians over the last 2000 years. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 18:11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Wicca didn't really exist until the late 1960's, they basically built a new age religion based around some things we assume about druids with a few dark age pagan bits and some new age naturalism mixed in. They try to claim solidarity with unrelated groups like the Salem witches or because any good cult needs martyrs. The reality is that Wicca is only about 50 years old. In any case, I'm sure that Wicca would probably gravitate towards more authentic pagan beliefs and rituals once theirs continued to not work. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 18:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I wonder, does one actually have to be a Catholic priest to perform (certain kinds of) exorcism, or is it enough to have been trained as one? Could the government recruit ex-priests (ones who left the priesthood some time ago) in order to avoid conflict with religious law? $\endgroup$
    – David K
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 2:47

Most constitutions with a separation between church and state phrase these in a way that the government must not enforce one specific religion or favor one religion over others.

It is quite easy to make the argument that the religious operatives are not doing either. They are not paid to preach their religion. They are paid to neutralize threats to public safety and national security. You are not hiring them for their faith. You are hiring them for their ability to neutralize these threats. You also don't discriminate, because the religious operatives are hired from all religions.

In order to not be accused of secretly subsidizing specific organized religions, you should pay the operatives directly and not through their religious organizations.

Just one piece of advise: make sure that the behavior and aesthetics of your task forces do not remind anyone too much of the spanish inquisition. If your exorcism squads are not just fighting demons head-on but also do investigations to uncover demon activity, then each squad should contain a secular police officer who does the police stuff like conducting witness interviews and arresting suspects.

Another common definition of separation between church and state is that religious organizations should not have the authority to make legislative, executive or judicative decisions. To prevent this, you should make sure that any religious people do not get too powerful. If you have some council tasked with dealing with the demon threat, and you have people with religious ranks as consultants in that council, make sure that the final decisions are still made by people with secular legitimation.


State-Sanctioned Divine Beings

Short answer: No

These divine beings aren't the church, the church is simply an organization that worships them. The beings themselves are separate entities, and as a result contracting them should have no legal implications in terms of separation of church and state.

This only changes if the beings are a part of the leadership structure of the church itself. For example, if an Angel holds an official position of power in the church equivalent to a bishop or priest.

Weaponized Priesthood

Short answer: No, but only if they are being contracted like mercenary groups

This part of the answer is a simple one.

If they're being given specific contracts as if they were mercenaries, then this is no violation. This isn't a violation because they're never becoming a part of the state itself.

If they are official government employees, however, then this is a violation. These are official parts of the church that are also official parts of the government, and this is a violation of church and state.


As Daron's answer has indicated, there's no law that enforces a separation of church and state. This answer is more of a guide of things that are and aren't violating the concept of separation of Church and State, which while it might not be useful for the legal aspects of your world, might be useful for the societal impacts.

  • $\begingroup$ “there's no law that enforces a separation of church and state” — That’s flat out untrue, even if we discount the First Amendment itself (which is also a law). $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 13:39


Daron has it right and I don't want to distract from that fundamental legal basis for their answer, but I would like add a few tidbits of my own.

In your world, it sounds like multiple religions are specifically considered. We have long established that as long as all religions are treated equally, the treatment is fair. Your world is then almost uniquely situated to avoid conflicts that would arise if, for example, only one belief systems' deities were manifesting (though that would imply that it was the "one true religion" and separation of church and state is no longer necessary).

However, that discrimination inside of of the squads against a particular practitioner due to their faith would violate those rules (and others). [I imagine this would almost necessarily have to come up in some of the squads too, given that religious belief systems are mutually exclusive].

At another level though, if you have bad actors killing people and the federal government said you couldn't take action to stop them, I think you'd see a non-trivial number of states either acting against the directives of the federal court system or simply cutting ties with the union. It's speculation, but as someone living in the southern United States now I can't imagine having a vote to leave and the state I'm in not making the mandatory 70% threshold for it under such conditions.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The idea is that in such a world divine beings would either overrun humanity or we would be in such a constant state of war against/in-between them that ideas like our modern nation state with legally enshrined civil rights would degrade or disappear. I'm envisioning the US eventually collapsing into a series of warring and allied theocratic nations. The idea is to utilize this fiction to examine what rights are and how they can be abused, violated, or lost. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 16:58

One precedent in the United States: chaplains in the military.

In practice, if supernatural beings objectively exist, and only particular specialists can fight them, the courts aren't going to rule that we can't do it (unless they think a bunch of superstitious hicks running the government have gone crazy and made those stories up). It's like asking whether laws against publishing military secrets or child pornography violate the principle of Free Speech. Sure, by a strict definition they do, but in practice everyone decided that we were okay with it.

Since all mythologies in this setting are true (to an extent: monotheists might need to get clever to explain why the power of God does not compel every evil spirit), the program is probably open to clergy of all religions, and indeed makes an effort to cover every possible type of supernatural enemy.

In an American context, you'd also have to ask: who has standing to bring the lawsuit? Is there some religion suing that it should get its chaplains even though there (in the fictional setting) are no Thetans to be Cleared? Some atheists make a point of demanding any privilege that religions get for themselves as well. This is why, for tax purposes, the leaders of atheist organizations are "ministers of the Gospel." One sued over tax-exempt parsonages for "ministers of the Gospel," and the IRS gave it to him rather than fight that lawsuit.

If anything, this completely validates countries that allow state support of all religions on equal terms. The real problem is in countries where the only way of fighting their new threats effectively is blasphemy.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The difference is that military chaplains are noncombat personnel and cannot enforce laws or arrest/detain anybody. Seeing one is also a voluntary act. $\endgroup$
    – TCAT117
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 Is it necessary in this setting for the exorcists to have that authority, or would they be called in to deal with people who had been taken into custody, after it's determined what kind to call? If the former, perhaps police departments hire some ordained clergy as officers and adminish them to keep their two roles separate. $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    Commented Jun 2, 2018 at 20:50

Change the laws

The US Constitution is the product of its own times. In the age of Enlightement ideas like "freedom of consience", "religious tolerance" and "separation of sate and church" gained popularity, most of the educated people deeming that it is everyones responsibility to care for his/her soul and salvation:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Thomas Jefferson

If all the supernatural beings are there and undeniably (form a legal and scientific standpoint) interfering with the humans, this policiy has to change.

Now it is the responsibility of the government that the US maintains a good relationship with all the gods. Not all of them are so tolerant to disbelief as the God Christians worship...

For example the government has to ensure that Iuppiter recieves the proper number of cows as sacrifice on the proper days, or even worse, that the God of the Sun from the aztecs gets his freshly torn human heart every day, otherwise the Sun might not rises on the next day...

As not a single tribal totem can remain unattended - lest he could release hurricans or plaques - the budget and staff of the Department of Worship would soon rival that of Pentagon. It would be a small issue to divert some of these state-emplyed priest to excorcism duties.

  • $\begingroup$ This would be a fascinating way to take this story - since the US allows ritual sacrifice of animals, would we willing to go as far as ritual sacrifice of people, even volunteers? Or would we attempt to purge gods like Huitzilopochtli from our country? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 18:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JaycieBeveri Probably (in the name of humane ethics) you should. But it is hard to see how could humans defeat the God of the Sun. In fact everything depends on how the OP wants to resolve the conflict of authority arising from every belief system being simultaniously true. If all the deities have all the powers their followers credit them, but can not interfere with each other, modern society is doomed. The seer number of festivals and holidays required to give due reverence to everybody would ruin economy. $\endgroup$
    – b.Lorenz
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 21:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But if the gods can be used agains each other, our posibilities are much wider. Perhaps we could strike an alliance with Appolon and Amon-Re to banish Huitzilopochtli and take his control of the Sun away... But in this case the exciting supernatural chaos desired by OP would soon end, with every politeist god being defeated by the true and omnipotent God. (ie.: JHW/Allah/Deus of Abrahamian religions) $\endgroup$
    – b.Lorenz
    Commented Jun 3, 2018 at 21:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 for having to change the laws. The premise of the question, that the structure of society would remain mostly unchanged, is wrong. In such a drastic event, our whole way of life would be changed, so pesky technicalities won't matter that much. Later on, when things stabilize a little, laws will have to be written to accommodate the new situation. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 6:07

A New State Agency

They could become a new state agency with their own jurisdiction. Much like the FBI or the CIA they can take control of operations if it’s proven that an infernal entity is present. use of force may be legitimized and a new amendment drafted up in this case (hell has opened up, maybe we can change the rules a bit) also you need to come up with a cool name for the agency like Holy Exorcists Logistics Legion H.E.L.L could be called something better but hay that's not my job.


I think the legal aspects WRT American Constitutional law have been explored well by the other posters, so what will be needed is to examine Canon Law with regards to this question. Obviously, since Law enforcement understands there are a multitude of spirit beings from a multitude of religions, there can be no "one" answer, even within the Christian religion, different churches have different versions and ideas of how canon law works and is applied.

Given the scenario, it would seem the Law Enforcement agencies have some sort of field test (I'm imagining a sort of box with a shutter and a rotating device inside which can rapidly bring a religious icon or relic to the shutter for viewing). If a deamon is detected the officer calls it in and a special priestly SWAT team races to the location to do their containment/exorcism drills.

Most religions make a point of the duty to protect and comfort people, so canon law would likely be interpreted to allow priests or their equivalents to take active part in suppressing demonic possession and other spiritual crimes. For Christians, and particularly Catholics, this might mean reactivating the Warrior Monk societies like the Knights Templar, and revising the mandate of the Knights Hospitaller so they re assume their military role.

enter image description here

Seal of the Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici (Knights Templar)

Other religions will need to be researched separately, but most religions have, at one time or another, embraced a very militant branch. Even Buddhist warrior monks were feared by the Samurai, and a series of wars were fought to suppress these warrior monks in Japan, so for story purposes there can be warrior monk societies with abilities similar to SoF units based on real historical precedent.

enter image description here

Japanese warrior monks. Religious disputes could get very heated at times


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .