Seperation Of Church And State Essay Research

Seperation Of Church And State Essay, Research Paper

The Separation of Church and State in America

Church and State seem to be two words which are entirely inseparable from each other. Religion in politics and the government has been present since the federal government was first put into place. The issue of religion is present in such varied topics as the public school system, presidential elections, right down to the National Anthem. The fact of the matter is, Church and State are very far from being separate in the United States.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These opening words of the First Amendment of the Constitution set forth a guarantee of religious freedom in the United States. The Establishment clause was intended to accomplish this end by, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, creating a “wall of separation between Church and State.” The First Amendment prevented the government from interfering in it’s citizens religious lives. It did not, however, prevent the federal government from engaging in it’s own.

The Fourteenth Amendment, Ratified in 1868, states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the Unites States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This Amendment, one of the Civil War Amendments, would later be used by the Supreme Court to extend the religion clauses of the first amendment beyond the country and to the states. After the Civil War, President Grant moved for the state governments, in addition to the federal government, to be kept out of the citizens religious affairs.

In 1876 James G. Blaine proposed an Amendment to congress to accomplish this task, extending the religious clauses of the first amendment, and adding a prohibition of aid to parochial schools. Senator Frelinghuysen, who opposed the Blaine amendment, stated that “The Blaine Amendment very properly extends the prohibition of the first amendment of the Constitution to the States. Thus the Blaine Amendment prohibits the States, for the first time, from the establishment of religion, from prohibiting its free exercise, and from making any religious test a qualification to office.” Senator Eaton of Connecticut, and others with the same objections to the Blaine Amendment, felt that the Constitution prevented congressional involvement in the peoples religious lives, and that the states should be left to make their own decisions on the matter. The Blaine Amendment was proposed to the House, passed, and then defeated in the Senate. It would be proposed to congress and defeated over and over again for the next 50 years, but not abandoned until the Supreme Court decided that the Fourteenth Amendment extended the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the states making the Blaine Amendment superfluous.

In 1908 The United States Supreme Court reviewed a series of cases “in which the states were held not bound by the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the right to a grand jury indictment guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment right to be confronted by one’s accusers, or the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury in civil cases.” This did not mean that none of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights could be applied to the states. It simply meant that because the federal government was prohibited from doing something by the Bill of Rights, did not mean that the states were subject to the same prohibitions.

State courts continued to maintain that the religion clauses of the First Amendment were not applicable to state actions. “In a case in 1908, for example, two Roman Catholics, two Jews, and one person who ‘does not believe in the inspiration of the Bible,’ sued their school board in Texas to stop the reading in the public schools of the King James version of the Bible, the recitation of the Lord’s prayer, and the singing of hymns. The children were not required to participate, most Biblical passages were taken from the Old Testament, and when a rabbi complained about certain of the songs being prepared for a Christmas pageant, the superintendent of schools, according to his testimony, ‘had it stopped.’” Their were no violations of the Texas state constitution in these activities, as well as no reference to the federal Constitution in the Texas Supreme Court findings.

As of 1940, more then 150 years after the Constitution came into effect, more then seventy years after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the religion clauses of the First Amendment had never been extended to the states. In 1947, Arch R. Everson argued to the Supreme Court to extend the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the states. The case was concerning the state governments paying for transportation parochial school children the schools. Justice Hugo Black seized this opportunity and stated that “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.” This was just one step in extending the entire Bill of Rights to the states.

The courts have created a number of tests which can be used to determine the constitutionality of proposed laws or to settle cases. In 1971 the federal courts created a test, first utilized in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, to maintain the separation of Church and State. The Lemon test consists of three questions which a court must ask in order to pass a statute. The questions being: (1) whether the government’s action has a secular or a religious purpose; (2) whether the primary effect of the government’s action is to advance or endorse religion; and (3) whether the government’s policy or practice fosters an excessive entanglement between government and religion. In 1992 the case of Lee v. Weisman, 503 U.S. 577, came up with another test, the Coercion Test, to determine if any pressure is applied to force or coerce individuals to participate in religious practices. The Court has defined that unconstitutional coercion occurs when the government directs a formal religious exercise in such a way as to force the participation of individuals who object to the exercise. Finally, in the Endorsement test, drawing from the 1989 case of Allegheny County v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, a government action is examined to see if it unconstitutionally endorses religion by conveying a message that a religion is favored, preferred, or promoted over other beliefs. This wall of separation between Church and State is not quite as effective as it perhaps should be.

One of the most widely publicized instances of the separation between Church and State controversy is prayer in public schools. As recently as 200 years ago, “education on all levels in Europe and the Americas was almost entirely church controlled.” For around the first 50 years of its existence, public school was able to engage in moral indoctrination simply because the many different religious and moral characteristics of immigrants, that would come to shape America, were not yet an issue. After the surge of immigrants into America in the latter half of the 19th century, the public schools underwent many changes. Various religious denominations were unable to compromise on certain issues. For example, Christians and Jews debated how they could communicate their common ethical heritage, without betraying their profound disagreements on Jesus Christ.

In 1884, 1890, 1898, 1904, and 1904 again, the Supreme Court’s of Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, and Kentucky respectively held that Bible reading, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, singing of religious songs, and/or prayer in the public schools of each state did not violate their state constitutions. In 1902 the Supreme Court of Nebraska decided that these religious acts in public schools did violate the constitution of Nebraska. “In none of these cases, neither the ones in which religious activities in public schools were upheld nor the ones in which they were struck down, was the Constitution of the United States even mentioned.” By 1963 Bible reading was required in 13 states, and permitted in 25 others. However, the Bible’s use as devotional literature, or as a book for moral instruction has been forbidden by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Abington School District v. Schempp in 1963.

Even such seemingly harmless activities such as Christmas plays, carols, recitations, and the construction of creches, as well as Jewish children enacting the festival of Hanukkah have been brought to a halt by the courts decisions. The position taken by the court is that the First Amendment commands “that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion” in the public schools. The schools began to attempt to establish morality codes which could be taught in the public schools. Teachers tried to teach moral values through stressing good citizenship, and on the moral and spiritual values underlying democracy. A study document by the Department of Religion and Public Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. stated that the issues of worship and commitment to a particular faith belonged in the home and church, and that learning ethical codes belonged to the school, along with the home and church. The main problem with the teaching of moral and spiritual values in public school is that these values cannot be taught without asking the question of motivation. No matter how good the intentions of a teacher are in answering a religious question they cannot avoid imposing their own beliefs and intruding into matters which are better left to the church and parents.

The Pledge of Allegiance, which is still to this day recited in public schools, is another example of the pervasiveness of religion in the education system. The Pledge states: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The Pledge was first published Sept. 8, 1892, but the phrase, “under God”, was added by an act of Congress in 1954. The issue of school prayer may never be solved as long as there are so many different interpretations of the laws regarding it.

Religion has always been a very strong factor in Presidential elections. In 1960 an overwhelming number of Catholics cast their vote for John F. Kennedy, rather then Richard Nixon. This is largely because of the fact that Kennedy was himself a Catholic. The majority of conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were turned off by his Catholicism and voted for Kennedy’s opponent Nixon. Particular religions can also influence which way a voter will vote. Liberal Protestants are more likely to vote for a republican candidate, Conservative Protestants are more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate, and Catholics are also more likely to vote for a democratic candidate. Religious beliefs and political attitudes are also connected, in that a member of a more conservative religion is more likely to have a conservative political standpoint, and vice versa.

Religion is so widespread in our government, that it even shows up in our National Anthem. The third to the last line of the Star Spangled Banner reads “And this be our motto: ‘in God is our trust.’” A reference to God made an appearance in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as well: “…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” The motto “In God we Trust” was put on all paper currency by an Act of Congress in 1955 and was chosen as our national motto by an Act of Congress in 1956.

Religion is extremely pervasive in the United States government, and the United States itself. It is virtually unavoidable in our lives. It thrives in our schools, in our Congress, in our Courts and in our homes. Church and State are indeed extremely far from being separate in our culture. In fact the separation of Church and State may be an unattainable goal. But as long as the Church and State have anything to do with one another, the struggle will continue.

Goldberg, George. Church, State, and the Constitution. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1987.

Mueller, Arnold C. “Religion in the Public Schools.” In Church and State Under God, ed. Albert G. Huegli. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964.

Lopatto, Paul. Religion and the Presidential Election. Edited by Gerald M. Pomper. New York: Praeger, 1985.

Spiritual Answers Online, Church and State,


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