Religion In American Society Essay, Research Paper
The Role of Religion in American Society
For many years we have heard about the separation of church and state. Despite being written as part of the First Amendment in the Constitution, can the two really be separated? What law actually dictates the separation of church and state? The truth is that the government has never passed a law implementing a separation of church and state. What is actually written in the Constitution is: “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.” America is one of the few nations in the world whose sole existence is due to religion. The pilgrims were the first to settle in America. They came in search of religious freedom, as did many others after them. Many of America’s early documents, laws, and freedoms were based on religious beliefs. We could look at several similar examples. The fact is that freedom of religion, speech, press, peaceful assembly, and to petition the government are all covered in the First Amendment. The first of these firsts is the freedom of religion. This most likely means that when the authors of the Bill of Rights prepared the first ten amendment to the Constitution, the first thing on their minds was protecting or possibly creating a freedom of religion; but what about the separation of church and state? If our founding fathers intended the separation we are now levied with would their earliest documents contain phrases such as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…” This is part of the Declaration of Independence. Here is another example from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “…that is 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.” Even in the Pledge of Allegiance the nation is referred to as “…one nation under God…” Religion also plays an important role in politics. As once stated by Ronald Reagan “politics and morality are inseparable, and as morality’s foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related.” History records it, and current events confirm it. Yet here in the U.S. some people still are not convinced. The new fusion of Christian fundamentalism with a so-called political conservatism has been branded the most potent political force in the nation today. People who practice fundamentalist politics and have school prayer at the top of their legislative agenda talk of a return to traditional values. In my opinion there is no value more traditional than that of separation of church and state. It is our great gift to the history of the world. During the 97th and 98th Congresses, there were repeated attempts to dilute this quality, which has distinguished our society from all others. There have been bills to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over school prayer. Nearly 200 years after the drafting of the Constitution, the Supreme Court for the first time ruled that prayer and Bible reading in public schools encouraged by the State constitutes an establishment of religion in violation of the first amendment. At the time of these decisions, 26 states permitted Bible reading in the public schools and 13 authorized the saying of the Lord’s Prayer. In each case, the court ruled that voluntary school programs including Bible reading or prayer violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. In both rulings, the court went beyond the language of the establishment clause to construct an interpretation of it, which would overturn the long-standing state practices. What is worse is that radical rewrites of our Constitution have been put forward as good, old-fashioned morality. The Constitution is not a self-enforcing document. Each succeeding generation must shore up the wall of separation between church and state or else it will come tumbling down. The decisions of the judicial system did a lot to strengthen that wall in the early 60s. Now it is up to us to see that a simple legislative majority does not undo those decisions.