Religious Freedom (Esatablishment/Free Exercise Cl Essay, Research Paper
Freedom of Religion under the First Amendment has been up for interpretation throughout most of the history of the United States. The two controversial parts of Freedom of Religion are the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause. The purpose of this paper is to critique the Supreme Court s reasoning behind it s interpretation of these two clauses. The intention of the Freedom of Religion clause is to separate church and state. Two clauses meant to help the court to better apply the idea of separation of church and state, and to determine the degree of separation are the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. The Free Exercise Clause says that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. The application of the Establishment Clause is not a black and white issue, in fact, it is widely up to interpretation by the Supreme Court. The first case pertaining to the Establishment Clause was heard by the Supreme Court in 1947. Everson v. Board of Education ruled in favor of a New Jersey law allowing the state to pay for busing of students to religious schools. The shallow reasoning behind this was that the state law was benefiting the students and not the religion directly. So who is to determine what violates the separation of church and state, and what doesn t? In 1971, the court started using a system to determine this better, at least pertaining to religious education. To be constitutional, state aid to church schools must: (1) have a clear secular, non-religious purpose; (2) in its main effect neither advance nor inhibit religion; and (3) avoid excessive government entanglement with religion. In Levitt v. Committee for Public Education (1973,) the court would not allow New York State to pay for the administration of tests in religious schools. In Committee for Public Education v. Regan (1980) it was decided that monetary aid to religious schools by the state for the administration of tests was constitutional, as long as the department of education prepared the tests, not the teachers. It is questionable whether or not these rulings truly follow any sort of pattern or maintain a strict central spirit of the separation of church and state. It is up to the Supreme Court justices to present criteria for their decision, because there simply isn t specific rules to follow. Keep in mind, not every justice thinks in the same way. The way I see it, this means that although rulings will all seem to have intelligent justification in some way or another, they just won t be consistent. Take a look at this quote from a Supreme Court justice.
In this country it is no part of the business of government compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as part of a religious program carried on by the government. -Justice Hugo H. Black, 1962 This is an interpretation by one judge. After reading it, one wonders of the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance we recite every morning. Again, it all points to the questions: how much separation between church and state is necessary? What is appropriate and what isn t? What government actions have an effect on the direction of a religion and which ones effect just the individuals subscribing to it? The second part of Freedom of Religion, the Free Exercise Clause says that the government can t prohibit the free exercise of religion. This clause is extremely controversial and it should be. Can any individual s irresponsible, disrespecting or criminal action be blamed on the subscription of religious values? I don t think so. In Reynolds v. United States (1879,) a Mormon is convicted of polygamy and sues on the basis that polygamy is one of his religious values, and shouldn t be subject to persecution. The court ruled against the Mormon. This case establishes that people are not free to worship in ways that violate laws protecting health, safety, or morals of the community. Although I believe that this criteria for determining the constitutionality of a religious practice is clearer, it is still not as easy as black and white. It may be especially controversial in determining what violates laws protecting community morals and what doesn t. In Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940,) it is decided that students who were Jehovah s Witnesses, had to follow a rule requiring them to salute the American flag, even though they believed it against their religion. the court reasoned that this action was one of patriotism to the US, not a religious infringement. But in 1943, the ruling was overturned in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette.. It was decided that patriotism could be achieved without forcing people to violate their religious beliefs. The progression between these two cases above provides a perfect example of the problem with both the Establishment clause and the Free Exercise clause. The Supreme Court can change its mind. With the entire Freedom of religion clause being so general, it is impossible for the rulings to be entirely consistent or entirely permanent. Trust in a justices ability to judge fairly on behalf of a religion and with respect to the constitution might just be something that we all have to accept.