"Separation of church and state" issues
- "When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favored beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some." Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. 1
- "You don't believe in Separation of Church and State? Well, since you want your church to tell the government how to govern, does that mean the government can come into your church and tell you how to worship? Separation is for the protection of both." Zoe Anadon
This section should really be called "religion and state," so that it represents a wall of separation between all religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Wicca, etc. -- and the federal, state and municipal governments in the U.S. However, the term "church and state" is so well entrenched that we will continue to use it here.
This section discusses the following topics:
|Introduction to the concept of separation of church and state, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution|
|Religion in the U.S. public schools, libraries, etc. Praying, teaching religion, news items, etc. |
|Unsuccessful Constitutional amendments during the 1990s to legalize public school prayer imposed by the school board|
|Church/state separation issues by local, state & federal governments:|
Free sample essay on Separation of Church and State:
In 1789, the First Amendment established that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This meant the Federal and State Governments could not be partial or show support for any certain denomination or religious organization. One example being the nation’s early attachment to the Church of England. Three years after this amendment was written, it was ratified by the states of the union.
James Madison, also referred to as the “Father of the Constitution”, was greatly worried about the church’s influence on the Federal Government. He once voiced his concern in 1785 when Patrick Henry proposed a bill requiring all citizens in the state of Virginia to pay a tax that would support religion with each taxpayer being able to choose which church they would like to support. Those non-religious individuals would pay a tax that helped fund secular education.
To show his disapproval concerning this bill, Madison wrote and published “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” and used several logical, realistic, and even clever analogies and comparisons in his essay to support his views. This essay, which gave sound arguments to maintain the separation of church and state proved to be a good weapon against Patrick Henry’s persuasive oration and prevented any advances from being made concerning the union of church and state.
The few constitutional religious references concerning the federal government such as “In God We Trust” and “…one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” are considered constitutional because they were accepted by our founding fathers and written into the constitution. Also, the public is not required or forced to know, recite, or respect these phrases.
Even though the separation of church and state is understood and respected in the United States; infringements on this amendment are still taking place today. Some examples being the displaying of nativity scenes, crosses, and other religious insignia in, outside, or on the premises of state or federal government buildings.
The public opinion concerning the separation of church and state is fairly evenly divided and differs from region to region. Most people in small, rural communities are against the separation of church and state while those in more densely populated areas favor the separation and believe that the church should not be involved in governmental affairs.
Religious displays and references are rarely seen in federal buildings, but are often shown in state and local courthouses and other government establishments. An example of this would be a district judge in Alabama beginning his court sessions with a prayer and his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments displayed on the wall in his courtroom. The judge’s views were shared not only by the community, but by the entire state as a whole and the governor of Alabama even went as far as to threaten to deploy the Alabama National Guard to prevent the Ten Commandments from being removed. This is in violation of the separation of church and state, but rarely much action is taken against these offenses.
In the public school system, the separation of church and state is strictly enforced although events of a religious nature on school grounds are not entirely prohibited. Students are allowed and welcome to participate in a range of activities as long as their actions do not disrupt, influence, or pressure other students. Private, silent prayers at the lunch table and students gathering around the flagpole for a group prayer if done so voluntarily are completely acceptable. On the contrary, group prayers said by athletes and lead by the team coach are not allowed. The constitution clearly specifies that facilitators must never push religious views on students but instead promote unity amongst students of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Students should be sensitive of other’s views and beliefs and not try to pressure or belittle individuals with view and opinions unlike their own.
Often times religious references and practices are present in public schools and usually both facilitators and fellow students are unaware of how certain individuals might feel toward participating in that particular activity. For example, many songs sang by high school choirs are spirituals that contain themes of heavenly deliverance and salvation. Some students might not believe in these ideas but are forced to participate due to either peer pressure, the threat of a failing grade, or public humiliation or ridicule from the teacher and other students. This scenario is rarely seen but both facilitators and students should be informed and educated to prevent such cases from ever happening.
In my opinion, I believe that church should be separate from state. I feel strongly about my faith and have deeply rooted Christian beliefs; but also feel that our faith should not influence our government and schools. Not everyone in government and not all who attend public schools share the same religious beliefs. It is not fair to those who have different views to be forced to accept the views of others. The United States is rich in culture due to the diverse people who inhabit the country. Every American is different and being asked to conform to a single religion would lessen our individuality and make our culture less unique. America should be for all Americans, not just Christian Americans. Also, the men and women who founded this country did so in the name of freedom from religious persecution and we should do our best to keep it that way.
After the devastation of September 11th, the country was in a time of crisis and need to be unified more than ever. Having common religious views might have actually strengthened the country and this was evident by the words “In God We Trust” on every marquee and the many paintings, pictures, posters, and many other religious depictions concerning September 11th.
According to the First Amendment, all government buildings are prohibited from displaying such forms of expression. Also, it states that individuals associated with the government should refrain from openly supporting these forms of expression. President Bush often makes religious references, but he has the same basic rights of every citizen and is able to openly express his views and opinions.
A common religion supported by the government could possibly help bring our nation together; but a strong, unbiased government is the key to a successful, productive nation. I fell that the common bond all Americans should share is that fact that we are all Americans. No matter our ethnic or religious background.
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