The Separation of Church and State

Separation of Church and State  is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the United States of America. The United States Supreme Court case concerning the inclusion of under God in the Pledge of Allegiance is one case which has stirred debate over the issue of separation of church and state. Officials in the high-levels including judges and senators claim that the fact that  In God We Trust  is on the US currencies and there are references to  God  in the federal oaths is proof enough that  under God  should also be included in the Pledge of Allegiance (Price, par. 1-3). This debate is expected to continue for quite some time, so long as there are different interpretations of the law by different people, but of great importance is that the separation of church and state can by no means be absolute.

A Brief History
The relationship between a nation s civil government and its religion, especially the Christian church, has been a constant subject of contention not only in the United States, but also around the world. The early Christian Church refused to give divine honors to the Roman emperor, leading to its persecution. After the Church was given official status by Constantine, it remained quite autonomous (Wood 153).

However, in the 4th century, the emperor became increasingly involved in religious affairs. British North American colonies  Presbyterians opposed the idea of having an established church, especially in Virginia, but more significant was the wide principle of religious toleration promoted especially by Roger Williams. The American concept regarding the separation of church and state, expressed markedly in Thomas Jeffersons Virginia religious freedom statute and the First Amendment, surfaced (Wood 153).

With the American Revolution having been won and liberty having been secured, a new revolution was going on  Church-State separation  to make a distinction between the modern and medieval world (Wood 153).

The Constitution on Church-State Relationship
The discussion on church-state separation in the United States is primarily concerned with the meaning of two clauses in the First Amendment that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof  The statement s first section is known as the  Establishment Clause  and the second the  Free Exercise Clause  (McWhirter, par. 1).
The First Amendment s Establishment Clause states that a state government or the Federal Government cannot establish any church or pass laws that aid a particular religion or all religions or even prefer one religion to another. Neither can government force a person to confess disbelief or belief in a religion, or punish a person for professing religious disbeliefs or beliefs and for attending or not attending church. No tax money can be spent in aid of a religious activity or institution. A state government or the Federal Government cannot take part in matters of religious groups and organizations, and vice versa. Jefferson said that the clause s intention was to create a separation wall between the Church and the State (Mount, par. 33).

Church-State Separation s Early Proponents
The two philosophers who had the greatest impact on the people who wrote the U.S. Constitution were Both John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu (philosophers who had the biggest impact on the U.S. Constitution s writing. They had written widely to promote religion-state separation, and their ideas and writings were frequently used to support various positions in the debates about what the Constitution should contain (McWhirter 1).

After the laws prohibiting the establishment of a religion in the First Amendment were adopted, the Congress thanked God Almighty for His many blessings for the new nation. Boudinot, on a motion, requested that the United States president recommend a thanks-giving day to the people, on which prayer and public thanksgiving were to be observed to acknowledge, with hearts full of gratitude, God s many favors, especially for enabling America to have a Constitution. Only two Congress members rose to oppose the motion, and even so, they seemed to have had no concerns for Congress s involvement in religious matters (Drakeman 81).

Though it happened, disestablishment of a state religion was full of obstacles, accusations, and threats. The radical religion s principles, the conservative religion s pragmatism, natural religion s position and indifference and hostility toward religion are the four main sources of disestablishment sentiments (Wood par. 2).

One of America s distinctive features is the unusual presence of religious diversity and denominations starting from the early colonial era. The provisions by the Constitution denying the state the right of passing any law contributing to the establishment of religion or barring the free practice of religion have played a key role in religious diversity in America as well as the unmatched multiplicity of its religious denominations. Although American colonists never desired or always tolerate religious diversity, the lack of religious uniformity typified colonial America right from the start (Wood 153).

This religious diversity can be said to be the best warranty against a majority s tyranny, religious or secular. The absence of a religious establishment and the presence of religious freedom in Early America guaranteed religious diversity, diversity which has shot from the religious groups with origins in older cultures and the religious groups with origins in older religions  new expressions or American indigenous faiths (Wood 153).

Religious Pluralism in America
There is greater need to acknowledge the significance of religious pluralism in religion- state relations in the United States, with the revival of the Christian America notion, and the widespread opposition to the view of America as a secular state. Religious pluralism has been an integral part of America s history, despite the fact that it has never been readily embraced. Furthermore, this religious pluralism has for long characterized American culture besides being seen as American society s normative expression (Wood 173).

Since the beginning, religious diversity distinguished the colonies. Spanish and French explorers brought Roman Catholicism. English colonialists, unlike the Spanish and the French, never imposed religious uniformity patterns anywhere, the only exemption being Virginia. This deliberate tolerance by the British encouraged religious diversity through the colonies, due to the greater liberty it offered, measure of liberty it offered to the New World, liberty that the New World citizens had never known before back in their homelands (Wood 173).

Church Lobbying
Lobbying is trying to influence public policy or legislation andor promote self-interests. Fundamentally, lobbying is the right of petition. Some people question the right of the church s involvement in political matters and assumption of advocacy roles in public-policy making public, with some of them viewing the idea of lobbying as being less than honorable in political processes. While lobbying is mostly used pejoratively, it is actually, very closely associated with democratic government. The right to petition the government for a redress of grievances was explicitly expressed in the Bill of Rights, beside the free practice of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly (Wood 185).

Religion and Public Schools
Recently, America s public schools have widely come to be seen by religious fundamentalists as being subjected to secular humanism . One Senator  Jesse Helms expressed a widely shared religious fundamentalist view when he wrote that by the United States  Supreme Court s prohibition of children s participation in public schools  voluntary prayers, the Supreme Court did not only violate the right of all America to free exercise of religion but also establish a national religion  secular humanism. Some people argue that secular humanists have taken over the government, the law courts, as well as public schools from America s God-fearing majority (Wood 219).

Religion s Role in Society
The significant political and social role of religion in America is widely acknowledged not only by American observers, but also by European observers throughout the America s history. On the contrary, the United States has been often cited as the oldest of secular states and, in fact, the most systematic or even the only truly existing secular nation (Wood 233).

The National Flag as a Sacred Symbol
In 1989, the United States Supreme Court, in the Texas v. Johnson case, ruled that the burning of the American flag in a protest was a political expression act protected by the First Amendment. Justice William J. Brennan said that the First Amendment, that the government may not forbid an idea s expression just because the American society finds it to be offensive or deems it disagreeable, even where the Republic s flag is concerned. The reaction to the Supreme Court s ruling was instant and tremendously vocal in its condemnation of the Supreme Court s ruling (Wood 243).

Led by President George C. Bush, several Congress members from the two parties, many organizations as well as newspaper editorials and many periodicals  editorials condemned the Supreme Court s decision. President Bush, following the Supreme Court s decision, immediatelyproposed an amendment to the Bill of Rights which would state that  The Congress and the states shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States. Still, some leading Congress members proposed the overturning of the Supreme Courts decision through a decree that would clearly prohibit any kind of physical desecration  of the United States  flag. The Congress introduced over fifty resolutions on flag burning. The controversy that followed the Supreme Court s ruling was a clear indication that the majority of Americans saw the American flag as America s nationhood s sacred symbol (Wood  243).

The Church and the State Today
Presently, the friction between church and state is relatively little. Nevertheless, the practical demarcation line continues to generate problems, with theocratic tendencies every so often leading to strong lobbying efforts. In 1997, in the City of Boerne v. Flores case, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, which held that it accorded more protection to religion than required by the constitution, by requiring that the state have a  compelling interest  in order to be able to suppress religious practice.  Of note was the fact that the House of Representatives had unanimously passed the act (Kennedy, par. 1-17).

In the United States, the church-state separation guarantees religious liberty as well as preventing claims to authority in matters of state by the church. The church-state separation in the United States not only involves individual liberty, but is also deeply emblazoned in institutions, conservative society s concepts, and slanted facets of politics and citizenship. Church-State separation does not form a secular United States. In contrast, the requirement for separation by the constitution is a necessary link between religious pluralism and political legitimacy (Greenhouse, par. 2-5).

Education, too, has yielded controversy, with debates arising over issues like Religious Education being offered in government-supported schools and also public aid to parochial schools. Towards the end of the year 1999, federal courts held that voucher systems stood in violation of the Constitution if the systems made about all recipients to prefer attending religious schools to public schools (Wood 219).

Religion in Public Schools
When the First Amendment was passed, the establishment of religion by the government was prohibited (McWhirter, 11). In the Good News Club v Milford Central School case, the Supreme Court ruled that no religious club may be excluded from using school facilities, in the after-school hours, simply because it is a religious club.


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