Seperation of Church and State

May 2, 2011
by: GSoukup

The United States of America was founded over two hundred years ago when the Declaration of Independence was drafted. Once free from the control of England, American needed to set up a doctrine that established laws, freedoms and natural rights guaranteed to the people. The constitution also established the powers of the Federal Government. When the framers of the Constitution produced the document, it instilled the rights of individual freedom.

Since the Constitution was established the idea of separating religion from Federal government has been an ongoing debate. Because we as Americans do not believe in the same religions nor do we practice them the same way the jurisdiction of the Federal government should be separated from interfering with the influence of religion as well as religion influencing governmental matters. Thus, there should be a clear separation of church and state.

There is a clear distinction between religion and government. Simply put, a government is, "A way a state is ruled" (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). However this definition has a lot to be desired. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, a government is described as "An institution that creates and enforces rules and provides services for a group of people." (World Book Encyclopedia). Society knows the rules as the code of conduct that we must live by. For example, millions of people drive cars in the United States. There are laws that clearly stipulate that you must pass a written and performance test before obtaining a legal drivers license. In order to operate a vehicle, it must pass inspection, be registered with a state, and finally have a minimum insurance policy that covers collision and injury in an accident. The government creates the laws but also have the authority to enforce them and administrator punishment to those who break them. A Government has two fundamental aspects, doctrine that defines how it will operate and code of conduct that regulates society. A religion however is different. It has a total of four characteristics, a belief in a deity, a doctrine, code of conduct and performing sacred rituals. A belief in a deity or a supernatural being or beings is a nonphysical presence that is the main point or worship in a religion. A doctrine is the defining list of the code of conduct that someone must follow to be given the rewards of that religion. Finally, a religion has sacred rituals. For example, reading of the Torah for the Jews, or partaking in Communion for Christians.

Due to the many differences between the two systems, religion and government, the framers of the Constitution advocated for the separation to be placed in the First Amendment. The writers of the Constitution needed to add in a section of the Constitution devoted to the natural freedoms because that was the fundamental purpose of the foundation of America, Gold, God and Glory. In the First Amendment of the bill of rights of the Constitution, it states "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." One of the grandest, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists association in 1802, which stated and stressed the point that "Religion is a matter which lies solely between a Man and his god...thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Jefferson was referring to the ideals that the separation would be good because "he has no natural right in opposition to his social esteem" and in this time, a person had very little to be judged upon, so a religious preference would be something to easily ridicule.

"No purported connection to god's role in formation of Texas OR THE FOUNDING OF OUR NATION, nor does it provide the reasonable observer with any basis to guess that it was erected to honor any individual or organization..."(McKenna 274). Outside the courthouse wall in a Texan town, the 10 commandments, the ten major rules in modern Christianity, are nailed to the wall for all to see. In the court case referring to this issue, McCreany county v. American civil liberties union of 2005, Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens stated in his argument, "The Constitution creates a 'wall of separation' between church and state that can be rarely broached and only insofar as the state recognition of religion does not express a bias in support of a particular religious doctrine.” (McKenna 272) meaning that nothing a state can do that presents a religious bias may be publicly added to a governmental body for public viewing which can't be done. In this rift, religion and state have no chance of intermingling. This means they should still be separated.

In Case 16, of Taking Sides, Clashing Views on Political Issues: George McKenna, Stanley Feingold the ongoing debate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause is best summed up by a man names Donald L. Drakeman. “Drakeman concludes that the intentions of the founding fathers provide inadequate guidance for understanding the establishment clause” (McKenna 292). Other parts of the Constitution are clear cut with no leniency, but this part is ambiguous and is left to passionate interpretation. No matter how good their intentions were, their ideas are still being debated.

First let us examine the dissent on Supreme Court Justice Paul Stevens in the Van Orden v. Perry Case (272). A summary of Justice Stevens opinion is states, “United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens believes that the Constitution creates ‘a wall of separation’ between church and state that can be rarely broached and only insofar as the state recognition of religion does not express a bias in support of particular religious doctrines.” Justice Stevens refers to the Lemon V. Kurtzman case of 1971 and the establishment of what would be known as the Lemon Test.  This established three criteria for governmental actions under the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The first two points of this test are the government cannot have an ulterior motive that would allow religion to advance or hinder any social medium in any way. And the third states that the government cannot get too involved in religious practice or ritual (273). Justice Stevens rested his case on the metaphorical “Wall of Separation” and “Wholesome neutrality” by saying “…The Establishment Clause has created a strong presumption against the display of religious symbols on public property.” (275). In other words, he says that governments must stay neutral in religious matters.

On the other hand, Justice Antonin Scalia opinions are summarized by “…American History support the sympathetic acknowledgement of the nearly universal American belief in monotheistic religion as reflected in presidential proclamations, public oaths, public monuments, and other displays. (272)” This, we know is not true because not every person believes in the same religion or some in any at all. Scalia states that the founding fathers have contradicted the establishment clause but referring to presidents that have mentioned God in their speeches and oaths (284). He cites speeches from John Adams saying “Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people…” Thomas Jefferson inviting people to pray, “I ask you to join in supplications (prayer) with me…” and James Madison’s inaugural address which stated “…In the guardianship and guidance of an almighty being whose power regulates the destiny of nations…” (284). But as stated before by Judge Stevens, “…The Establishment Clause has created a strong presumption against the display of religious symbols on public property. (275).”  And even if it is a contradiction, the Establishment clause is still law. Everything that Scalia cited is outside the law. A president writing a letter, giving a speech or giving any reference to God is exercising his freedom of speech and expression to believe in what they want. Just because they are the president does not make them above the law. Scalia is not giving any time or thought to the Lemon test which an establishment must pass to be considered Constitutional.

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” These are the fateful words from the King James Bible, Lev. 18; 22, that were the baseline for religious attacks against homosexual marriage and thus the ban of their marriage. That the verse is saying is you cannot share sexual relations with a man the way you would with a woman. The bible is the holy doctrine for the Christian religion and its derivatives for over 2000 years. There have been many different translations and interpretations of the bible so things have changed. In other versions of the bible Lev. 18: 22 say things like “Thou shall not lay with another man” Greek Orthodox bible, so it is hard to find a true interpretation to base the argument against the union of homosexual couples. Nonetheless, it is still a huge factor in the banning of the marriage rights to homosexual couples. Republicans are religious peoples, George W. H. Bush, his son George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin are openly religious, The Bush’s being Christian and Palin being a Dominionist, all believing the bible is the true word that all society should follow. So when The Bush’s were in power, they did what they could to repeal gay marriage bills to restrict their marriage rights.

In the religious fueled battles with restrictions of rights another big topic comes into play. Abortion and a woman’s right to have one.  In the book “A Moral Choice” by Mary Gordon in the Atlantic Monthly she states, “…Having an abortion is a moral choice that women are capable of making for themselves, that aborting a fetus is not killing a person, and that antiabortionists fail to understand female sexuality.”(McKenna 164) She is saying that a woman is fully able to make their own decisions for themselves that pertain to their own bodies. The procedure is medically sound and has been performed on thousands of woman for decades. Religious people are trying to make it illegal because of a certain bible verse, Psalm 139, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.” (NIV 1984) meaning from the second of conception, the fetus is a human being, with a soul and a unique personality. The argument from the other side, Robert P. George, “The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis”, “Since each of us was a human from conception, abortion is a form of homicide and should be banned.”  (McKenna 164) The only was a fetus can be considered a human being and thus murder, is when it can survive outside the mother’s womb. When most abortions are done so it causes minimal damage to the woman, the fetus will be unable to survive outside the mother’s womb. Medically it is not murder, it is just an issue of morality with religious people and when a life truly begins.

Not just with these cases, there is an example of religion pushing its way into everyday life, the Pledge of Allegiance. According to Wikipedia, the 1892 Pledge of Allegiance was as follows, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” After two other revisions there are few additions and changes and we have, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” There seems to be something different from this one, as from the modern day pledge, there is. The “Under God” line was not in the original draft written by Francis Bellamy for an honorable mention to Christopher Columbus and for his accidental discovery of America. In 1952 however, after a meeting of The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic group of its time, they decided that the pledge should have the “Under God” fragment added. The group got the idea from an interpretation of President Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address from where he may have said “under god” in some context. Because of the Knight’s large membership number, the idea spread and all the members started saying “under God” and eventually it became popular opinion to say this version, and everyone said it. Nationalism is a strong American trait and because of which, we have to say the pledge every day saying those words. Eventually, some people will believe it and then religion has played a strong role in our opinions that we learned from school, something that is of secular and scientific nature, not to learn religious fairytales.

According to “Taking Sides Clashing Views and Controversial Issues” states Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter’s majority opinion over the 1994 Supreme Court case, Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Louis Gurument et al., of creating religious only school districts as follows: “Supreme Court justice David H. Souter maintains that a New York statue that establish a school serving only a single religious community violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.” (148)
Souter backs up his opinion by citing two court cases. The first case in 1962, School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, ruled that having students read biblical passages in public schools was unconstitutional. (148-149) It is clear that it was forcing a Christian view on students and ignoring the rights of a student to be an atheist or to practice a different religion. For example, if a Muslim child is being forced to recite the “Lord’s Prayer”, is this not a violation of his religious rights guaranteed by the First Amendment? In the second case in 1962, Engel v. Vitale found that it was unconstitutional to have to recite a New York state prayer. (149) Again, we see an obvious violation of a student’s right to their religion forcing them to indulge in practice that may not be there. This was a State oriented prayer, but who is the state? This is what Jefferson was trying to express his fear in keeping church and state separate in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. (Congressional Library Vol 57, No. 6) Souter is in clear agreement with Jefferson and Madison in keeping state and Religion separate.

In conclusion, courts have debated it and people have given their opinions on the topic but still the fight goes on. Religious leaders and governmental figure heads are debating to show the rest of the country that they are right and have the right to influence everyone to listen to their opinions and to agree with them. With laws keeping them apart and morality being the fundamental argument between them, we can see that the separation between Church and State is needed and should be established as national rule.