Old 12-17-2009, 10:02 PM   #1
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Default Separation of Church and State - An Essay

Jack Neely
Mrs. A. White
English 11
15 December 2009
Separation of Church and State

What is ‘separation of church and state’ and what effect does it have on American society? The term separation of church and state was coined by Thomas Jefferson, who firmly supported it and stressed its importance. Separation of church and state is the concept that religion and political/governmental matters shall remain completely divided in order to protect civil rights and maintain federal power. It is thought, and repeatedly demonstrated throughout (American) history, that excessive entanglement of the two more often than not causes infringement upon certain freedoms granted by the very Constitution that spawned the idea of separation between religion and government.

Thomas Jefferson urged, “Believing with you that religion is a matter that lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the Government reach action only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislation should ‘make no law respecting and establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties” (Loren 13). Jefferson strongly promoted and substantiated a division of church and state as two separate and unmistakable entities. After the last major ties of church and state were bisected, Jefferson rejoiced, “. . . a Protestant popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character” (Gaustad 38). Many drafters of the Constitution shared this view.

Although the Constitution is considered the supreme law and foundation of America, separation between church and state was not strictly followed until the turn of the 20th century. Even then, there has been much debate and several Supreme Court cases over misinterpretations of it. Still today, there is much confusion and conflict regarding separation. It is a controversial issue—many people disagree with its purpose and its means. It is one of the least respected intentions of our founding fathers.

Despite the popularity of the phrase ‘separation of church and state’, it cannot be located anywhere in the Constitution. In fact, the concept itself cannot be found in the original United States Constitution. Its place is in the First Amendment, under two different names: the “establishment clause” and “free exercise clause”. It reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . .” (Loren 20). These clauses were very precisely worded, and were sent back and forth between Congress and various framers. The version published in the First Amendment is that of James Madison (Loren 20). The idea may not have been present during the original drafting, but its placement in the First Amendment was identified as a necessary precaution to ensure the success of a benevolent country. However, as Julia C. Loren puts it in her book Engel v. Vitale Prayer in the Public Schools, “For every law made to preserve harmony and set universal standards of behavior, another has been born of fear, prejudice, greed, desire for power, and a host of other problems” (5). Law in America is a dynamic, fluctuating concept in which ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are merely objective.

The entire Constitution and supporting amendments are secular documents. God is mentioned nowhere (Internet 2). Whether that was intended or coincidental is indeterminable, but it is known that a number of the influential men involved in the founding of American government, regardless of their own faith, condemned the imposition of religion in crucial matters to the country itself (Loren 18). They knew that if any certain religion or sect became too powerful, a revolution or reformation in America would be imminent and unavoidable. In a peaceful attempt to prevent just that and additionally securing the rights of American citizens, they designed a device (separation of church and state) that would eliminate the innumerable problems that would have undoubtedly incurred otherwise.

In 1796, our founding fathers and members of Congress voted unanimously in support of the Treaty of Tripoli, which stressed, “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries” (Internet 2). Since then, the message of a neutral and central-minded government has dissipated.

Over the 156 years following the publication of the first amendment to the Constitution there were a few notable court cases that challenged separation of church and state; most of which remonstrated negligence or ignorance of those two clauses of the First (Internet 3). The focus on most of these cases was: the indoctrination of children in public in federally-funded schools, incessant preaching in Congress, and other situations in which the Constitution was being breached. To most people at this time, practicing religion in school was perfectly acceptable and often expected. The reason behind this was that until the early to late 20th century court cases, “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” was interpreted to mean that it was rightful to condone and practice religion and religious activities in school. Furthermore, public schools served also as churches during non-school hours (Loren 20-21). It is ironic, because Jefferson had feared just that—the imposition of compulsory religious expression (Loren 18).

The first Supreme Court case regarding the former part of the First Amendment was Everson v. Board of Education. In this 1923 case, the petitioner claimed that it was unlawful for parents to be reimbursed through taxpayer money for transportation costs of their child provided that the school is a parochial one. It was an ambiguous argument, seeing as how the government financing wasn’t offered toward the school itself, but rather a group of citizens in relation to the school. The high court ruled 5-4 in favor of the respondent, but this opened the door to many new cases; the most famous being Engel v. Vitale (Internet 1).

Engel v. Vitale
, a 1962 Supreme Court case,was the first to tackle the conundrum of prayer in public schools, and it was also the first ruling in favor of a stricter interpretation of the two clauses that carefully define separation of church and state. The ruling in the Engel v. Vitale case states that, “Because of the prohibition of the First Amendment against the enactment of any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion,’ which is made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, state officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day - even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited” (Internet 3). Because public schools are financed through federal income taxes, they are considered State property. In agreement with this, the court’s decision outlawed all religious indoctrination in public schools (Internet 3).

At the time, many were skeptical of the justices and their verdict. Outrageous claims against these men were common. There is much room for opinion, but there is little room for interpretation of the Constitution. It is the job of Supreme Court justices to ignore piety and treat each case with a lawful, unbiased approach; not one of reverence. In concurrence with this belief, author Julia C. Loren remarks, “The goal of that effort [to publicly recite prayer in school, compulsory or discretional,] they say, is to make the schools, government, and society in general to conform to the ideas and beliefs of one particular religious faith, namely conservative Christianity” (9). City University of New York scholar Sam Duker more elaborately insists, “In a society where there is only a minimum of diversity in religious attitudes, views, and beliefs, there is little or no difficulty in establishing satisfactory policies concerning religious activities in schools. It is only when a diversity of views exists that the determination of such a policy presents a serious and sometimes painful problem. . . Some adjustment can, perhaps, be facilitated by court decisions. A spirit of tolerance and understanding and, above all, a recognition of the reality of this diversity are, however, the most necessary ingredients” (Loren 10). Cultural tolerance is not only fundamental for societal justice; it is crucial for the survival of the United States.

Chris Hutchinson is a 39-year-old father of 3. His second daughter is currently enrolled in a Madison County school. At her middle school she is taking a required academic history class. To her surprise, she soon found out that the history class is really a “Bible class” in disguise, which happens to contradict some core beliefs of Chris and his daughter (Hutchinson). Forty-five years following the Engel, Epperson v. Arkansas ruled that in any instance, public schools must maintain religious neutrality (Internet 1), and Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) stated that, “The preferences of the parents are constitutionally more important than the preferences of the State in education” (Internet 1). In corroboration with the two, Pierce v. Arkansas (1925) adds that, “. . . states can't force children to go to public schools and submit to government standardization if that violated their sincerely-held religious convictions. Children are not ‘mere creatures of the State. . .’” (Internet 1). A case that favored the wishes of parents over the will of a board of education was unprecedented before this time.

These cases, as well as smaller, complementary ones, raised much concern, which went unabated for decades. Moreover, it caused a higher regard of the Constitution in day-to-day life. Slowly, authoritative respect blossomed, allowing laws to be better upheld and solidifying the idea of a separate church and state. Still, though it had become a more serious precept in society, it is treated more as a guideline than an uncompromising law. There are a surmountable number of people that disdain and refuse to recognize that beginning to a very direct and wise amendment.

Due to utter disobedience, church and state suffer perpetual and prolific entanglement. This unnecessary correlation hinders civil rights and threatens order in government, seeing as how power derived from a secular federal system; America is not a theocracy. A minor and unobtrusive example of this is the mention of God in certain government-regulated institutions. The pledge of allegiance references God, as well as currency issues by the Treasury Department, along with a dynamic policy on banners, plaques, etc., in Congress that acknowledge God. Whether or not this contradicts the idea of separation is debatable, but there are more pressing abuses. One of the most blatant is God-politicking. Over the recent decades it has become vital in a political campaign to express piety and devout love of God in order to appeal to the conservative Christian movement in America. Secularity-enthusiast Chris Hutchinson laments, “If you want to get elected [now], you better mention God” (Hutchinson). Decades ago, religion was not to be brought up in campaign. It was widely considered irrelevant, and voters focused on policy—not faith.

Another violation is preaching not the word of the Lord in church, but politics. Slander and libel are the blasphemy of government; propaganda its corruption. Misguided hatred from church often hurts politicians, and tears apart the seam of power and authority of our government. To further the claim that politicizing in a religious environment is a violation of the Constitution, one can defend that religious institutions are exempt from paying federal income taxes, which acts like a safeguard to deny a connection between God and government. In order to maintain social equilibrium, it is the responsibility of church to purge itself of anything dealing with governing, campaigning, and political news (Guastad 66-67).

A true and complete separation between church and state is without question necessary for equality, and in turn the positive condition of American life. “It is absolutely essential,” Hutchinson proclaims, “to keep religious zealots from running this country, and our founding fathers knew that!” (Hutchinson). Without it, persecution, prejudice, and intolerance would surely be the theme of our country. Since the beginnings of man, there have been God knows how many holy wars; and wars pertaining to religion, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict; the Crusades being the most infamous. Intolerance of another person’s religion has relentlessly spawned situations of execution, rebellion, and extreme persecution throughout history. The Spanish Inquisition forced “heretics” to
flee, confess to heresy, or be killed (Internet 2).

Tragedy has been bestowed upon numerous sects, creeds, and cultures in failure to comply with more “righteous” or “civilized” ideals. Hatred ignited many bloody wars, and fueled the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Great status and power can be achieved or apprehended by anyone with a strong enough voice and an influential message. Adolf Hitler had little trouble rising to a seat of unimaginable control through omnipresent German propaganda, and through a severe indoctrination, i.e., brainwashing, of its citizens. Genocide and ethnic-cleansing plagued Germany and its neighboring countries for years, enduring attacks from various countries, yet somehow intimidating other countries into forming an alliance. This proves that there is no limit for the amount of destruction a single man’s intolerance can cause.

Evidence remains of religious oppression. America policies concerning the legality of gay marriage are in the process of being reevaluated. There is not a single reference of the institution of marriage in the Constitution, nor of homosexuality. Nevertheless, gay marriage is broadly considered unconstitutional. This is definitely not true, but it is treated as fact among many conservative Republicans. Unconstitutional, in this occurrence, is mistaken for immoral. Gay marriage is called “immoral” because it is proscribed by the Bible. “The impious presumption of legislature and ruler who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men,” Jefferson writes in his statute of the First Amendment, “have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible [ones]. . . hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time. . . [This] tends to also corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage. . . [Therefore] the [religious] opinions of men are not the object of civil government” (Loren 16). George Washington further impels, “The Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support” (Gaustad 28). Admiration or agreement with certain influential people shall not replace loyalty and contemplation to the Constitution without just cause.

Religious harassment can be found all around the globe, in every corner of the world. In the southern United States a secret society known as the Ku Klux Klan persists. The KKK, as it is known, discriminates against foreigners, gays, blacks, Catholics, and dozens of other groups. They rally on a message of “white supremacy”, and contort Bible verses into sickening advocacies of murder, rebellion, and sacrificing. The Bible is easily misconstrued, manipulated, and corrupted to withhold a meaning different than its original or its intentional meaning. Misinterpretations spread casually and without discern, and continue unrevised until they have become so popular they are adopted.

Religion is perhaps the most abused and misunderstood realm of human knowledge. Fallacy and contradiction cake the Bible, the Qur’an, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, and other books of precept and faith. The unfaltering justification for a piteous (potentially immoral or unethical) act is, and may always be, “because it’s in the Bible!” In attempts to solicit answers or opinions from clergymen, one may receive a similar response. There is no sense or defense to such an argument; there is only an undeserved notion of righteousness. Stemming from this ignorant, fictitious idea of self-righteousness is religious corruption. False preaching, and pressure to believe strictly in or against a specific ideal, intrudes into even the most humble churches. This presents a multitude of dangerous circumstances. The Salem witch trials intensified because of argumentative fallacy and superstitious inconsistency. Whether or not the accused could be faulted did not matter. Even devoutness to God could not save these people. They were doomed to die. Partly due to moral obligation and partly due to a flawed lose-lose court system, which relied almost entirely on religion. A theocratic method of justice is a recipe for disaster.

The word theocracy literally translates into “ruling by God”. In use, a theocracy is a government with hierarchical ranks comprised by a central religion. Some theocracies have a lawful government independent of its central religion, but share control of the country, which can be compared to 18th century British Parliament and monarchy. In March 2005, Republican representative Christopher Shays was quoted by the New York Times saying, “This Republican Party of Lincoln has become a party of theocracy” (Internet 2). All current theocracies are Islamic ones, except for Vatican City. In these middle-eastern theocracies Sharia is followed. Sharia is an Islamic law, which is associated with the oppression of women and other terrible injustices. Fallen theocracies share a set of four distinct characteristics: they had laws that demand conformity; they did not tolerate different religions, and usually did not tolerate minor differences in belief; they punished those who were insubordinate to the State; and they persecuted those who were insubordinate to the established religion (Internet 2).

To conclude, separation of church and state is a chief principal in the proliferation of the United States, and without it we would be socially archaic. Civil liberties would be witnessed only through mockery. Religious fanatics could rise to power and America would likely submit to dictatorial fascism. Separation of church and state eludes this catastrophe, and also ensures equality among citizens of any varying creed, religion, faith, or political affiliation. Concern of unlisted ideals will extend onward in American history, but as long as no rights are infringed said concern is no concern to the government. Jefferson agrees, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no gods. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” (Loren 18). When practiced responsibly and enforced to its intended extent, separation of church and state proves time and time again to indiscriminately settle minor disputes, and thus eliminate ultimate chaos.


Works Cited
"37 Famous Court Cases." ShowAndTellForParents.com. Web. 11 Dec. 2009. <http://www.showandtellforparents.com/wfdata/frame154-1000/pressrel64.asp>.
Gaustad, Edwin S. Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land A History of Church and State in America. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 2003. Print. 28-67.
Hutchinson, Chris M. "Separation of Church and State." Personal interview. 2 Dec. 2009.
Loren, Julia C. Engel v. Vitale Prayer in the Public Schools. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2001. Print. 5-21.
"Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party." Theocracy Watch. Joan Bokaer. Web. 19 Nov. 2009. <http://www.theocracywatch.org/>.
"Separation of Church and State." ADL: Fighting Anti-Semitism, Bigotry and Extremism. Web. 24 Nov. 2009. <http://www.adl.org/civil_rights/ab/ChurchState.asp>.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:07 PM   #2
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o___O no wonder why people think you plagerized it.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:08 PM   #3
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o___O no wonder why people think you plagerized it.
Not the same person, but I thought the same ;P
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:09 PM   #4
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Greeeeaaat... >.> Now I look like an artard.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:19 PM   #5
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Default Re: Separation of Church and State - An Essay

Lmao, I thought the exact same thing... But then I saw Tha Guardians...
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:27 PM   #6
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Default Re: Separation of Church and State - An Essay

I would post my opinion but it in some way suggests that the church is an equal with the state and I don't feel like getting shot down for my beliefs.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:31 PM   #7
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Default Re: Separation of Church and State - An Essay

It may be equal in a household, but beyond those limits it almost always leads to some sort of damage or inequality.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:32 PM   #8
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It may be equal in a household, but beyond those limits it almost always leads to some sort of damage or inequality.
The truth could be said about the state.
Also, account for the misconception that this law was created entirely to keep the church out of the state when in reality it was just as much about keeping the state out of the church.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:53 PM   #9
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Default Re: Separation of Church and State - An Essay

Good points. I'm aware of this. I had to make the essay persuasive though, and that would have seemed a little contradictory.
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Old 12-17-2009, 10:57 PM   #10
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Good points. I'm aware of this. I had to make the essay persuasive though, and that would have seemed a little contradictory.
I was not aware of the persuasion factor. Indeed that would add some contradiction. Still, just a nice bit of food for thought. =)
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Old 12-17-2009, 11:02 PM   #11
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Default Re: Separation of Church and State - An Essay

I did kinda mention it when I talked about keeping politics out of the church.
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