Friday, April 15, 2011


The concept of separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the government. The term comes from the phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The original text reads: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." This is further reflected in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Jefferson and championed by Madison, it guaranteed that no one may be compelled to finance any religion or denomination. Amendment 1  of the Constitution states - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. No where in the Constitution do the words separation of church and state appear. Under the United States Constitution, the treatment of religion by the government is broken into two clauses: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. Both are in regard to whether certain types of state actions would be an impermissible government establishment of religion. Scholars have distinguished between what can be called "friendly" and "hostile" separations of church and state The friendly type limits the interference of the church in state matters and also limits the interference of the state in church matters. The hostile variety, in contrast, tries to confine religion strictly to the home or church and limits religious education, rites of passage and public displays of faith. The following are some Supreme Court decisions about separation of church and state: McCollum v. Board of Education Dist. 71, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) Court finds religious instruction in public schools a violation of the establishment clause and therefore unconstitutional, Engel v. Vitale, 82 S. Ct. 1261 (1962) Any kind of prayer, composed by public school districts, even nondenominational prayer, is unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion Lemon v. Kurtzman, 91 S. Ct. 2105 (1971) Established the three part test for determining if an action of government violates First Amendment's separation of church and state:
1) the government action must have a secular purpose;
2) its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or to advance religion;
3) there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion.
We don't deal with discrimination by pretending we are all male. We don't deal with racism by pretending we are all white. We don't deal with sickness by pretending we are all healthy. Why then do the courts try to deal with the concept of religion like we are all agnostic? Madison wrote "Religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it can only be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION, according to the dictates of conscience." No where in the Constitution do the words separation of church and state appear. Why then is that the apparent goal of so many? Why then are religious references in government so shunned?

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