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Separation of Church and State in America

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Separation of Church and State in America

Alexis Fulleros

Arizona State University

ENG 102

Erdem

February 7, 2016


It’s been said that currently, there’s a war occurring in the United States. Not an actual physical war, but a war amongst cultures. Now, depending on who you speak to, you could have a very diverse accounts of each sides arguments and who they believe this war is actually between. Some will tell you that people who defend cogent thought and religious freedom wish to fight religious fundamentalists who try and force their views on the population. Others will insist that this battle is between simply strong, Christian values and temporal-minded atheists. Nevertheless, this “culture war” is just a simple dispute over how religion fits into the public’s lives. In light of gay marriage recently being made legal and the uproar it caused among the Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, etc.  alike across the nation, I thought it only necessary that I discuss the Constitutional doctrine of “separation of church and state,” or as it could be better worded due to the diverse religious groups in America, the separation of religion and government. Keeping church and state separate serves as a way to protect religious faith, make your personal beliefs and morals a choice and also creates a state of progression.

After reading the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, that specifies: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” A question that’s you should immediately ask yourself is, what exactly does this mean?  Dawson (1959) found that we should “avail ourselves of every serious answer made in order to arrive at the true interpretation of this provision in the Constitution,” as “The Constitution could be changed by false interpretation” {{6 Dawson, Joseph M. 2008;}}. The most recent grasp of “separation of church and state”—the belief that the state is very much temporal and not effected by religious values, mostly Christian—was completely foreign to the whole first 150 or so years of American political thought.

Intelligibly, the founders didn’t attempt to levy each remnant of Christian religion, values, and thoughts from all surfaces of public life. They welcomed Christianity and uplifted its public practice and declaration. That was until 1947 when the United States Supreme Court had introduced the concept of “detachment” to fence off government from religion. The phrase “separation” had only been mentioned before once, in the discussion of the Court in the 1878 case of Reynolds v. The United States. This was when Mormons tried, and failed, to defend polygamy supported on the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment. According to Drakeman, “The Reynolds case would take the Court into uncharted constitutional waters, since the federal government had not previously been involved in regulating either domestic relations or individuals' religious conduct, both of which had historically been the sole province of the state governments” {{3 Drakeman, Donald L 12;}}. The Constitution was meant to protect Mormon beliefs, but not their practices. Also, in the case between Everson and the Board of Education, the Court ruled, “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another...In the words of Jefferson, ‘the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and state’” {{4 Anonymous 2016;}}.

Even though there is very little threat that, in the future, the government will clearly initiate any one religion as the official religion of America, there are a plethora of ways in which the government, whether directly or indirectly, braces religious groups and practices. For example, churches are free from taxation and sometimes government funds are provided to religiously connected schools, social service organizations, and hospitals. Figuring out when these benefits are found to be unconstitutional is checking to see, not if a religious group or person is presented with financial profit from the government, but whether this profit is granted to these people or person because they are religious.

On the other hand, there are some Americans believe that church and state should join forces as one, and knock down this so-called “wall of separation.”  These people believe that the strength of both the religious authority and state power can be a solid force for bringing good to our society. For example, assets for aiding the impoverished and deprived can be more promptly obtainable, and the uniform system of morals and expectations would create a higher social pressure to abide by the laws, meaning a drop in crime rates. Once more, this infers a fairly shallow amount of government unscrupulousness. To add, I suppose when you think about it, the entire foundation of the idea of "separation of church and state" is to permit for the discrepancy of theoretical worldviews.  If no discrepancy occurs, or is trivial, then the whole concept of distancing government from religion would seem meaningless and illogical to the people of America, and you have the assembly of a somewhat utopian society.

However, because of the freedom that the Constitution provides for us, we don’t often have to fear that our religion will deny us any basic rights such as voting or employment. The government, because of this Amendment, cannot tell anyone that the religion they practice or who they believe to be God, is incorrect and be forbidden to practice it. Or even create a law to proclaim any one religion to be the “official religion” of the United States. In fact, according to Patrick, “The constitutional intent behind separation was as a means of protecting religion, not the secular state” {{2 Garry, Patrick M 12;}}. This means that the laws were not meant to defend any of the government, but to look after the people and let them be free to practice the religion they felt they belonged to without retribution.

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