America is a land of great diversity and a nation built on equality. In 17th century Europe, there was heavy conflict, over religion, involving the Catholics and the Protestants of England. They were two different religions, but they both shared a common belief. Both shared the principle that there should be one religion, everyone should be forced to follow it, and that government should enforce it.
In 1779 Thomas Jefferson drafted a bill that gave all citizens, of all religions, equality in the eyes of the law. A draft of the Constitution was created, and it made no mention of a national church. Thomas Jefferson, after reading a copy of the first draft of the Constitution, took issue with the lack of a bill of rights. More specifically he was concerned with freedom of religion being left out of the document. Soon thereafter along came the Bill of Rights, which is a list of amendments to the constitution. The first amendment addressed religion among other things… “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.”
“The Wall of Separation” in regard to church and state was Jefferson’s interpretation of the first amendment; however, the idea was actually initiated by the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams’. A great example of an ongoing religious conflict that also will be discussed is should religion be a lesson that all students should learn, whether in public school or private. One main concern is how teachers can teach creationism without crossing religious boundaries. It is said that considerable care and effort are needed to help students understand the difference between the methodology of science, with its naturalistic operational assumptions, and the naturalism as a worldview. (Anderson 89). Schools should not neglect teaching creationism when students are able to benefit from being informed about both beliefs of evolution and creationism. It is relevant as long as religious views are not infringed upon them.
Many scholars attribute the phrase “separation of church and state” to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. However, the words, “separation,” “church” or “state” are not found in the First Amendment, nor do those words appear in anywhere in the United States Constitution. Yet today, we so often hear the First Amendment coupled with the phrase “separation of church and state” in American democracy and politics.
The modern concept is often credited to the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but the phrase “separation of church and state” is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, where Jefferson spoke of the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. His purpose in this letter was to assuage the fears of the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists, and so he told them that this wall had been erected to protect them. The metaphor was used exclusively to keep the state out of the church’s business, not to keep the church out of the state’s business. It has since been in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court, though the Court has not always fully embraced the principle.” (Robert 221)
In recent years, two views have emerged each fighting to establish its definition of that phrase as a mandate for public policy. The separationist view says the intention of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is “to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion.” The alternative view is the accomodationist approach, which maintains “that not only is complete separation of religion and state impossible,” but “the Court must maintain a positive accommodation of government to the religious interests of the American people—anything less would be a ‘callous indifference’ toward religion never intended by the Establishment Clause.” In discussing this political debate, it is important to understand the origins of the phrase “separation of church and state” and the First Amendment. A study of both concepts will prove that the Founding Fathers supported the accommodation approach with church and state.
The First Amendment reads:
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.
The First Amendment presents two rules regarding religion; the first rule is “no establishment of religion” and the second rule is “no prohibition against its free exercise.” However, the goal of the United States Constitution was never separation of church and state; in fact, at the end of his presidency George Washington “warned that ‘reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.'”
The Framers of the United States Constitution wanted to prevent what took place in Great Britain to transfer to America, so that one denomination would not run the nation. The language of the First Amendment supports this view, by using the article “an,” rather than the article “the,” before “establishment of religion.” This choice of words “indicates that the drafters were concerned with government favoritism toward one sect, rather than with favoritism of religion over non-religion.” Ultimately, the Founders wished to ensure the “institutional independence and integrity of religious groups,” by “preventing government from dictating articles of faith or interfering in the internal operations of religious bodies.”
It was not until 1802, that President Thomas Jefferson introduced the metaphor “building a wall of separation between Church & State” in a letter penned to the Danbury Baptist association in Connecticut. Jefferson wrote a letter in response to the Danbury Baptist Association’s concerns that the Congregationalist denomination was about to be made the national denomination. In referencing the First Amendment, Jefferson wanted to assure the Danbury Baptists that the First Amendment protected the church from government control. This view of a “wall of separation” was only in terms of trying to prevent worldly influences from corrupting religion, as well as the doctrine of non-preferentialism. Americans fully expected the government to protect and support religion.
Today’s politicians and judicial leaders misuse the First Amendment and the concept of “a wall of separation between church and state.” The Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education represents the first time that the idea of “separation of church and state” is applied to the Constitution. The Court presented its view of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by stating: “In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by laws was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.'” The use of Jefferson’ words, lifted from a letter he wrote, as a rule of law is completely inappropriate. First, Thomas Jefferson did not even participate in the debates on the First Amendment, as he was out of the country. Second, the Jefferson wrote the letter in 1802, which was fourteen years after the First Amendment’s ratification. Third, the phrase “separation of church and state” does not reflect Jefferson’s own actions, for during his presidency Jefferson approved the use of the Capitol building as a church, which he attended. Even in the founding of the University of Virginia, Jefferson designated space for chapel services and required students to attend weekly divine services. Furthermore, in the Congressional Records from June 8 to September 24, 1789, the ninety Framers never mentioned the phrase “separation of Church and State,” although they presented several different versions of the First Amendment.
Misusing the phrase “separation of church and state” to separate religion from the public life is something that goes completely against the principles of our Founding Fathers. George Washington discussed religion “as an indispensable support for social order and political prosperity.” Courts, both at the federal and state level, have used this phrase to “justify censoring private religious expression in public,” which “offends basic notions of freedom of religious exercise, expression, and association in a democratic and pluralistic society.” Jefferson’s metaphor provides little guidance for the application of First Amendment principles, but instead it has been used to silence the religious voice. A thorough examination of the origins of the First Amendment and the metaphor “separation of church and state” proves that total separation of church and state is not practical or mandated by the United States Constitution.
Although the United States laws point out emphatically that American government should never be blended with religion, many Christians think our nation was founded on the Christian religion and it shapes the moral character of the nation. Christians make a few good arguments to support their claim that religion in state is necessary. The Supreme Court essentially took away the rights for children to practice their religion and express their own faith in public schools. Fundamentalists strongly believe that teaching non-religious values in public schools is harmful to Christian students.
Robert Simons, president of Citizens for Excellence in Education, a division of the National Association of Christian Educators, says “There is no way in the world a Christian child can go through the public schools and expect to come out a Christian… We are losing 80 percent of all church children who go to public schools”. Also, since evangelizing is an essential duty for all Christians, they claim that the whole purpose of prayer in school is “to reach out to people and to bring them into a relationship with God” (Marshall 3).
Gay marriage is another topic under fire by the Christian population. According to the article “Gay Marriage” by Kenneth Jost, it says, “an array of religious and conservative advocacy groups strongly opposes legal recognition for same-sex couples, saying it runs counter to historical tradition, moral order and the best interests of children and society at large” (Jost 13). These Christian views support and are rooted in the belief that religion is essential to better the lives of children and form strong families united under God.
Currently, many Christians are concerned that The Supreme Court deprives the rights of students to pray in public schools and are appealing to Congress to allow prayer in the schools; however, the fact is the First Amendment already preserves the rights of students. “Any student in any public school in America may pray at any time in a voluntary manner” (Marshall 18). Opposers of this policy and practice believe that the real purpose of some school prayer advocates is to make it mandatory and thereby to convert more students to Christianity. As Fritz Detwiler, the chairman of the Department of Religion/Philosophy at Adrian College in Michigan said, “They (Christians) want to use schools as a place of witnessing and of getting legitimization for their perspective…” (Marshall 2). The foundation of this push back is rooted in the idea that since America is a religiously divers country, any religions should never hold a dominating position in any public schools. Each student’s faith and belief should be well protected and equally respected.