Church and State Should Separate

February 21, 2013
Imagine being a new resident to the United States from India. You have yet to be adjusted to the culture, language, and lifestyle of the country, however based on what you have heard the country is free, prosperous, and open to a variety of ideas without limitation. However, upon entering your new school, you realize there are no other students in your class that appear to be of the Muslim faith, and while you don’t quite comprehend the pledge, you hear the distinct words, “Under God.” You become uncomfortable, and feel as if you are disobeying your own religious faith in being subjected to this. Seems rather surreal, does it not? Yet, since the phrase has been added into the pledge decades ago, increased numbers of citizens begin to question its validity in relation to the constitution, in addition to numerous other controversies stemming from a single base concept: Separation of Church and State. Beginning in the early twentieth century, lawsuits, regulations, and debates have led to a new flux of ideas, however in the rapidly changing times; this right guaranteed by the constitution is continuously threatened and challenged, with little action being taken to protect it.

In order to further elaborate, one must first have a foundation of knowledge encompassing that which is our country’s Bill of Rights. Of the ten amendments, Freedom of Religion is the first, containing two main parts. The first is the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from supporting or sponsoring any religion. Second comes the Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits the government from setting limitations on the rights of religious practice. In this, the judicial branch has been approached by constant challenging balancing the two portions. The main problem happens to be the vagueness of the ideas written in the original document, which was done in order to allow the rights to be flexible, and suitable to fit most situations, and change along with society. Some officials tend to ignore or justify their personal beliefs contradicting this amendment by claiming that the United States is, and always has been, a primarily Christian nation. While the faith is the most practiced one in the country, this does not allow the government to cater to the majority by impacting the law, which nonetheless strictly goes against the first amendment by supporting the Christian church. All in all, the government is walking along a thin line by not being capable of sponsoring or denying rights to any religion.

Akin to the prior fictional account of the Muslim character who was not adjusted to the religiously inspired Pledge of Allegiance, religion becomes involved in the public education system far too often. As of 1995, public school students are permitted to pray and discuss religious ideas among peers, as long as school does not sponsor or preach any form of religion. (U.S Department of Education) Their statement balances the clauses of the First Amendment nicely, in not censoring the student body’s religion, while also not supporting the religion by not becoming involved. Much controversy revolves around religion in the history classroom. While understandable, as long as the educator is not forcing religious customs or morals and sticks to the curriculum of religion’s role in history, the constitution is not violated as faith has impacted historical events time and time again. In correlation with this, some argue that bible study should become an elective among public schools. This would seem to be appropriate, as the students would have the option to be involved without being forced to take it, yet according to the Establishment Clause, this would be spending tax payer dollars on a class supporting Christian beliefs, blatantly violating the constitution. In addition, one must consider the variety of Christian faiths that utilize the bible. How would a Catholic teacher instruct a Methodist student on the bible? Would they provide false information according to the student’s guardian? The sticky situation can be easily avoided by keeping public education based on core curriculum and factual ideas. Interestingly enough, even the facts seem to be challenged in the public school system when examining the theories of Evolution and Creationism. Established in 1925, former Tennessee law forced teachers to discuss creationism. Those who taught evidence-based Evolution were promptly fined. Clearly, creationism is an idea branched by religion as a whole, which violates the Establishment Clause in its entirety. Decades later, in 1968, the Eppersen vs. Arkansas case resulted in the proposal to ban all evolutionary teachings, but was logically ruled unconstitutional shortly after. As laws and awareness of the fundamentals of the constitution increased, creationism was in turn banned from public education. Thus, curriculum became solely based on a scientific approach to learning, rather than a widely varied synopsis of ideas that makes up creationism, which nowadays would result in a slew of lawsuits. In expansion to this, a large push from Christian organizations in support of school lead prayer has made the administration of many school districts torn. 90% of students in the nation attend public schools. Of this 90%, a variety of belief structures can be noted, evident from the two-thousand plus faiths in America. (Merino, p.14) By not sponsoring any religion via instructed prayer, no student will be offended or singled out and educators can direct their attention to the units of their subjects. As of 1962, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the idea that prayer does not belong in public education, shortly following the renowned Engel vs. Vitale case of 1959. Until the ruling of the Supreme Court’s ruling, students attending New Hyde Park schools in New York were led to recite the Regent’s Prayer each morning. Five parents filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of their children from various religious denominations. The district argued that the prayer was optional, however those who did not wish to participate were singled out by sitting silently or leaving the classroom. The prayer was eventually banned, asking school’s to keep their faiths within the family and at church, since in using classroom time to state a prayer, the government was funding a religion, similar to prior cases which all violated the Establishment Clause. This case, held over fifty years ago should serve as a reminder of the vast amount of faiths which are affected morally by inflicting a single religion into public education, and in overlapping the church and state government, the base ideas that make up our country’s structure are dissolved. Equally relevant, large quantities of districts have adapted the practice of leading a moment of silence to begin the school day. A Virginia law passed in 2000 required the moment of silence to be held each morning, mainly to allow students to pray if they so choose or reflect upon ideas. Supporters of the custom claim it acts as a compromise for all religious students. However, while no specific faith is being sponsored, the religious innuendo it portrays endorses religion in an underline way, using tax payer money to, in a way, support religious practice, and in that respect breaks the First Amendment as well. In summation, although our national government has established a seemingly secure way to protect and balance religion and schools, it continually seems to find a way back into the system.

Going forth, religion impacts modern law and government in day-to-day life. A prime example of such involvement is the Pledge of Allegiance. Controversy was sprouted in 1954 when the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge due to continuous pressure from the Roman Catholic organization “Knights of Columbus.” At the time of the Cold War, the Soviet Union announced their official allegiance to Atheism, thus adding “under God” was a way to ensure the United State’s distaste for the communists. Clearly, this is a blatant violation of the First Amendment, involving government endorsement for a variety of religions. Many claim the term is general or generic, yet with the 2000 evident religion in the country, surely not every single one worships “God”, especially Atheism or Agnosticism.
However, a more popularized controversy of the recent years has proved to revolve around same-sex marriage. For centuries, marriage has been defined as a legal document, and involving religion into the union was a private matter of those involved. The constitution neglects to specify marriage laws that favor is disapprove of homosexual marriage, yet most states throughout the country have established regulations on gay partnership. As of late, gays have been offered a similar option to marriage, or the civil union. While this may seem reasonable, civil unions are denied many rights guaranteed by marriage, such as health care and social security benefits. Under those circumstances, discrimination is revealed as rights are provides to some and not others. Religiously speaking, the bible does not approve of homosexuality. While the conservative Christian can support this, government cannot as it is supporting or catering the beliefs of that religion. Steps in the right direction have been taken, however, to protect the rights of the minorities. Massachusetts state government announces that the ban on gay marriage in unconstitutional, since, as stated, it denies common rights. In February of 2004, Mayor Newsom of San Francisco says the “equal protection clause overrides legislature’s ban on gay marriage.” In one day, many homosexual marriages occur, but Arnold Schwarzenegger worked to cause an abrupt halt to the event. Seeing authority figures supporting the cause leads to inspiration for others to follow through in guaranteeing equal opportunities for all, despite beliefs or lifestyle. Foreign countries worldwide have joined in the raising of marriage bans, such as Spain and Canada. The United States must ignore and separate religious reasoning for banning gay marriage and focus primarily on the legal matter of the unification of parties in order to follow both clauses of the First Amendment. With this in mind, one must also take into account the less acknowledged polygamist marriage, practiced abroad in Mormon, Hindu, and Islamic cultures in which a man or women is married to multiple partners. While illegal in the United states, many argue the ban violates the Free Exercise of the Constitution, in limiting religious rights to practice and follow through with preferred practices. The opposition claims polygamist marriages mostly result in domestic violence, along with sexual abuse. Be that as it may, as along as all parties involved are in mutual agreement to the marriage, the risks are understood. One must also realize violence and abuse occurs in any relationship, and in banning polygamist marriage for risks of violence, it would only be fair to ban governmentally recognized relationships as whole, which is not a fathomable approach. While apart of some religious customs, child marriages are not appropriate. Forcing children into marriage is placing them in an underage marriage, and is not consensual. The child is not prepared for what marriage entails and will be stressed emotionally and sexually. All things considered, religion should not limit the rights of citizens, specifically when focusing on marriage regulations.

By and large, the ideas established by the founding fathers have not been properly upheld. Despite the criticism of those who claim their intentions when writing the Bill of Rights differ from how they are modernly interpreted, it is forgotten that the core purpose was to form an outline of government suitable to change and flexible in society’s ever-going evolution. It is designed to protect the rights of all, and once those rights are threatened, it is the duty of the nation to defend what is best for the greater good, regardless of spirituality. Following this concept, religious beliefs serve no purpose in the classroom nor legal affairs. Chances have it you are a part of the majority of the population, the deemed “Christian nation.” Uphold this advantage and protect those members of the minority, whose primary goal is no different than yours: to prosper and pursue happiness without limitation.

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Esquire said...
May 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm
Here's my favorite court case for you: Lemon v.Kurtzman. It established the modern day interpretation of seperation of church and state.
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