Skip to comments.What is the Separation of Church and State? Misunderstood and Maligned
Posted on 07/06/2004 4:59:49 PM PDT by Kerberos
What is the separation of church and state?: That is a very good question - the separation of church and state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today's political, legal and religious debates. Everyone has an opinion, but unfortunately, many of those opinions are woefully misinformed. That is one of the primary purposes of this FAQ: to provide as much information as possible in order to better inform people about this debate.
After all, the separation of church and state is not only misunderstood, it is also exceedingly important. That is probably one of the few points on which everyone on all sides of the debate can readily agree upon - their reasons for agreeing may differ, but they do concur that the separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional principles in American history.
Understanding the separation of church and state is complicated by the fact that we are using such a simplified phrase. There is, after all, no single "church." There are many religious organizations in the United States taking different names - church, synagogue, temple, Kingdom Hall and more. In addition, there are many corporate bodies which do not adopt any such religious titles but which are nevertheless controlled by religious organizations - for example, Catholic hospitals.
Also, there is no single "state." Instead, there are multiple levels of government at the federal, state, regional and local level. There is also a great variety of government organizations - commissions, departments, agencies and more. These can all have different levels of involvement and different relationships with the aforementioned religious organizations.
This is vitally important, because it underscores the fact that, in the "separation of church and state," we cannot be talking about a single, literal church and a single, literal state. Those terms are instead metaphors, meant to point to something else, something larger. As a strict separationist, I have very definite ideas about what those metaphors point towards.
I believe, and will support via the documents in this FAQ, that "church" should be construed as any organized religious body with its doctrines/dogmas, and "state" should be construed as any governmental body, any government-run organization or any government-sponsored event. As a result, a more accurate phrase than "separation of church and state" might be something like "separation of organized religion and civil authority," because religious and civil authorities are not and should not be invested in the same people or organizations.
In practice, this means that civil authority cannot dictate to or control organized religious bodies. The state cannot tell religious bodies what to preach, how to preach or when to preach. Civil authority must exercise a "hands off" approach, neither helping nor hindering religion in society. This is a key issue to understand, because any time the state assumes the power to either help or hinder, the state also acquires the power to do the other.
Separation of church and state is a two-way street, however. It isn't just about restricting what the government can do with religion, but also what religious bodies can do with the government. As a consequence, religious groups cannot dictate to or control the government. They cannot cause the government to adopt their particular doctrines as policy for everyone, they cannot cause the government to restrict other groups, etc.
This last issue is vital because it is important to remember that the biggest threat to religious freedom is not the government - or at least, not the government acting alone. We very rarely have a situation where secular government officials act to repress any particular religion or religion in general. More common are private religious organizations acting *through the government* by having their own doctrines and beliefs codified into law or policy.
Thus, the separation of church and state ensures that private citizens, when acting in the role of some government official, cannot have any aspect of their private religious beliefs imposed upon everyone else. School teachers cannot promote their religion to other people's children. Local officials cannot require certain religious beliefs on the part of government employees. Government leaders cannot make members of other religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular religious beliefs - for example, through sectarian prayers or scriptural readings.
This enforces a certain moral self-restraint on government officials, and even to a degree on private citizens - a self-restraint which is necessary for a religiously pluralistic society to survive without descending into religious civil war. It ensures that the government remains the government of all citizens, not the government of one denomination or one religious tradition. It ensures that political divisions not be drawn along religious lines, with Protestants battling Catholics or Christians battling Muslims for "their share" of the public purse.
The separation of church and state is one of the key constitutional liberties which protects the American public from tyranny. It protects all people from the religious tyranny of any one religious group or tradition, and it protects all people from a government intent on tyrannizing some or any religious groups. We need the separation of church and state as much as we need any of the liberties guaranteed in the American Constitution.
So I have posted this article in an effort to give you some resources to improve you understanding of politics and law.
Yeah right....from the impeccable source Unknown and posted at About.com....While the article does havae some interesting points it does not deal with the current "neutral" standard that SCOTUS has set up.
There is NOTHING complicated about "separation of church and state," it is a 1947 FDR court theory based upon false Jefferson readings. We can all thank KKK Hugo Black for his incrediable flights of fantasy.
School teachers cannot promote their religion to other people's children."
Amendment I, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
"No law" is the key phrase.
Referring to the examples above, there is not a law that is being enforced when individuals choose to "exercise" their relition.
"Local officials cannot require certain religious beliefs on the part of government employees."
True. The 1st Amendment does prohibit this action.
"Government leaders cannot make members of other religions feel like they are unwanted or are second-class citizens by using their position to promote particular religious beliefs - for example, through sectarian prayers or scriptural readings."
How a citizen "feels" is their business and has nothing to do with government.
A bunch of B.S.!
Congress shall make NO LAW ESTABLISHING.
Congress shall make NO LAW PROHIBITING.
What is so hard about that that? I see no "seperation" of church-state other than what is SIMPLY stated - there will be no state religion and the govt cannot restrict religions.
"Martin Luther King's civil rights movement would have been absolutely snuffed out and extinguished in today's outrageous defenses of the separation principal. There is no way his sermonizing, church organization, religious rhetoric, and religious values would have survived the absurd contentions of your post."
How could that be, was King a government employee, was he carry out his ideas at the taxpayer expense, I don't think so, So your accusation that King would have been somehow restrained today is completely baseless.
"Nonetheless, you are part of the social annihilation of the free exercise of religion."
Wrong, I am part of Americans who value freedom, true freedom, not the nanny state variety, and want to keep religion out of government as well as government out of religion.
"What is so hard about that that? I see no "seperation" of church-state other than what is SIMPLY stated - there will be no state religion and the govt cannot restrict religions."
Didn't get it huh? Oh well, I guess one can provide the tools, but they still must be willing to use them.
"There is NOTHING complicated about "separation of church and state"
Absolutely correct there is nothing complicated about it that a good study of world history up to the founding will be able to explain. Oh, and some decent study of the founders themselves.
"How could that be, was King a government employee, was he carry out his ideas at the taxpayer expense, I don't think so, So your accusation that King would have been somehow restrained today is completely baseless."--Kerberos
Wrong-- King's success in the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was predicated upon his religious viewpoint that all men are created by God as equals. Such a view cannot be allowed to be established since it is religious. Moreover, churches were used to organize political rallies and political resistance to local authorities. These activities violate your description of separation. It is quite fair to say that churches imposed the 1964 Civil Rights act by initiating a massive political act against southern states. The abolition of slavery could be similarly critiqued.
"I am part of Americans who value freedom, true freedom, not the nanny state variety, and want to keep religion out of government as well as government out of religion. "--Kerberos
Yes-- you value freedom-- freedom from religion. Unfortunately, the first amendment guarantees quite the opposite-- the freedom of religion. Your efforts to secularize the government and then bulldoze it across vast public spaces constitutes your sense of "freedom." In fact, I think you have a near religious like attachment to your view-- so be careful.
Oh, are you of the persuasion that you must know who authored an article before you can decide if it has any merits or not.
"Didn't get it huh? Oh well, I guess one can provide the tools, but they still must be willing to use them."
I would assume you are talking about the asinine author of the piece of clap-trap writing.
If not .... if you believe that garbage, then you are one of the reasons this country is going down the toilet fast.
Perhaps people need to learn how to read English?
Please, show us the reference in the Constitution where it says "separation of church and state".
LOL, there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. The Constitution is a document that defines the limited power of our government, it has no effect on what a church can and can not do. The Constitution was not adapted by churches, but by the government and it is absolutely a one-way street.
"I know all those judges and the ACLU fascists shall pay for the evil that is their existence, but it sure would be nice to see a few of them pay for their evil in my lifetime."
So, do you frequently have these fits of delusional paranoia and persecution and have they been occurring for a long period of time? You know there are places that you can seek and obtain help for them. See your doctor about it as soon as possible.
Show us the phrase in the Constitution! Oh, you can't -- because it DOESN'T EXIST!! You moron! Were you "educated" in a government school?
Even a cursory glance at this nations founding makes clear that several of the states had established religions prior to, during and after the ratification of the United States Constitution.
How did you miss it?
Nice to see your medical advice is as about as deep and clever as your Constitutional "knowledge." At least youre consistent, buddy.
"Please, show us the reference in the Constitution where it says "separation of church and state"."
It's in the establishment cause of the Constitution. Oh, wait a minute, I see, you are having some difficulty grasping this point because it doesn't actually spell out separation of church and state.
Well yes, apparently the founders assumed, and you know what happens when one assumes, that those who would actually be reading this document would be well educated enough, and familiar enough with world history, law, and politics, that there would be no need to incorporate a simpletons checklist.
Just shows you how wrong one can be about predicting the future.
"Nice to see your medical advice is as about as deep and clever as your Constitutional "knowledge"
And just what medical advice would that be that you are refering too?
You need to go back and do some more research. For instancce, try actually reading the First Amendment. There is NO "two-way street". You might also discover that the concept is found nowhere in the Constitution. And your exposition of it is WAY off base.
How could they possibly have assumed such a thing when the states had established religions?
One can only conclude that you know little about the founders, little about the Constitutional Convention and little about, well hell, anything.
We do know that you have an animus toward all things religious. Why is that?
"We do know that you have an animus toward all things religious. Why is that?"
Oh, so you are going to try and portray me, once again, as a Christian hater. Well it shows how little you really do know. But I understand when one cannot come up with anything substantive then they then must resort to, well, other means.
LOL, whining doesn't become you. Try addressing the staements I made and the questions I posed.
I never said you were a "Christian Hater". You made that up. I simply asked where your animus toward religion comes from. Look up the word animus Kerberos, it is not defined as "Christian Hater".
"...They cannot cause the government to adopt their particular doctrines as policy for everyone, they cannot cause the government to restrict other groups, etc. "
We are a lost cause if we elect leaders with no moral compass. The fact that John Kerry can say he believes life begins at conception, and then say he cannot make his views the law because he doesn't want to 'impose' his religious views, and the fact that he hasn't been forced out of running for any public office, plainly demonstrates how absurd things have become.
I want EVERY candidate to explain where their moral compass comes from, whether it be the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, Nietzche, the Humanist Manifesto, or Oprah Winfrey. I also want to hear it from every judge.
No one has anything to fear from a true Christian. Also, I wouldn't rule out voting for someone from another faith, or an atheist, but I DO want to know what their moral or value system is. Because I do expect them to use it in making law.
By default, our present values were well articulated by F. Schaefer. Our secular society prizes personal comfort and security above all else, which will lead to total breakdown if left unchecked.
My two cents,
P.S. There IS no wall of separation between church and state, other than not to create a state religion. 'nuff said.
Hopefully your feeble rhetorical world is beginning to crumble now.
There are roughly 30 Supreme Court cases which make reference to the wall separating church and state. The first case in 1878 defended the federal government's preference for monogamy over polygamy in marriage disputes in the territory of Utah. Not until 1947 did the Court begin taking up your preferred metaphor with regularity. The metaphor reached its peak of control in the 1960s.
Currently, the Court prefers not to use the metaphor and recognizes its use as inherently hostile to religion. Justice Thomas noted in the recent Newdow decision that he is highly interested in reconsidering the recent Court history with the establishment clause. Some lower courts, ACLU and the media continue to promote your view (Kerberos), but the Supreme Court (with the exception of Stevens) is decidedly against your view.
"Just thought you might best the historians that claim that this phrase first
appeared in a letter from President Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists...to assure them
that religious freedom was being protected FROM government.
Yes that is one of the ancillary documents that the actual phrase appears in. However, as I pointed out in one of my other post, and is reflected in Jefferson's letter, there were some assumptions made on the founders part that precluded the necessitates of spelling it out for the ignorant. Apparently, as is clearly demonstrated on this site, that was on oversight on their part.
And you are correct it works both ways.
"The first case in 1878 defended the federal government's preference for monogamy over polygamy in marriage disputes in the territory of Utah"
And that is an excellent example of places where the government has no business intruding in. But I suppose you are of the bent that it is the governments responsibility to dictate the mores of society to the people also?
And wasn't polygamy part of the Mormons religious values. Where is your defense of freedom of religion principle in this matter?
And what was the very first thing Congress did after completing the final wording of the 1st Amendment?
A resolution calling for a national day of Prayer:
RESOLVED, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, that many signal favors of almighty God, especially by affording them the opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.
US Congress, 25 Sep 1789
"Yes that is one of the ancillary documents that the actual phrase appears in."
I am loving the increasing academic pretense of your posts, so I must continue.
The separation phrase most assuredly does start with Jefferson's Danbury letter of 1802. The idea that various other documents might contain the theme is nonsense. The closest notion of the period is baptist Roger Williams who envisioned a civic hedge protecting believers from non-believers. The similarities between shrubbery and a wall are a stretch.
In fact, if one looks at Madison's various draftings of the first amendment that were rejected, it becomes rather apparent that your historical guise in this debate is a blatant intellectual scam.
You would do better to pretend as most liberal scholars do that the constitution is organic and can be re-created at will in the present day. At least then your manufactured notions would not be so glaring. You have no hope in the historian role.
Church, state 'wall' not idea of Jefferson
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
New research on Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state shows that Jefferson never intended it to be the iron curtain of today, which instead was built on anti-Catholic legal views in the 1940s.
Though the new scholarship has received good reviews for exploding a "Jeffersonian myth" about a wall against religion, others say it is too late to tear down a barrier that Americans feel comfortable with.
"What we have today is not really Jefferson's wall, but Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black's wall," said American University professor Daniel Dreisbach, whose forthcoming book explores how Jefferson coined the "wall" metaphor.
Mr. Dreisbach's arguments parallel those of University of Chicago law professor Philip Hamburger, whose new book also says Justice Black's anti-Catholicism learned in the Ku Klux Klan influenced his 1947 ruling that the First Amendment created a "high and impregnable" wall between religion and government.
The two authors say the Founders did no such thing and that the "wall of separation" has become a "lazy slogan" for judges and politicians.
In the Supreme Court's 1947 Everson decision forbidding New Jersey to spend state education funds for religious education Justice Black cited the phrase "wall of separation between Church & State," from Jefferson's Jan. 1, 1802, letter to a group of Baptists in Massachusetts.
The new scholarship argues that the Virginian used that metaphor in hopes of winning support in New England then a stronghold of the rival Federalists rather than as the definitive interpretation of the First Amendment.
"Jefferson worked with his New England political advisers on the letter," said Mr. Dreisbach, who five years ago began looking at Jefferson's original draft, the political advice and the electoral setting of the period.
The letter actually "backfired" by alienating the Baptists, he said. "The Baptists advocated disestablishment of the Congregationalists in New England, but they were not for separation of religion from public life."
This political interpretation of Jefferson's "wall" caused a national stir when it was part of a 1998 Library of Congress exhibit, to which Mr. Dreisbach contributed.
Historian Robert Alley, who argues that Jefferson wanted a secular public square, rallied other scholars in protest, saying the exhibit "ignores the past 60 years of Supreme Court opinions that analyzed Jefferson's phrase."
With the new books, more emphasis is being thrown on Justice Black's use of Jefferson's phrase.
"You can't understand the period when Justice Black was on the court without understanding the fear American elites had of Catholic influence and power," said Mr. Dreisbach, who is not a Catholic.
Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life at Boston College, is impressed by the new findings but doubts they can make a difference.
"I think it is terrific scholarship, but I don't think it can change anything," said Mr. Wolfe, who reviewed the Hamburger book and has surveyed public opinion on politics and religion.
"The 'wall' idea has taken on a life of its own and is part of our custom and law," Mr. Wolfe said. "Americans love God and hate politics, so they ask, 'Why mix the two?'"
He said Catholics today are comfortable with church-state separation, as every religion must be in the United States. "One day, a group of [U.S.] Muslim thinkers will come up with an idea of 'separation' that works for them."
Stanley Katz, a Princeton scholar, said the new data on the "Jeffersonian myth" will have a "profound impact on the current law and politics of church and state."
In the past two years, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia both have argued that modern anti-Catholicism produced the idea that "sectarian" groups create conflict and must be walled off from public support.
"It was an open secret that 'sectarian' was a code for 'Catholic,'" Justice Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion two years ago. "This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now."
The term "sectarian" was first used in a federal ruling on church-state issues in 1948.
Mr. Dreisbach said public debate on the new scholarship may help reverse the conventional wisdom that society must be secular and religion confined to private opinion.
"Religious citizens should be able to compete in the marketplace of ideas on equal terms to other groups," he said.
Show us, please! It's not there, moron! You are talking about an INTERPRETATION of the Constitution. What YOU don't get is that we believe in the literal words, as written -- not as some a--hole liberal judge THINKS it should say.
Okay, now I will try to be nice.
The point here is using the separation metaphor did not accomplish your political goal. In 1878 the Court viewed monogamy as a valuable religious establishment that the wall protected. This demonstrates how terribly wrong the metaphor can go.
Apart from that, I appreciate your appeal to my free exercise argument. It is desirable and I probably would have improved upon the 1878 Court's reasoning. That is not hard to do given the various failures of 19th century courts.
It seems that the territory status of Utah prevented your good point from becoming the law. Utah as a state may well have become a Mormon establishment of religion. My own personal view is that religious people should be able to participate equally in all government realms whether occupying government jobs, seeking grants, expressing a view within government space etc.
Given grand powers, I think I could reconcile all the historical decisions of the Court to this standard but I think this is expecting too much.
Adopted on: 7 Oct 1977
Article 52 [Religion]
(1) Citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience, that is, the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda. Incitement of hostility or hatred on religious grounds is prohibited.
(2) In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.
Instead, the article makes a nice attempt at clustering some nice "civil religion" sentiments about Americanism and misses the mark. Sorry for the harsh opinion it fails to lay the foundation for its arguments.
There are many students of history and the Constitution on this site. Law is fairly transitory, it changes with the national mood.
Any student of history knows that the founders who worked out the vast compromises and art of the Constitution know that the authors contemplated nothing like the offhand phrase that Jefferson used in a letter. It is another case of this talented man's curse of mental diarrhea.
Jefferson, off on the worship of the formative years of the French catastrophic experiment had some communication with Madison, but it was mostly one direction: Madison trying to get him to understand the sensibility of the creation.
Jefferson, remembering more fondly the creation in Paris as opposed to the creation in Philadelphia substituted the rationalistic sentiment for the Constitutional virtue actually adopted.
For a contrasting view, read On Two Wings, Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding by M. Novak for some history of the time and subject.
Since the introduction of the religion of Thomas Dewey, Secular Humanism -- an extension of the French Enlightenment excesses, we have been plagued by judicial activism pushing for the adoption of sentiments rather than holding firm to sensible adjudication and forcing the amendment process of our Constitution be utilized if there is the political determination of a self-governing people. Instead, the rationalists want to force by judicial decree what they can't accomplish by legitimate legislation or amendment.
Quite frankly, your comment
So I have posted this article in an effort to give you some resources to improve you understanding of politics and law....indicates an intolerance of diverse opinion on the site and amongst your countrymen and I am saddened you have such an insular view. Many people of little or no formal religious faith still have a sense of that first principle of Conservatism as outlined by Russell Kirk: Belief in an Enduring Moral Order. There is a Right and Wrong though man sometimes sees them dimly. Logical constructs of the latest fashionable thinking doesn't sweep them away.
I have many fine friends that think along the allegedly reasonable lines of the article, but they aren't conservatives. You are welcome to subscribe to this article's incomplete analysis as well.
As we all know, a moral populace will elect, by and large, moral representatives (who are but normal men and women with all the normal flaws) who will institute in legislative law the reflection of Religious Law or Natural Law because, at bottom, that is what secular law has always been. When the practice of religion has been completely stoned from the public square, the next move will be to denigrate its Virtues as reflected in legislation.
Such an experiment will fail, if attempted, with results too sad to contemplate.
There is really only one place to start in an analysis like this article attempts:
The U. S. Constitution and the history surrounding it and following it.
KC, -- feel free to analyze Art VI & the 1st amendment as I've presented above.
Feel free to offer us your rebuttal to the Constitutional points raised in post #42.
Thanks t', I will.
I thought it was interesting that while I was composing 42 you were posting up 43. I serves to show the broad spectrum of views on this forum. Almost like bookends, but we are neither one the ultimate extremes.
I guess the point that I must disagree with is your theory as expressed by:
Thus, it is plain to see the intent of our Framers.You are certainly in good company. Liberal judges of the past century have taken a comment of Jefferson, made for a specific purpose of argument in a letter, as his understanding in total. If that were the case, which we shall never know, then your stand with him and them.
They did indeed want a "separation of organized religion and civil authority".
However, neither you nor he were there. And it is patently obvious that the framers and the populace that adopted the BOR and embraced it understood the term "establish", certainly more so than people of our age.
Our nation was to be the First western nation without an "established" religion. Our nascent nation as a collection of colonies was made up of all sorts of denominations and believers. Non-believers were here as well. A smattering of Jews were also amongst us and part of our strength and heritage, just as all the Christian denominations shared that Jewish heritage as a foundation of their beliefs.
So they knew what they were doing. They understood the terms. But can we look back as you attempt to do and understand the art?
Many conservatives have held, that like much of our founding we were "preserving our rights as Englishmen", as held during our colonial times. And in the colonies, the yoke of established national religion was little felt.
Sure, individual states (colonies) had established religions. Some had them after the BOR with no concern as well.
To me, the reason is plain. The clause was meant to protect religious worship, in all its varieties in the nation as a whole, by outlawing the "establishment" of a national state religion with all its problems.
They even repeated the intent with a clarifying restatement in the concluding corollary phrase.
Thus, with Kirk, I would hold that "this first clause of the First Amendment was meant to shelter religion, not to hamper churches."
As Madison held, the words, terms and logic of the Constitution meant what the people that adopted it held at the time of its adoption. I imagine he felt the same for the BOR since he largely authored it to keep his promise to do so. If that is the case then we should look to those that studied the issue immediately afterwords by their sworn duty.
Justice Story in 1833 held:
The general if not the universal sentiment in America was that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state insofar as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship."and so it was universally held for the next one hundred and ten years.
Even Justice Douglas held in '51, "When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, its follows the best of our traditions."
Our national custom is Toleration, not Equivalency. We do not hold with the Enlightenment and Deterministic crowd that all beliefs of whatever form are equally good, true and sufficient.
It is patently obvious that the excesses of denominational "establishment" were understood as fertile ground for tyranny. The excesses of "democracy" were understood as well and that is why it was shunned for a republic.
But just as democratic forms were utilized in representational selection in varied ways, the good of Moral Order was understood as well and the founders knew that they were born into and meant to maintain a nation of generally religious people.
The French, in the following decade, saw that seizing the property of churches was not enough and outlawing them was the best way for the Totalitarian Rationalistic Democracy of the General Will to survive. They chose the plain and simple complete divorce that you imagine you see in our founding documents. I sincerely believe, we did not make that choice.
I have an idea, propose an amendment making clear the choices. I'll go along with what ever passes.
And what is interesting is that the 1st amendment only mentioned Congress - not the local elected dogcatcher.
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