The Challenging Issue of the Separation of Church and State

The Challenging Issue of the Separation of Church and State

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The Challenging Issue of the Separation of Church and State

When the first amendment was written it said “Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment or religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  This was written because America didn’t want a mandatory religious system like that of England.  American people didn’t want freedom from religion they simply wanted freedom of religion.  Even the men who wrote the constitution believed that God could do much more than man, therefore they used the Bible to help form the government.

Our constitution has been amended and changed driven by the effects of modern controversies. The founding fathers did not intend to create a Christian nation.  The Christian cross and American flag were displayed in public places with hardly any voice of dissent.  Jefferson felt that he did not have the constitutional authority to lead the people in act of prayer. Under the strong influence of Virginia, southern states decided to rewrite their constitution and disestablish all Churches.  The constitution was then rewritten with God’s name removed.

The issue whether or not church and state should be separate didn’t evolve until the 19th century, and today it is hot topic among both separationists and accommodationists alike.  Separationists are the people who push separation of church Separationists feel that neither state nor the federal government can set up churches / aid religion; there should be absolutely no governmental funding of religious activity/displays, any praying in public school / teaching of evolution.  On the opposing side, accommodationists oppose separation between church and state, interpreting the first amendment exactly as it is stated.  No where in the first amendment does it say “separation of church and state . Accommodationists support government funding of religious schools / organization, they support government organized (non denominational) prayers, and the funding of religious displays.

Religions place in schools has always been scrutinized.  In 1954 ‘under God’ was placed in the pledge of allegiance.  Since then, regulations have severely changed.  Prayer in schools has been deemed unconstitutional. Instead, schools allow a moment of silence as long as no religious intent is applied.  Prayer is allowed in schools as long as students initiate and control the religious meetings. In Doe vs. Santa Fe, during a school football game over the school PA system, a prayer was announced.  The school claimed prayer “promotes good sportsmanship and student safety, and to establish the appropriate environment for the competition.

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” But the II Circuit Court of appeals claimed that it was “hardly the type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with prayer.”  Also restrictions with school’s dress code are not normally related to religion unless the school finds changes to make that is not directly correlated with a certain faith, but instead another group such as a gang.

When the constitution was written, there were no homosexuals. When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they didn’t have to address the idea of same sex marriage.. Now that society has changed so drastically it is necessary for us to interpret their words in a different manner. Many States have concluded that a marriage can only be between one man and one woman. Some states claim that it is against the State’s public policy such as in Indiana and Kansas. The only two states that do support civil unions are Massachusetts and Vermont. States need to specifically pass a proposal in order to have civil unions be valid because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed by President Clinton in 1996. The Defense of Marriage Act states “the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." Many people debate that this is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. The Equal Protection Clause is a part of the 14th amendment that says that government institutions can’t discriminate against anyone and must apply the law equally to every person. Also, some debate that it is against the Due Process Clause which states that "No State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

Vouchers are a controversial issue when dealing with separation of church and state.  The government gives parents tax dollars in the form of vouchers giving the parents a choice in which school their child attends.  Whether it's a school in another district, a private school, or a religious school, public money that would normally be used to fund public schools is instead spent on private and religious schools. The people that are in favor of vouchers believe they give parents the chance to give their children a quality education if they are enrolled in failing school districts. Other challengers of school vouchers say the voucher system takes money away from already under-funded public schools and when the government is giving out this money, it is indirectly promoting a particular religion because most parents choose to send their children to religious schools.  In 2002 the Supreme Court made its ruling in the case of Zelman vs. Simmons.  "In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that a Cleveland program allowing parents to use publicly funded vouchers to pay tuition at private schools - including religious schools - does not violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on governmental establishment of religion.(School)"  Many states still hold cases on constitutionality of vouchers with many rulings being overturned in higher courts of the state, and the majority of states have Blaine amendments which "contain various restrictions on aid to private and religious institutions" (School).

It’s easy to see how topics of separation of church and state have emerged since the constitution was written. At the time of the constitution many of these topics were not even spoken of. Today , with all the media hype about many of the issues we are faced with deciding how the constitution should be interpreted. One can almost guarantee that they will continue to see such debates.

Works Cited

* Allison, Jim. The Constitutional Principle: The Separation of Church and State. 8 Nov. 2004 <http://members.tripod .com/~candst/>.
* Anti- Defamation League. Teaching Science, Not Dogma:The Creationism Controversy. 9 Nov. 2004 <>.
* Gibbs, Nancy. “Thou Shalt be Removed.” Time Magazine 24 Nov. 2003: 24+
* Glenn Cook. Vouchers Choice & Controversy. American School Board Journal. Jan. 04
* Harry Brighouse. Moral and Political Education – Vouchers. Stephen Macedo. New York. New York University Press. 2002.
* No Apathy. The Myth of Separation of Church and State. 7 Nov. 2004 <>.
* Religious Homosexual Marriages: An Interpretation of the American Constitution. 9 Nov. 2004 <>.
* The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. School Vouchers. 9 Nov. 2004 <>.

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