Separation of Church and State in America: A Short History by Mister Zen Copyleft 1992 - A

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Separation of Church and State in America: A Short History by Mister Zen Copyleft 1992 - All Rites Reversed ------------------------------------------------------ This short work is in response to recent statements made on CultWatch to the effect that: a) The USA has no Constitutional Ammendment providing for the separation of church and state. b) The founding fathers did not intend for there to be such a separation. c) The USA was intended by the founding fathers to be a Christian nation. d) That the 1st Ammendment to the Constitution is absolute, in that any attempt to make illegal prayer in schools is unconstitutional. I believe these statements to be erroneous, and am therefore promulgating this thesis. I hope that it sheds some light on the situation. Since it would appear to be Christians who are putting forth the aforementioned balderdash, I'd like to begin by quoting an authority whom some may have respect for, who spoke on the separation of church and state. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, and he has been quoted as having said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17), which I believe indicates a clear distinction being made between things secular and things spiritual. It would appear, Christians, that your own founder [sic] was in favor of keeping church and state separate! In order to better understand why our founding fathers wished to keep separate the functions of church and state, it would do to take a close look at prevailing conditions in England prior to the colonization of America. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the government attempted to declare illegal and destroy any religion that did not adhere to standards set forth by the official state church, the Church of England (Anglican). This included Catholics and some Protestant faiths. Puritans were prohibited from publishing their books and pamphlets. A famous Puritan, John Milton, did succeed in publishing a protest against the situation, the "Areopagitica." Popular dissent against the restrictive laws led in part to the English Civil War in 1642, which put the Puritans in power. Apparently unable to learn their lesson after having been repressed themselves, they promptly began oppressing the Catholics. Then came Oliver Cromwell, who favored religious toleration. Following him came the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, and he instituted the Clarendon Code in 1661, which legalized persecution of non-Anglicans. There was, again, a great deal of dissent over this unpopular law, and following the Glorious Revolution in 1689, William III and Mary II again permitted religious toleration. One may note with irony that it was the many foibles and caprices of the monarchy and government of England that led many of our founding fathers to leave England for America in the first place. However, once here, our worthy forefathers could not resist the temptation to set up their own official religions, and to begin persecuting those who were not members. In Virginia in particular, the Church of England was the official church. In 1758, there was a confrontation with angry Baptists and Presbyterians, which led to the Anglican Church being removed as the official church of Virginia in 1779. In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Mason completed the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, which legally separated church and state, and established the principles which would later be followed by the United States of America. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson stated that his intention was to erect a "wall of separation between church and state." In the 1st Ammendment to the Constitution of the United States, first penned by Madison in 1789, it was stated, in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...," which has been interpreted by some to be absolute. However, such has not proven to be the case, with the 1st Ammendment, or indeed, with any of the others. Congress has passed many, many laws which have been deemed to be "in the public interest" that have restricted the free practice of religion in one form or another. The most innocuous of these are laws requiring churches to conform to building and fire codes, as well as sanitation laws. The IRS has assumed the role of determining whether or not a religious group is indeed a church for purposes of avoiding taxation. The Supreme Court, since the earliest days of our government, has consistantly determined that there are two parts to the 1st Ammendment - the "free exercise" portion, and the "establishment" portion. The Establishment Clause specifically prohibits any law "respecting an establishment of religion," while the Free Exercise Clause bans laws "prohibiting the free exercise of religion." These two clauses are designed to protect the same basic value - the freedom of every individual to worship (or not to worship) as he or she wishes, without government interference. The Supreme Court has consistantly held that the government may neither engage in nor compel religious practices, that it effect no favoritism among sects or between religion and non-religion, and that it work deterrence of no religious belief. Now comes the tough part - the Supreme Court has had to walk a tightrope since the earliest days of our government, balancing the desire to leave religions alone to practice as they please and the need to protect the legal, social and religious needs of society as a whole. Examples of tough decisions abound. For example: Reynolds v. United States, 1878 - Mormans claim religious freedom to practice polygamy under the Free Exercise Clause. Denied. West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943 - West Virginia law requiring that students in public schools salute the flag struck down. Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 1930 - Public schools may legally furnish secular textbooks for the use of children in religious schools. Everson v. Board of Education, 1947 - State reimbursement of parent's money spent for public bus transportation of their children to parochial schools does not constitute "establishment of a religion." McCollum v. Board of Education, 1948 - Public schools may cooperate with churches for religious education of children, but may not use public property or funds, and religion itself may not be promoted. Engel v. Vitale, 1962 - The Supreme Court struck down mandatory prayer in public schools. A period of silence may be observed during which children may pray if they wish, but the school may not conduct devotional exercises, compose prayers, read the bible, or otherwise enter the field of religious instruction. Walz v. Tax Commission, 1970 - Traditional freedom from taxation for churches upheld. Cruz v. Beto, 1972 - Prisoners have the freedom to worship as they please. Lynch v. Donnelly, 1984 - Cities have the right to display Nativity Scenes in public Christmas displays. In the preceding text, I have attempted to show that the four assertations mentioned herein are incorrect, and I believe that I have acheived that goal. It should be obvious to even the most casual reader that the USA does, indeed provide for the separation of church and state in its Constitution. In addition, as quotes by Thomas Jefferson would indicate, our founding fathers, the framers of the Constitution, did most definately intend for there to be a distinct and inviolate separation between church and state in our country. Further, as the many divisions of Christian sects in both England and America would indicate, it would have been impossible for our forefathers to have intended for the USA to become a "Christian" nation, as there was then, as there is now, no one "Christian" religion - indeed, when the various factions and sects are brought together in one place, they immediately attempt to oppress each other. And finally, I have shown that the Supreme Court has consistantly held, that although the 1st Ammendment is most important and deserving of respect, it must be tempered (as all laws must) by the needs of the people it serves. --Mister Zen---


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