The phrase, “separation of church and state” is a renown version of the Creation Section of the First Amendment. Nonetheless, the slogan does not appear in any original American documents, despite being applied in several opinions by the United States Supreme Court. Generally, the role of religion in American public life is among the unsettled issues with the court in various instances, imposing greater constraints and thereafter relaxing them. Currently, the United States government has strived to take sides with church matters, particularly through public systems such as schools, which has increased opportunities for church-state conflicts. Moreover, many of the American populations are religiously assorted. As a result of such components, the controversy surrounding the state and church has deepened, with many Christians concerned that the concept of “wall of separation” is a scheme by the government to support the money-oriented doctrine in school curricula. However, it will be against the tenets of religious communities. The current paper provides an analysis of the United States First Amendment, mainly describing the freedom of religion with a focus on the separation of the church and the state. The paper describes the historical aspect of the topic of separation of the church and state and the misconceptions and controversial issues, mainly emphasizing on the public sector.
Understanding Religion Freedom in the U.S
The current religious credence among the citizens of the United States is spirited, dynamic, and prevalent than ever before. The increased rate of immigration in the nation continually introduces new and diverse religious civilizations and activities in the nation. At the same time, the existing Christian customs to which most populations in the United States observe adapt to the changing needs of an ever-transforming population (Mueller, 2015). Averagely, a large population of the American population acknowledges, confesses and believes in the existence of God, which makes religion to have a prevalent impact on the American culture, politics and public policy.
Nevertheless, the United States is among the few nations globally that have nothing to do with the formation of a state religion that initially took place in 1791. Accordingly, the United States government is forbidden from backing up or approving any form of religion, or endorsing one religion at the expense of another. It implies that the government cannot appoint spiritual leaders, induce people to worship or pray, offer approved clarifications of sacred scriptures, or describe creedal declarations of faith. Despite the fact that such organization is commonly acknowledged in the United States as the “separation of church and state,” because of the prevalence of Christian churches, it is also spread to other religious sacred constructs, for instance, in the mosques and synagogues among other religious institutions of any kind. Many people, particularly out of the United States ask several questions regarding the concept of the American form of church-state separation. the First Amendment did “not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State (2009).” The main concern is that if a huge population of the Americans are Christians, why would they not back the creation of Christianity as the state religion or if the majority of Americans believe in God, why would they not incorporate religious beliefs on issues of public policy?
In the early 17th and 18th centuries, there was a mass immigration from Europe to America, forming what is currently known as the United States of America. Moreover, many reasons were attributed to the mass migration, but the major one was the immigrants’ aspiration to worship at liberty in their own way. These encompassed several dissenters, for instance, the Puritans and Pilgrims, among other traditions such as Catholics and Quakers. Despite some exemptions such as Roger Williams of Rhode Island and William Penn, the majority of these religious sects did not believe in religious multiplicity. Nonetheless, all they were searching for is a place within their own surrounding where they would freely practice their own religious principles. Conversely, there were noteworthy exemptions in the religious arrangement at the time. For instance, in 1773, Isaac Backus, a conspicuous Baptist minister in New England perceived that the church and state separation is important for a peaceful existence between the two entities.
As the historical scholars envisaged about the most effective association between the church and the state in the emerging United States, they were cognizant of several imminent issues. The scholars mainly included political leaders that were against the Britons during the American Revolutionary War. They also took part in the conscripting of the United States Constitution. Therefore, religious creation was seen as a custom among western governments since the fourth century. This was when the then Roman Emperor Constantine confirmed Christianity as the approved religion of the Roman Empire (Mueller, 2012). Generally, a conventional church is perceived as a reinforcement to the government authority through applying some of its divine acceptability to civil laws besides helping to shape moral and law-abiding persons. On the other hand, the state normally underlines the conventional church by encouraging the certainty of its wisdoms, directly or indirectly.
Understanding Separation of the State and the Church
The United States was established on religious freedom, commonly referred to as free exercise of religion or the freedom to practice any form of religion anywhere as stipulated in the First Amendment (Baber, 2016). Nonetheless, as the United States populations continue to grow and expand, several other edicts and policies are created, which are responsible for the common phrase “the Wall in-between Church and State”. It is apparent that the United States Supreme Law was created by the nation’s founding fathers among them Thomas Jefferson and John Locke (Hamburger, 2009). Furthermore, since the issue of religion was becoming thorny among the Americans, the element of religion was well addressed in the constitution. Consequently, the United States Constitution barred the establishment and acknowledgement of any specific religion. The American populations, in fact, anticipated that the government should be separated from any form of religious engagements. Nonetheless, some individuals were not comfortable with this arrangement, for example, William Rehnquist. They insisted that the wall of separation between the church and the state was ill advised and bad for the history of the United States. The wall of separation was enhanced in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Nonetheless, the words in the amendment were not complete and resulted in several controversies and misunderstanding. Despite the fact that the government does not impede the practice and worship, they to some extent hamper religious individuals in the way they carry out themselves in their daily lives. Putting an example in perspective is the government’s influence on the traditional practices of the Mormon population.
Influence of the Church on the Nation
The United States supreme law acknowledged the freedom of religion (Norman, 2015). In the past couple of years, there has been a fresh argument about the ideal link between the church and the state (Bentele et al., 2014). The church has a direct influence on the state, particularly on the decisions that the state makes (Heinrich, 2015). In most cases, most politicians would often identify their spirituality during campaigns to get approval ratings from religious population. In the last Presidential Campaigns between the current head of State President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump on the last days of his campaigns identified himself with Christians in the nation when they commonly used the phrase “A united Nation under one God.” Whether this phrase was genuine or not, it appealed to a larger number of Christians who believe in one God. In the same manner, President Barrack Obama once stated that “My faith shapes my values, but applying those values to policymaking must be done with principles that are accessible to all people, religious or not.” Despite the fact that this statement was perceived to be not having much weight among some populations, it possibly influenced the president’s successful election in 2008. This is because the expression identified the president with some form of the secular community of believers.
Nonetheless, for the case of Obama, this issue came to make things even more confusing. For example, if the common persons in the streets of the American society are asked about some of the decisions that the Obama Administration made regarding his political-range, adequate responses would be provided, particularly those involving religious matters. The church in most cases expanses to the political scale with its faith. For example, in regard to the issue of gay marriage, the church turns out to be very conformist, whereas on a linked religious issue, for instance, taxes, religious organizations become very liberal (Chen, & Lind, 2007). Under this controversy, it is clearly provided that the government legislation touching on religion must have a profane statutory determination, that is, it should not predominantly progress nor hinder religion, and must not also influence religious decisions. In as much as this goes the same direction with the intention of the forefathers of the American society, it does not address the main concerns. As a result of such controversies, it is apparent that the relationship between religion and the state differs mainly over time. Nonetheless, the state continues to support the church all through (Garry, 2004). Despite the notion that many people would emphasize that religion and politics need to be separated, the reality is that religious beliefs in a greater way impact the political stance.
Despite the intention of religion freedom aimed at ensuring religions liberty, in the recent years, there have been several happenings that touch on the issue of separation between the state of religion, which have triggered people from both ends to take action. Among the issues are the confines of religion and secularism among learning institutions. Historically, several instances have given birth to the emergence of issues from this subject. The majority of the United States school-aged children join primary or secondary schools that are funded by the government. Despite the fact that only a small fraction of the American voters has school going children, almost the whole population is in one way or another associated with the public institutions, for instance, through employments. In some cases, the schools are also anticipated to play a significant role in the society, such as raising children out of poverty through enlightenment, shaping moral citizens and instilling effective critical thinking skills among others. Therefore, it implies that teachers in the public schools act and speak on behalf of the government when they get into the classrooms. Because the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from approving or favoring a particular religion’s standpoint, this spreads over to public school teachers, proprietors, and governance boards (Heinrich, 2015).
One of the most controversial debates between the separation of the church and public school policy is conducting prayer in public schools. This practice has been misunderstood in the United States since it is an element that enhances resilience among students (O’Grady et al., 2016). No individual has been prohibited from the freedom of praying in public schools, provided that it is mute and non-disrupting. Furthermore, no school administrator or leader who represents the state should influence the initiation of such a prayer. Irrespective, the church or the state does not in any way ban the prayers in public schools. This is acceptable to every person from any background since it does not promote any form of religion.
I also support such freedom in learning institutions. This understanding was significant in my life experience. I was raised in a communist country where free expression of religion was prohibited. Although I am aware that imposing a single religion is against the basic and essential human right, which is freedom, I am also a believer of the importance of faith, acknowledgment and acceptance of faith and spirituality as essential to human wellbeing and development. I was part of a society that tried to eliminate religion from its foundation and time have shown the decline of this system in values among other things. Luckily my native country – Cuba even though religion was prohibited at one time, my people found ways to stay connected to their roots enriching it spiritual components from Catholicism to Afro Cuban religion. The prohibition of religion was impossible and this was one of the many things that the Castro’s regime failed. I believe that true freedom means respecting each other’s background and that the state should not interfere with the free expression of religion.
In the public sectors, for example, a good approach will be to welcome and accept all religions and not the hostile environment found in public sectors where they just have to keep away from religion in general. For example, a professor could start his/her class by saying Merry Christmas or acknowledging the Passover holiday without imposing his/her view on these religions or without being penalized for mentioning such religious based holidays. Students should be given a 5 to 10 minutes’ time off to pray or meditate in silence. Spirituality and faith are part of individuals’ development and humans have been in touch with these concepts since the beginning of time. Research has demonstrated the importance of spirituality in building resilience, so why move away from this? We cannot impose, but we can prohibit or try to eliminate these pillars from our existence.
Religious presentations on public property also form another misconception in the United States regarding the way the government, which has possession of public property, is perceived. In most cases, the government is alleged to approve some forms of religions as appealed in the public presentations. There are several examples of such displays, for instance, a crèche or Hanukkah menorah that is raised during the winter holiday season. The other example is the Ten Commandments monument, which is erected beside a state capitol building. In these erections, there is a perceived association between the state and religion for all individuals who look at them, hence raising the dispute on the precise nature of that link. The other issue raised is whether the connection between the state and religion as demonstrated in the displays encroach upon the constitutional or theological canons of the separation of the church and the state.
Since 1980, there have been several types of religious demonstrations on public property, which have given rise to utmost legal disputes. The first display is the state sponsored celebrations or salutes of religious holidays, for instance, Christmas in addition to the public display of religious representations, signs, or objects. Both the federal, state and local governments in the United States acknowledge and celebrate the number different kinds of holidays annually, some of which are religious. In line with the commemoration of these great religious days, there are some installations of alike festive displays in public areas, for instance, parks, where they can easily be seen. For example, in the 1980s, several public holiday exhibitions were confronted in the judicial systems basing on the legality of their establishments. In each of the cases, the common issue was the analysis of whether the government was in any way approving a certain religion.
Another contentious form of display that religiously involves the displays on objects or symbols such as the cross, which are put up by private citizens or groups of people in perceived public places. In a broader way, a public place involves both the internal and external regions of any property held by federal, state or local governments, for instance, public schools, capitol edifices city halls, streets, walkways, town among other public places. Despite the fact that the courts have acknowledged such places to be public entities, some of the places devoted to religious symbols have spurred issues on whether it is rightful by the states to continue allowing such religious representations to be placed in places. This is because when a place is considered as public, no religious representation in the site should be erected as it is seen as an endorsement a particular religion by the state. This was the case when the white chauvinist entity that was referred to as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) wanted to erect on the arcade near the Ohio state house in Columbus, commonly called Capitol Square. State officials forbade the KKK’s request to create the cross since they knew that the construction would imply that the government was endorsing the organization’s unbearable and biased message. Moreover, the Supreme Court also overruled the Board’s assertion, arguing that the planned presentation was a private spiritual speech, which was unlawfully according to the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Since Capitol Square is considered as a customary public scene, where all people were allowed to express their opinions, the judicial service maintained that the erection of the cross would contravene the spirit of separation of the state and religion.
Moreover, the merriment or acknowledgement of religion’s impact on American political and legal history is also another form of controversy that involve the setting up of inscriptions or memorials adorned with religious symbols or passages. For example, the Jews and Christians believe in the Ten Commandments as the ultimate scriptural, proper and legitimate decrees that were given to Moses by God (Exodus 20:1-14; Deuteronomy 5:6-18). According to the first four main decrees, their main emphasis is concerned with the relationship between God and man, for instance, the commandment that states “you shall not have any other God besides me.” Therefore, as one of the earliest codes of conduct in the Western world, it is apparent that the commandments have extremely impacted the Western formations of what is considered as right and wrong, hence to some extent impacted the progression of Western law. As a way of addressing these issues, the Supreme Court has made several rulings, for instance, the ruling that prohibited public schools from posting copies of the Ten Commandments in their rooms since it appeared to be a form of religious bullying. Currently, the court has also made several rulings concerning holiday displays that align with the Ten Commandments displays, for example, stone memorials on the court of law swards that portray the ten commandments. Such demonstrations should not approve any religion, for instance, the displays that signify state events like the independence.
Religious messages are communicated directly or indirectly by the government in many forms that have also been a source of contention regarding the freedom of religion. Several religious dialectal and symbols have been spotted in official government slogans, for example, “In God We Trust,” which was the national motto in 1956 and national anthem’s allegiance to Godly phrases. Nonetheless, the creation of the Clause triggered many claims that counter these perceived items. However, on several instances, the judicial service has maintained that phrases remain because they have been secularized as a result of their ritualistic civic function. However, this has remained to be a controversial issue since it is perceived to promote a given religion. Other contentious issues involve the government participation in religious practices, mainly the employment of administration chaplains by assemblies, the military, and state penitentiaries. The supreme court, however, ruled that this practice should be upheld. In regards to the issue of prayers at lawmaking and judicial sittings, the Court has maintained that such religious rites are significant because they represent an American civic custom with an ancient history that cannot be done away with for the sake of religious partiality.
Several government-backed religious communications have been allowed by the courts, which have triggered controversy, for example, the Supreme Court’s permission of government financing of “faith based” social service providers in 2006. Currently, several religious organizations in the United States offer critical courses, for instance, job training and drug and substance abuse psychotherapy. Such programs are mainly based on divine, mental and physical health. Moreover, such actions by the church were significant in enhancing the population’s morality (Steinberg, 2011). As a way of silencing the dissenting voices on the issue, the federal government has permitted several other organizations to make application for the federal funding on the same ground as profane social services organizations. This is because the programs were confronted by individuals who perceived the activities to be prevalently religious, hence the government was perceived as supporting a specific religion through financing their activities.
There have been several consequences of the separation of church and state in the United States as a result of misconceptions and controversial points surrounding the issues. When the initial edict concerning the issue was being drafted, very few people were actively involved in church matters. Nevertheless, religious freedom as provided in the first amendment has compelled religious leaders to orate devout messages that personally touched the lives of the people. Moreover, religious freedom signifies the respect of individuals who choose a different way of life as demonstrated in the United States. Generally, main intention of the separation of the church and the state, in addition to the freedom of conscience, is to protect the all-inclusive core philosophies of the American form of liberal democracy. Despite the issue of separation of the church and the state being a simple concept, it has turned out to be complex in practice. Different interpretations of the first amendment have resulted in several misconceptions and controversies. Despite the separation of the church and the state being a strong pillar of the American democracy, the concept has remained to be contentious, mainly from the popular culture and decree. This is because most of the arguments over the issue are grounded on historical experiences.
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