Separation of Church and State An attack on Americas Ideals





“Let us take alarm at this first experiment on our (religious) liberties” (Maddox 3). Former president James Madison’s words still ring through American ears as a nation is alarmed by the government’s attack on America’s religious ideals Like James Madison, the first Europeans to settle the United States came with a dream of religious freedom. After being social pariahs in their native countries, these settlers held their religious choice sacred. They left their homes, families, and lives behind to seek freedom from religious constraints put on them by their native government. They risked their lives to come to a land where government would stay out of their spiritual lives. Today, hundreds of years later, our nation has yet to make this dream a reality. Government threatens the policy of separation of church and state in schools everyday. School sanctioned religiously based organizations, prayer in school, and President George W. Bush’s faith based educational plans defy this American ideal. The government’s support of religion in school is unconstitutional, unethical, and degrading.
Originally, religion and education were integrated. Most schools based their curriculum on religious orientation and encompassed prayer and religious study. This posed no problem in the beginning as settlers chose to reside in colonies that fit their religious affiliation. The 13 colonies grew however, and the need for standardized education became apparent. State and local governments began to fund schools as a method of achieving high standards of education and attaining adequate teaching materials. Consequently, many of these religiously diverse states adopted the policy of separation of church and state to insure objectivity. “The absence of these same rights in the Constitution of the United States, drawn up in 1787, caused many to vote against ratifying it. The first Congress of the United States, therefore, called for certain amendments to the Constitution; these amendments became the Bill of Rights” (Religion in the United States).
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights (ratified December 15, 1791) specifically dealt with the separation of church and state. It states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”(United States Constitution, First Amendment). Since the educational system became a part of the government, it too was inclined to be religiously impartial. This was no easy task as religion was still the most prominent part of culture. When the First Amendment was adopted, most of the original thirteen colonies had official "established" churches. With the power of the government behind them, these denominations often persecuted the members of various minority religions. Due to the actions of the “established” churches many people came to believe strongly in "disestablishment." Since the First Amendment was often used in application to the “established” churches the First Amendment became synonymous with the Establishment Clause (School Prayer).
The dispute between the minority and the “established” religious groups raged on in everyday life but the court settled the argument in the schoolhouse. In 1971, the trial Lemon v Kurtzman established a test to see what elements of government violate the Establishment Clause. The three-part test establishes that the statute must have a secular legislative purpose and its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. In addition, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion (School Prayer). The first strike from government that put the Lemon laws (separation of church and state) to the test came in 1984 with the Equal Access Act. The EAA gives religious clubs rights equal to those of other student organizations to use school property and facilities.
The EAA was the weak framework for students’ religious rights on public school campuses. By allowing religious clubs to be formed and supported by schools, the EAA created more problems than it solved. It opened the floodgates as to what is considered a religion and what religious activities could be done on campus. If government is to assist with prayer in school than it is also compelled to allow the worshiping of Satan in school, as Satanism is also a religion. If the Fellowship of Christian Athletes is allowed to read from the bible at school, the Voodoo Association can torture effigies during their on campus club meetings. The EAA