The First Ammendment Dealing with the seperation of Church and State





Is it unconstitutional for local, state or federal governments to favor one religion over
another? Government can show favoritism toward religion by displaying religious
symbols in public places at taxpayer expense, by sponsoring events like Christmas
concerts, caroling, by supporting the teaching of religious ideas, or even by supporting
the teaching of creationism in public schools. It appears the United States government
has had a history of favoring Christianity.
The United States government\'s favoritism of Christianity is a clear violation of
the First Amendment. This amendment states that "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." There is
another reference to religion in Article 6, Section 3. This clause states "the United States
and the several States shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution,
but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust
under the United States"
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html). For the purpose
of this paper I am going to focus on the establishment of religion above mentioned in the
First Amendment.
The influence of religion on humankind can be traced back to the first records of
history. Ever since colonial times, the protection of personal freedoms in the United
States has been significantly important (Klinker, 1991: 109). The original Constitution
did not contain a bill of rights because the convention delegates felt that individual rights
were in no danger and would be protected by the states. However, the lack of a bill of
rights was the strongest objection to the ratification of the Constitution
(Klinker:109-110). Even in the early stages of American history there was an urge to put
legally protected freedoms into written government documents. The result was the
drafting of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, by James
Madison (Klinker: 110-111). The applications of the personal freedoms described in the
Bill of Rights, particularly the freedom of speech, have been challenged repeatedly in
American courts of law and elsewhere. These incidents and challenges of authority
reflect the defensive American attitude toward the ever important freedom of expression
and the growing significance of personal rights throughout American history.
The church became intermingled with politics and became a strong entity. The
policies delivered from the church had more authority than the local rulers and
magistrates of the developing feudal system. For example, St. Augustine wrote about war
and what justified its enactment against fellow men (Witt, 1998: 99). This policy was
followed and adhered to for hundreds of years after St. Augustine wrote it.
Another example, is the use of the Bible as a guideline for establishing governing
systems. Scripture portrayed God as choosing the king of the people. The Pope, being
God\'s "representative" was then given the authority to crown the king. This crowning
process gave the Pope large influence in the political arena. This ritual continued for a
number of centuries (Witt: 100).
One could recognize the beliefs of many religions or none. One could play music
from several religions or non-religious music. Religion is a personal belief. There are so
many religions to choose from, including the choice of no religion. It is impossible to
decide that one belief is right and another is wrong. So it is reasonable to say that it is
unconstitutional for government to favor one religion over others including atheism.
Public school prayer discriminates against some religious views so it is prohibited
in public schools. Similarly, Christmas concerts play a role similar to the teaching of
creationism and prayer (Grunes, 1989: 470). The Christmas concerts subconsciously
influence students toward the beliefs of Christianity. To be fair to non-Christian groups,
converting "Christmas" concerts to "Holiday" concerts would maintain the "separation of
church and state." (Grunes: 470)
There have been several court cases on this and related issues which include
Engel vs. Vitale, Everson vs. the Board of Education, and Lynch vs. Donnelly, the
"Creche case" (Klinker, 1991: 93). In 1947, in the Everson vs. Board of Education case,
the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th amendment prevented the States and the and the
Federal government from setting up a church, passing laws that favor any religion, or
using tax money to support any religion. Justice Hugo Black "incorporated" the First
Amendment\'s establishment clause into the 14th Amendment which states that "the State
shall not deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws and due
process” (Klinker: 93-94). After this trial, people began to question whether school
prayer was constitutional.
The "Creche case," Lynch vs. Donnelly, came from