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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Myth of "Seperation of Church and State"

I came across a great article yesterday pertaing to the often misunderstood concept of "seperation of church and state" that many people have in reference to the foundational documents of the US. The author asks " How did it happen that our country became a land where Christian children are forbidden to use the word, “God”, in the public schools; public school students are forbidden to say prayers at football games; and religious speech is banned from the public square?". Indeed, there are many in this country (judges included) who are confused about the original intent of the framers of our constitution. The above, linked article is a 27 point presentation of what the intent of the Founding Fathers was and how it became corrupted down through the ages by judicial activism. We obviously don't have time to examine all of them in this entry, but here are a few of the key points raised. First, in relation to "Mother England"...

"The established religions in England, first Roman Catholic, and then Church of England, were supported by “tithes”—mandatory payments of a percentage of the produce of the land, payable by those living within the parish (regardless of their religious preferences) to the parish church, to support it and its clergy:

The payment of tithes was a cause of endless dispute between the tithe owners and the tithe payers - between clergy and parishioners - ... In addition, Quakers and other non-conformists objected to paying any tithes to support the established church. Almost every agricultural process and product attracted controversy over its tithe value. By the eighteenth century the complex legislation surrounding the tithe began to have a detrimental effect ... Tithing was seen as increasingly irrelevant to the needs of the community and the developing agricultural industry."

I think we could all agree that although there might have been good intentions, these sort of laws are generally bad idea. Why should one be forced to pay tithes to a religion? Even one with which you might disagree with some of it's founding doctrines? How did such a concept get warped into creating open hostility between government and religion and ne'er the two shall meet? The author explains the beginning of the end of cordial relations between the two..

" Now let us see how judges on the supreme Court re-defined “establishment of religion” in order to ban prayer in public schools. Engel v. Vitale (1962), is the case where six men outlawed prayer in the public schools. A public school board in New York had directed that the following prayer be said at school:

Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.

Any student was free to remain seated or leave the room, without any comments by the teacher one way or the other.

But six men on the supreme Court said this short, non-denominational and voluntary prayer constituted an “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment! They (Hugo Black, Warren, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, and Douglas) admitted that allowing school children to say this prayer did not really “establish” a “religion”! They admitted that the prayer:

...does not amount to a total establishment of one particular religious sect to the exclusion of all others—that, indeed, the governmental endorsement of that prayer seems relatively insignificant when compared to the governmental encroachments upon religion which were commonplace 200 years ago…(p.436)

Douglas wrote in his concurring opinion:

I cannot say that to authorize this prayer is to establish a religion in the strictly historic meaning of those words. A religion is not established in the usual sense merely by letting those who choose to do so say the prayer that the public school teacher leads. (p.442)

But these six men didn’t want children praying in school. So, they just redefined “establishment of religion” to mean, “a religious activity”, “a prayer” (p.424), having public school children hear or recite a prayer that “somebody in government composed” (pp.425-427), “writing or sanctioning official prayers”(p.435), and “government endorsement of a prayer” (p.436).

These six men also admitted that even though no coercion was present, and even though the prayer was “denominationally neutral”, it still constituted an unlawful “establishment of religion”:

The Establishment Clause ... does not depend upon any showing of direct governmental compulsion and is violated by the enactment of laws which establish an official religion whether those laws operate directly to coerce nonobserving individuals or not. (p.430)

Douglas said in his concurring opinion:

There is no element of compulsion or coercion in New York’s regulation requiring that public schools be opened each day with the ... prayer (p.438); there is ... no effort at indoctrination, and no attempt at exposition ... New York’s prayer ... does not involve any element of proselytizing ... (p.439).

They thus redefined “established religion” to describe what the N.Y. public schools were doing so that they could then outlaw it. They don’t have that right! We have quoted Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton & James Madison as showing that the essence of an “established religion” is that the civil government selects a particular religious denomination (Roman Catholic or Church of England or Congregational or Presbyterian, etc.), and forces everybody to financially support that particular denomination with taxes or tithes."

Anyone is free to leave their thoughts on the matter here. One of the main reasons that Jefferson and Madison attended expressly Christian religious worship services inside of federal government buildings during their administrations and never spoke out against them was because attendence was compulsory and nobody was compelled to take part in them. That sort of mindset was closer to the friendly relationship between church and state that was much more idealized by the Founding Fathers than the open hostility expressed in these times IMO.


Whateverman said...

How did it happen that our country became a land where Christian children are forbidden to use the word, “God”, in the public schools; public school students are forbidden to say prayers at football games; and religious speech is banned from the public square?"

1) Bald-faced lie (aka. a sin which damns you to hell, according toe Christianity). Christian children are allowed to use the word "god" in public school. Seriously, if you've got truth and justice and God on your side, you've got no reason to lie like this.

2) Public school students are forbidden to say prayers specific to a religious denomination at public school events. Yes. This is because public schools are supposed to be INCLUSIVE to religious viewpoints, not EXCLUSIVE to self-centered Christians who think the rest of the world needs to hear about their religion specifically. You wanna invoke the Christian God in front of a few hundred people? Do it in a way that doesn't require funding from Muslim, atheist, Jewish or Baha'i parents (et al).

3) Another lie; you Christian folks really don't believe in this "sin" thing, do you... In most places, religious speech IS allowed in the public square (in the US). However, if by-laws prevent public speaking in general, then go find some other place in which to babble. Take comfort in the fact, too, that atheist preaching would be a similarly punishable offense.


This persecution complex you folks carry around in an overly dramatic fashion makes you look pitiful. Man up. DEAL with the fact that the world wont cave in to your personal beliefs.

Whateverman said...

And by the way: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Froggie said...


"How did it happen that our country became a land where Christian children are forbidden to use the word, “God”, in the public schools; public school students are forbidden to say prayers at football games; and religious speech is banned from the public square?"

I quit reading right there since the pretext of your post is based on total falsehoods.

1- Students can use the term God as much as they like and they can pray anytime they like on any school property as long as the prayers are not sanctioned by the school employees.

2- School students can pray all they like at football games. They can group up with like minded students and pray to their heart's content. This is their right. The school though, cannot formally sponser any particular prayers, as it shuld be.

3- Religious speech is not banned from the public square, and you know this is a lie. Any group of citizens can, and often do, get together and pray and speak on public property. Political candidates are constantly talking about God. Glenn Beck continually appeals for prayers to "save" the nation.

If a Christian person wants to start a "Christian" party, it is completely legal and within his rights to do so.

You are getting your information from some highly dubious sources.

JD Curtis said...

How did it happen that our country became a land where Christian children are forbidden to use the word, “God”, in the public schools

"She knew her speech as valedictorian of Foothill High School would be cut short, but Brittany McComb was determined to tell her fellow graduates what was on her mind and in her heart.

But before she could get to the word in her speech that meant the most to her -- Christ -- her microphone went dead.


The decision to cut short McComb's commencement speech Thursday at The Orleans drew jeers from the nearly 400 graduates and their families that went on for several minutes.

However, Clark County School District officials and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that cutting McComb's mic was the right call. Graduation ceremonies are school-sponsored events, a stance supported by federal court rulings, and as such may include religious references but not proselytizing, they said." Link

"She wanted to use the words of her choice in order to talk about the lessons she had learned in school. After all, other students were permitted to use words of their choosing to share what they had learned.
In fact, in such a sea of speeches, it’s doubtful that anyone would have noticed, let alone cared about, the inclusion of those two small words in her speech: “God” and “Christ.”
Unfortunately for Renee, school officials cared enough to totally ban her from participating in the graduation ceremony. This was simply political correctness rearing its ugly head once again. If there are two words that are politically incorrect, and thus taboo in the public schools today, they are “Jesus Christ.”
Instead of being honest, school officials disguised their political correctness by hiding behind the mantra of “separation of church and state.” Yet this was not a state-paid teacher or other state employee speaking - it was a student who had not only earned the right to address her classmates, she was invited to do so." Link

public school students are forbidden to say prayers at football games

"the most recent school-prayer case arose out of Texas. In the 2000 decision Santa Fe v. Doe, the Supreme Court held a school may not ask students to lead prayers over the public address system before football games" Link

What? Did you think she just made it up?

I'm not sure what she meant by the "religious speech is banned from the public square" reference and a specific example would be helpful.

Froggie said...


Many school administraters/ teachers are now quite sensitive to schol prayer and church/ state issues. Mistakes have been made. In a school not far from where I live a group of kids was standing and saying grace before sitting down for lunch in the cafeteria. A teacher came along and said- you kids can't do that!
Well, of course he was wrong and after some red faced apologies and explanations, everything was resolved. The teacher was a local Christian and sang in the church choir!

We are land of law and with all the hullabaloo, there have been misunderstandings. Worse though, the right wing has used some if these incidents to make the remarks that you started this post with to spread fear.

In each case, we must look at the laws, and not histrionic appeals to emotion by those that want dominion- their religion to be the only religion.

The laws protect all equally.

The article you quoted is full of strawmen, and as far as I am concerned outright lies, or to be kind, a gross misunderstanding of the laws.

Whateverman said...

"Jesus Christ" is politically incorrect only to someone who's eager to believe him/herself a member of a persecuted minority, er, sorry, majority.

How did Brittany McComb know her speech was going to be cut short? Seriously, how did she know? Had she discussed it with school administration who asked her to remove the overt religious references? Had she refused to do so? Was she known for proselytizing in general?

in such a sea of speeches, it’s doubtful that anyone would have noticed, let alone cared about, the inclusion of those two small words in her speech: “God” and “Christ.”
Unfortunately for Renee, school officials cared enough to totally ban her from participating in the graduation ceremony.

I'm willing to bet there's much more to this story than our dishonest author lets on...

Whateverman said...

People don't get "totally banned" from graduation ceremonies for uttering the word "Christ" right after the word "Jesus"

GentleSkeptic said...

Late in his life, James Madison wrote a letter summarizing his views: “And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”


JD Curtis said...

This is where the wheels come off their arguments and they go too far...

Consider these recent ACLU actions:

The ACLU threatened to sue the Newton County (Georgia) School board to force it to remove "Christmas" from school calendars. The school board complied, changing "Christmas Break" to "Winter Break."

In 2001, the ACLU threatened to file a lawsuit when church parishioners built a Nativity scene in a public park in Breaux Bridge, La. This was but the latest installment in a long tradition of ACLU opposition to Nativity scenes in public places.

The ACLU also threatens lawsuits against states and cities that allow displays of the Ten Commandments on public grounds and in public buildings. In recent years, it has filed suits against the cities of Ringold, Ga., Duluth, Minn., and Providence, R.I.

Following an ACLU lawsuit, the Board of Education in Columbus, Ohio, began limiting religious music at school functions. One high-school concert was cancelled because the program included songs containing religious references.

The ACLU urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a lower court decision declaring unconstitutional the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has so far refused to follow the ACLU's guidance.

The ACLU's tactics have wide repercussions, and have been alarmingly effective in stifling religious speech and expression. Because of their fear of lawsuits, public officials often act preemptively to remove any mention or display of religion in the public square.

JD Curtis said...

Late in life, James Madison also wrote...

"The belief in a God All Powerful wise & good, is so essential to the moral order of the World & to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources"

GentleSkeptic said...

Not a word in there about merging church and state.

Whateverman said...

Does it bother you, JD, that the premise for this separation of church & state post doesn't hold water?

You posted some fairly ubiquitous stuff about Christian kids being drawn and quartered in public schools, yet with a tiny bit of research, this is shown to be entirely fictional. Doesn't this call your entire argument into question?

The Catholic Apologist said...

Great post JC, I absolutely agree.

Right on the money!

Whateverman said...

How can you possibly agree when the argument has no merit? Or are you just piping in because you see a fellow theist losing in spectacular fashion?