I wrote this textbox this morning:
controversial issue in American politics is the idea of the “separation of
church and state.” The first amendment
to the Constitution says that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This basic right is usually referred to as “freedom
there are differing interpretations of the “establishment clause” current in
America today. For some, it means that the
government cannot be involved in anything religious at all. Accordingly, those who interpret the clause
in this way believe it illegal for any Christian symbols to be present in the
houses of government (e.g., the Ten Commandments in a courthouse) or for prayer
to be present in public schools.
other interpretation is that the government cannot endorse any specific
religion. When interpreted this way, the
key is that no one religion or religious viewpoint be taught exclusively. Ten Commandments can be present in public
forums if they represent traditions of law rather than an endorsement of Jewish
or Christian religion. Prayer can take
place as long as it is generic or as long as prayer is offered from more than
one faith. Certainly if children in the schools want to pray, it would violate their freedom of religion to prohibit it, unless their prayer was proving disruptive.
Religious neutrality on the part of the government fits well with the notion of the Constitution as a social contract.
All individuals have the right to practice their own religion as long as
it does not harm others. The government
thus serves as moderator rather than proponent of specific religious beliefs (while protecting certain more basic ethical principles). This perspective was also forged in
the religious persecution of Europe that drove so many to America (e.g., the Pilgrims) and that
was also part of the history of American colonies such as in Puritan New England.