Within American culture lie certain convictions that have withheld the length of its existence. The freedoms of speech, equal rights, and freedom of religion, are examples of what sew the fabric of the American Dream. Though these would seem to be pillars of our society, they have also been the source of much debate and contention. Among the nucleus of these topics is the dispute of the separation of church and state, a simple phrase that has been intertwined with the theme of religious freedom and evolution of American society.
Although this phrase carries much weight, it is significant to mention that the actual words are not found within our own Constitution. Implication is definitely present, but the lack of exact verbiage is one talking point in the ongoing debate. Most often credited with this expression is Thomas Jefferson. He used the words, “a wall of separation between church and state.” Over the years, scholars and politicians alike have attempted to extract alternative meanings from the statement and context in which it was presented. Interestingly enough, it seems the further we are from when it was first written, the more intense the debate.
Nowhere is the debate as alive as within our public education. As America grows and the world becomes a smaller place, our classrooms have become the collision point for religious dispute. It is impossible to ignore the fact that America is more diverse than ever before due to the advertisement of “ The American Dream.” This is most evident in certain areas, such as the northeast. Our schools have racially, ethnically, culturally, and religiously modeled the true image of the American melting pot.
In recent history there have been several prevalent topics revolving around this issue. Two of the most notable are the discussion of prayer in school and teaching evolution vs. creationism.
As in the discussion of prayer in public school, it is clearly stated in the Constitution that our government has no place in the preferential treatment or rejection of the expression of religion. In other words there should be no favoritism toward a specific religion or intolerance of another. The courts have repeatedly decided, that in the public school arena administrators and teachers remain neutral in their attention to religion. Yet, the debate continues and occasionally media coverage exposes the fact that much of the country is in disagreement over the rulings handed down.
Another bone of contention has focused on the approach on how to teach students about the origins of life on Earth. Since the introduction of the theory of evolution into classroom curriculum, there have been many legal issues surrounding this heated topic. Arguments have been made on all sides, but legally, the courts have defended teaching evolution in the classroom. The contenders of evolution include ideas such as creationism and intelligent design. There are several states where the debate has battled on, such as Pennsylvania in 2005. In December of 2005, a Harrisburg federal judge put a ban on teaching intelligent design in the classroom saying, “ It is creationism in disguise.”
Regardless of which side you support it is a discussion guaranteed to continue. As for anyone interested or active within the field of education, it is a responsibility to hold legal and historical knowledge on the matter of separating church and state. If nothing less, it should be appreciated that we have the ability in this nation to question, debate, and voice our individual opinion concerning the issues surrounding the separation of church and state.