Thursday, November 17, 2011

Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state is an issue that goes back as far as Thomas Jefferson. In 1802, he addressed the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association. Jefferson said, “ The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect everyone’s religious rights and not to exclude “God” from the government.” The first real issue of the separation of church and state in our schools came in 1925, about 125 years after Jefferson spoke to the Baptist Association. A newly formed ACLU paid a teacher to teach the Evolution theory to students, which, was against Tennessee state law. The ACLU lost the case, but, it started the re-evaluation of teaching science in schools and within 4 decades the laws were reversed to the teaching of evolution as mandatory and the teaching of creation being outlawed. Over the years, we have come to see a constant battle over this issue and many people bringing up valid reasons to support their causes.

Those in favor of the Separation of Church and State have made strong cases over the years in the media and courts. If a school was to teach a religion or bible class they must not: 1. Promote one religion or faith group over any other. 2. Promote a religiously based life over a secularly life. 3 Promote a secularly based life over a religiously based life. The schools that have tried to have religion in the classroom had to tread lightly. Once they crossed one of the guidelines it became a critical mistake. The media coverage behind church and state issues in the schools becomes a heavy enough burden to handle.

Those opposing the separation of church and state feel that the First Amendment supports their cause and we should be able to bring religion and public education together. The First Amendment states that, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." With that two clauses were established: The Free Exercise Clause and The Establishment Clause. The Free Exercise Clause guarantees religious liberty by prohibiting Congress from passing laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Establishment Clause is also in place to guarantee religious liberty by respecting an establishment of religion. The Free Exercise and Establishment Clause is in place to make sure that government (and public school) remain neutral on religion.

According to the Constitution, a class or course about the bible/religion is possible in public school as long as the instruction is objective, inclusive, and balanced. This however stems to be the one of the largest problems. In trying to produce a religion/Bible class there are many hindrances that can be faced along the way. For example, some parents will not want their children taught this way because they may not agree with the beliefs. Teachers that are devout with their religion will find it hard to avoid being preachy of their religion. In the same realm, others may be tempted to present certain beliefs as true or false. If a school would plan to teach a course on the Bible/religion they would have to be open to the idea of holding many courses around other religions and holy books like the Book of Mormon, the Vedas, the Qu’ran, etc.

In closing, the separation of church and state sits on a thin line that can be crossed rather easily. Those that have walked the tightrope have battled and lost more then they have won. When it comes to church and state it seems that no matter what the case, whether it is something opposing, or in favor of religion it will always manage to spark a huge debate.

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