Freedom Of Religion In The United States

In this great country we live in, we have the luxury  of having the freedom to participate in any religion we  Choose to be involved in. It is right there in the first amendment of the United States Constitution. It reads as follows, ìCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.î Many other countries in the world today do not share the same sort of rights as we do. A lot of them have to abide by the state governments religious practices and if you make the decision to follow another route to a different religion then you may be punished. Some of us should be very thankful that God placed us in this country. If we lived somewhere else we may not have the freedom to practice any religion that we choose. There should be a wall or barrier between the church and the State. It should not be the government that paves the way of our thoughts and beliefs. This gives the people the right to think and confirm in their heart what is right for them. We do not need the State to tell us what we should be praising or worshiping.

ìA wall of separation which would bar that spirit from making itself felt in secular concerns can never be built, because it would have to bisect the human heart.î (Marnell)

This amendment did a very positive thing for the people of the United States. It gave the people the power to think on their own.

What is most important here is the Religious Establishment clause. This brings to mind one very important question involving the establishment clause.

The question is as follows, what is the nature or make up of this wall that separates the church from the State? The answer is not very clear but over the years we have progressed to three different alternative explanations.

ì1. The Religious Establishment Clause erects a solid wall of separation between church and state, prohibiting most, if not all, forms of public aid for or support of religion.

2. The Religious Establishment Clause may erect a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall of separation forbids only the favoring by the state of one religion over another-not nondiscriminatory support or aid for all religions.

3. The Religious Establishment Clause only prohibits the establishment of a national religion.î (Epstein & Walker)

Michael J. Malbin found that most of the Framers supported views 2 or 3. These people took the accommodationist position. The minority went with view 1 taking the separationist position, which would put up the biggest wall between state and church. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison actually leaned towards view 1, feeling that the government should have very little to with religion. ìBecause the Framerís did not speak with one clear voice on the matter, Supreme Court justices have frequently come to very different conclusions regarding the intent of the Framerís in proposing the Establishment Clause. (Lee & Epstein) The majority of the time they rule in favor between 1 and 2. Because of this we see that the court has problems and struggles with the appropriate standard to use in the Establishment Clause cases.

In 1899 the Supreme Court started looking for a way  to find a meaning or standard to the Establishment Clause. Ever since this time justices have had a tough time producing mutual opinions on several different cases. ìFrom a lawyerís point of view, the Establishment Clause is the most frustrating part of the First Amendment Law. The cases are an impossible tangle of divergent doctrines and seemingly conflicting results.î (Lee & Epstein)

One of the initial attempts to clarify the Establishment Clause came in 1899 in the Bradfield v. Roberts case. In this case there was $30,000 appropriation to a hospital in Washington D.C. the deal was that the hospital was run by a bunch of Roman Catholic nuns. The money was going to be put forward to help build facilities for indigent patients. But since nuns ran the hospital, the opposing side felt like the hospital shouldnít be getting any money, because it would go towards the Roman Catholic religion. So the court decided in favor of the hospital saying that the purpose of the facility was important and nothing else. It was there to benefit the patients and would be used secularly, not religiously.

What shoots out as being important here is that it demonstrated from the beginning that the court was willing to lend some aid to the religious institutions, and especially if the aid was to give a helping hand for a secular purpose. Even after this ruling the court still did not give a clear standard which to arbitrate on future claims.

In 1947 another case comes up, Everson v. Board of Education. Once again this case falls under the category of giving aid to religious groups. In this certain case public school children were getting bus transportation to and from school. You could say that the private schoolers were being left out. So the students that attended private schools and lived in the district wanted transportation too. The town decided to reimburse parents for transportation costs. This also included the taxpayers of private school parents. Well a taxpayer by the name of Arch Everson challenged the reimbursement to parents of private religious schools. His argument was based on the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.

ìThe Court acknowledged that the First Amendment was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state; however, the Court found that the plan to reimburse parents for bus transportation came under the child benefit theory.î (Batte) So we find that the government is neutral to religious groups and to nonñreligious groups.

The next case falls under a conflict of ìprayerî in the school systems in McCollum v. Board of Education, 1948. In Illinois there was a state plan that offered some religious instruction or religious training in the public schools. The children who did not want to partake in these activities could be reassigned to a different classroom where the training would not take place or would not be offered. The question was, does this violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. This falls under the separationist theory therefore violating the Establishment Clause. ìBecause public schools have compulsory education requirements, the Illinois plan created a situation where students were forced to participate in religious instruction or risk of being ostracized by teachers and peers.

î (Batte) Students should not be forced into religious teachings in a public schooling system. Part of the reason some parents have their kids going to public schools is to stay away from some of the religious activities. It sounds as though the students who did not want to participate in the religious training were not given the same opportunities as other students that did participate. You could say they were looked down upon for not following the crowd and for being their own person.

In Zorach v. Clauson, 1952 a New York state plan offered a ìrelease timeî program where students were allowed to get out of school an hour early each week to put the time towards religious classes off campus. This takes the accomodationist theory. It accommodates to the Establishment Clause since the classes were taken off school grounds. So the release time was deemed to be fine. Had the classes been on campus then this would be a whole other outcome but since they took place off campus the establishment Clause based on the accomodationist theory backs up the New York plan.

Another case that falls under the ìprayerî category is Engel v. Vitale, 1962. In this case school children were reciting a prayer each morning. The prayer went as follows, ìAlmighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.î Each morning this prayer was said. This was a big case. It would determine if prayers could or could not be said in schools ever again. It was a non-denominational prayer. But we forget about the atheists. Why do these students have to partake in this prayer? So does this violate the Establishment Clause? The court has to hold that the constitutional prohibition against establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is not part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people.

Therefore it is in violation of the establishment Clause.

In Flast v. Cohen, 1968, ìseven taxpayers brought suit to enjoin the secretary of HEW from spending funds to provide services and textbooks to religious schools.î (Batte) Do the taxpayers have the standing to file a suit, challenging the constitutionality of a federal statute on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?

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