Separation of Church and State in America? No problem ! Unless…
At Bangor Christian School in Maine, ninth graders are taught to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of the Word of God.” To work in the school, a teacher must affirm that “he/she is a ‘born again’ Christian who knows the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour” and “must be an active, tithing member of a church believing in the Bible”.
Similarly, at Temple Academy in Maine, teachers sign a contract acknowledging that “God acknowledges[s] homosexuals and other deviants as perverts” and that “deviation from biblical standards is grounds for termination”. Temple will not admit children who identify as gay or who come “from homes with serious differences from the biblical basis of the school.”
Putting aside any opinion about what schools teach one way or the other, many taxpayers might feel uncomfortable paying for schools whose moral outlook differs from their own and which, as school policy, will only allow those who follow a certain religion teachings into their service. Yet that is what the Supreme Court decided in Carson v. Makin of this summer. Maine must use its taxpayer-funded public funds to support the inculcation of a worldly and moral view of a religion.
The Supreme Court has thrown the hammer, but as with many such sensitive cases involving the present and future of so many, the jury is still out in the court of public opinion. Is freedom of religion in better shape than ever? Has the wall of separation between Church and State remained sharp and clear?
Church-state separation expert Charles Haynes, for his part, is at a loss as to what to do now. Haynes, who, according to the Washington Post“literally wrote the book on the subject for the U.S. Department of Education with partners as diverse as the National Association of Evangelicals and the American Civil Liberties Union,” worries that decisions such as Carson v. Makin and the highly publicized Kennedy v. Bremerton School District’s decision in which the high court ruled in favor of a football coach praying on the 50-yard line on a taxpayer-funded public football pitch, blurs the line between government and society. religion to an almost unrecognizable blur.
“What am I supposed to say now?” What am I saying?… We’re now at the point where you wonder if there’s any establishment clause left,” Haynes said of the first 10 words of the First Amendment that prohibits laws “establishing” religion.
With America becoming more diverse day by day, the perception of many is that the Supreme Court has indeed opened the door. But to what? Towards a better recognition of the needs of all religions, and not just one? Will we now see devout Muslims rolling out their prayer mats on high school football fields? Will Hebrew Orthodox schools now be fully funded by state revenues? Or will it be, as critics point out, just another excuse to bully and harass minority students who don’t go with the crowds — like at West Virginia High School earlier this year when a Jewish boy was coerced to attend a Christian prayer meeting against his will? Her mother said: “I’m not undermining their faith, but there’s a time and a place for everything – and in public schools, during the school day, that’s not the time and place.
Indeed, it has been a hot summer with reactions to High Court rulings ranging from the scathing denunciation of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “The court’s unscrupulous approach to the coach’s prayer will encourage those who seek to proselytize to the public schools to do so with the blessing of the Court;” to the exultation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “This is a historic day in the life of our country, a day that awakens our thoughts, our emotions and our prayers”.
The debate on the question of how far is too far the State and the Church has existed for as long as the Republic. In 1785, in a rebuttal to a bill strikingly similar to Carson v. Makin who allegedly allocated public funds to a Christian school and therefore could have been interpreted as favoritism or sponsorship of that religion, founding father James Madison wrote an impassioned “Memorial and Remonstrance”. Against Religious Evaluation,” which states in part regarding freedom of religion: “This right is by nature an inalienable right. It is inalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own mind, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is also inalienable, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty to the Creator.
Thanks to the agitation of James Madison and his friend Thomas Jefferson, the bill was never ratified and the law never passed.
Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty in 1777 and coined the phrase “wall of separation between Church and State” in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association as a concise explanation of freedom of religion.
Are the foundations of this wall stronger than ever? Do they still guarantee genuine freedom of religion for all religions – minority, majority and all religions in between?
It depends on who is talking. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo) addressing a church service in Colorado, said, “The church is supposed to run the government. The government is not supposed to run the church. This is not the intention of our founding fathers. I’m sick of this separation of church and state that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinky letter and it doesn’t mean anything they say.
Historically, statesmen and legislators in our country have been unanimous in agreeing, at least in principle, that state-sponsored religion is a bad and dangerous idea, harmful to religion itself. even one which should be supported by its members, governed by its own codes and doctrine and completely free from any governmental interference, including economic. As Benjamin Franklin commented, “When a religion is good, I conceive that it will sustain itself; and when he cannot support himself, and God does not care to support him, so that his teachers are compelled to call for help from the civil power, it is a sign, I fear, that he is bad.