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The separation of church and state

Moms View Message Board: The Kitchen Table (Debating Board): The separation of church and state
By Jujubee9752 on Wednesday, March 27, 2002 - 10:28 pm:

I am posting this here because I think that it may become a hot button. I am so sick of hearing this phrase. The religion clause of the First Amendment says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Not only is there no reference to the phrase "separation of church and state," note that there is no reference to what the Church shall not do. It refers only to restrictions on Congress. It doesn't tell Johnny he can't pray in school or that a nativity scene can't be displayed in a public park; it restrains the power of the federal government from infringing on the religious freedoms of the people!
This phrase does not appear in our Constitution or any of our country's official documents. So why do people use it so often? How have we become so slack to let this one little phrase rule our lives?
One of the first acts of the first Congress of the United States was an act to establish chaplains for the U.S. House and the Senate. It was clear there was no "impregnable wall" as proclaimed by the ACLU in attempts to reverse these measures. It stands to reason that the Founding Fathers knew a little better what they meant when they ratified the Constitution than those in the twentieth century who seek to undo it. They did not mean for Christians to stay out of influencing public policy -- if it had been so, the vast majority of our Founding Fathers would have had to step down from office! I say if you want to stand on the Constitution, so be it. But at least get it right.

I apologize if I have offended anyone, but I feel very strongly about this subject

By Ginnyk on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 01:36 am:

Jujubee, "make no law regarding an establishment of religion" means not only that government shall not interfere with religion, but also that the government shall not establish a religion. This right, in the bill of rights, was in reaction to the establishment of the Anglican church as the established religion of England (and other churches in other countries Europe). Under the English laws of that time, you had to pay taxes to support the established church whether you attended it or not - whether you went to Chapel (Methodist, for example) or were Jewish, or whatever. People who were not members of the established religion were subject to a number of oppressive laws, including not being able to hold public office. Jews and Quakers, who would not take an oath on a Christian bible, could not testify in court.

Remember, many of the early immigrants to our shores were people fleeing religious persecution in England, including the Puritans and Catholics. This particular right enumerated in the Bill of Rights was intended to prevent government established or sponsored religion. They knew the harm that could come from government being hand-in-hand with a particular religious body or supporting a particular expression of faith.

The First Amendment and the other nine of the Bill of Rights were written in reaction to specific policies and laws of the English government as they were applied to Americans or to their ancestors in England and Europe, and our founding fathers had experience with the kinds of oppression that occured when the government's power in specific areas was not clearly and strictly controlled and limited. And persecution and limitations on rights if you did not follow the established (government approved and tax supported) religion was one of the experiences they brought to the table when writing this historical and crucial document.

The First Amendment is intended (or interpreted by the Supreme Court) not only to protect the religious freedom of the people from government intrusion, but also intended to protect individual people from persecution or oppression of any kind based on their religion, particularly through governmental forces, but also from persecution from any source based on the individual's religious expression.

There is no law that says Johnny cannot pray in school. But Johnny cannot pray a prayer led by a principal or teacher or led by Johnny with the approval and/or support of the school, because our public schools are a part of government, and for the school system to lead, approve, or promote public prayer in schools gives the strong impression that the school system approves of the prayer being said and the particular faith that can comfortably say that prayer, and puts those who don't follow that faith in the position of having their tax dollars support it. It also puts our non Protestant Christian children in a difficult position - they either participate in the prayer or appear to participate, or are subject to, at a minimum, comments and teasing from their classmates. The matter of chaplains in Congress is indeed an anomoly, considering the First Amendment. But the Supreme Court has chosen, fairly consistently, to distinguish between what is done in schools, affecting children (i.e.,those easily influenced), and what is done in other places.

It is interesting to observe that this frequent cry of restoring prayer to public schools comes only from Protestant Christians, and more particularly from the branches of Protestant Christianity frequently described as "conservative". You don't hear Catholics (even with the large Catholic population in many of our major cities) or Jews joining in this effort - they know only too well what happened to their children when Protestant prayer was a common part of public school life.

I wonder, how would you feel if we did have scheduled public prayer in public schools, but set it up so that on Monday it was Protestant Christian, Tuesday Catholic, Wednesday Jewish, Thursday Moslem, and Friday Bhuddist? I suspect that a very large number of Protestant parents would object very strongly to scheduling the Hail Mary as a prayer their children were expected to participate in or at least sit through, not to mention Islamic prayers.

As for "non denominational" prayers, as a committed Methodist, I shudder at the thought. A prayer which would offend no one would be bland and toothless, sort of pablum for the soul. Not what I think communication with God should be.

The problem with nativity scenes on public land, in front of courthouses or City Hall is when the Christian faith is the only faith so honored. Cities that give "equal time" to Hannukah, for example, which is the usual counterpoint, are usually not sued. Again, it is the giving of primacy to one particular faith and using public tax dollars or tax supported land for that purpose that is the issue raised in lawsuits.

Nothing in the First Amendment requires Christians to stay out of influencing public policy. Both individuals and particular faiths or denominations do speak out and attempt to influence public policy and I, for one, would scream loud and long at any attempt to interfere with this, even (or especially) when the point of view being promoted is one I don't agree with.

It is interesting to note that in this nation, where the government is so specifically prohibited from establishing or favoring a specific religion, has a significantly higher proportion of its citizens who actively participate in religious expression than any other country in the world. Religious practice and participation thrives here more than anywhere else.

A somewhat related issue is the barring of support of a specific electoral candidate by churches or other religious bodies. This comes from our tax laws. Because contributions to religious organizations and charitable organizations are tax-exempt (deductions from your taxable income), they are, by our tax laws, barred from supporting specific candidates for election. This tax law applies not only to religious organizations but to all organizations to which contributions are tax-exempt (hospitals, charitable organizations such as the Red Cross, and so on). I don't pretend to understand the regulatory or legal thinking behind this rule, but it is a rule that applies to all charitable organizations, not just religious organizations. However, churches are free to speak out on political/public issues so long as they don't mention a specific candidate, and do so without hindrance.

By Jujubee9752 on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 08:16 am:

I'd just like to say that I am NOT a Protestant Christian. I am only a Christian, a child of God. (That sounds mad, I'm not mad, only clearing up any misconception). And I didn't put the part about christians staying out of influencing publice policy very well. What I meant is that too many christians let the "separation of church and state" mantra scare them away. No, I wouldn't agree to having my child recite hail mary's, or an islamic prayer. However, I would support them (the schools) saying, "a moment of silent prayer". I fail to see how that can alienate anyone. Too many things are allowed to be taught in our schools, but religion can't be. For example,in San Francisco children are being taught that homosexuality is an "alternative lifestyle". I understand that you believe in that Ginny, and I support your right to do that. But that doesn't give anyone the right to teach it to my children. I believe I'll let Jody McLoud, principal of Roane County High School in Kingston, Tenn finish this for me. On Friday evening, Sept. 1, he opened his school's football game with the following address.
It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games to say a prayer and play the National Anthem to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a prayer is a violation of federal case law.

As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual sin(this word changed) and call it "an alternate lifestyle," and if someone is offended, that's OK.

I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity by dispensing condoms and calling it "safe sex." If someone is offended, that's OK.

I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a viable means of birth control. If someone is offended, no problem.

I can designate a school day as Earth Day and involve students in activities to religiously worship and praise the goddess, Mother Earth, and call it "ecology."

I can use literature videos, and presentations in the classroom that depict people with strong, traditional, Christian convictions as simple-minded and ignorant and call it "enlightenment."

However, if anyone uses this facility to honor God and ask Him to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, federal case law is violated.

This appears to be at best inconsistent, and at worst diabolical. Apparently we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except God and His Commandments.

Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be at best inconsistent, and at worst hypocritical. I suffer from that affliction enough unintentionally. I certainly do not need to add an intentional transgression.

For this reason, I shall "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's," and refrain from praying at this time. However, if you feel inspired to honor, praise, and thank God, and ask Him in the name of Jesus to bless this event, please feel free to do so. As far as I know, that's not against the law--yet.

I apologize for this being so long.

By Kathy on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 08:48 am:

I remember when I was in school, we would have a "moment of silence." That is fine to me. Jujubee said that she could support a "moment of silent prayer"; that she doesn't see how it could alienate anyone. However, I can easily see it "alienating" people. The first definition listed [on] under the word 'prayer' is: "A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship." Since Jujubee is a Christian, that is how I believe she meant the word "prayer". Now what about all those people who don't believe in God, a god, or another object of worship? Wouldn't they feel "alienated" if they were told to have a "moment of silent prayer"? That to me is not the same as just a "moment of silence." I'd rather stick to the "moment of silence" and think about whatever I want to, instead of someone 'telling' me that I will be praying during the silence. For me, I will probably be praying anyways because like Jujubee, I am a Christian too...probably one of the "strictest" denominations out there, but telling others what to be doing when there is a "moment of silence" just doesn't sit right with me.

By Jujubee9752 on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 09:36 am:

Point taken :)

By Ginnyk on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 10:30 am:

Hey, Jujubee, point taken, but a question. Are you Catholic? If not, no matter how you define yourself, you are heir to the praiseworthy tradition of Protestant Christianity, which is so named because its founders protested the ills of the church of their days. I personally think that it is this experience of protesting ills and evils and making major changes in the world as a result of those protests that led to (a) the American Revolution and (b) the American tradition of protests against wrongs. I'm mildly curious as to why you take yourself out of this historical definition.

With reference to a moment of silent prayer - one of the reasons I am opposed to prayer in public schools and other public settings is that most of those prayers are so watered down in an effort to be multi or non-denominational that they are not really prayers.

And if they are really prayers, then they are focused toward a particular set of beliefs and, to my mind, not appropriate in a non-religiouis event. We don't agree on this, but that's OK.

As to promoting homosexuality as an "alternative life-style", there is a hidden assumption in that phrase that homosexuality is chosen, is an option. It is not. It is not an "alternative life-style (never mind how I feel about the phrase life-style). It is a part of the person, as much as blue eyes, curly hair, or perfect pitch. I am not familiar with what is taught in schools today about homosexuality, though I have read of the furor about teaching about homosexuality in many school systems, but I would be opposed to teaching about homosexuality as an "alternative life-style". My personal preference would be teaching that homosexuals are people, just like everyone else, and should not be treated differently in any way, especially should not be treated with prejudice or oppression. And I do think schools should, in their classes on sexuality, teach that if a person is homosexual s/he is not alone, not wrong or depraved, and not an evil person. And that promiscuity is wrong, and treating your sexual partner as an object rather than a person with whom you have a loving relationship is wrong.

Do I believe in homosexuality as an "alternative life-style"? Obviously not, for the reasons above. Do I believe that homosexuals should be treated just like everyone else? Obviously, emphatically yes.

Think about it - I know, every day, that if someone thinks fags and queers are appropriate targets of prejudice, appropriate subjects of attack and decides to act on those beliefs - my son could be attacked and injured. Not because he has done anything, just because of who he is. Every parent of every gay or lesbian child lives with this every day, as does every gay or lesbian. As, for generations, did every parent of every African-American child. Believe me, it is not a mother's dream of what her child's life should be. Life is difficult enough without worrying about whether your child will be attacked for something s/he is, not something s/he has done.

As for Mr. McLoud - well, that's another post. The man is clearly a good orator, one who can manipuate what he says are facts to present an image as he wants it perceived. I could do a point by point refutation of what he said, but that would be a longer post than even I dare.

By Mommyof4 on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 03:46 pm:

This is a very interesting topic right now as I have recently been a little concerned about some of the things that have been going on in my kids school. At Christmas time the entire school had a gathering in the gym to sing Christmas Carols these were not just Frosty the Snowman type songs but rather included songs such as Joy to the World and others. My kindergartner made a Christmas Tree Calendar in class that they could mark off the days until Christmas she also came home last week informing me of just how many days are left before Easter as they had a calendar at school that they were using to mark off the days. My dh has no problem with this (we are Christian) I on the other hand am not sure that I agree with it. I have not seen information coming home(or my child talking) about what they have learned in shcool about Hanukkah or Ramadan etc. and I can't help but think about how isolated it would make non Christian children feel.


I agree 100% with everything you have said about homosexuality (in this thread as well as others).

By Ginnyk on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 05:31 pm:

Mommy, if you are concerned, I would start with the teacher and, if you are not satisfied with her response, then the principal. It may be the teacher's idea on her own. If so, she needs to be reminded about the Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment.

And, unhappily, to many people Christmas particularly (Santa Claus, Rudolph, etc.) and even Easter (Easter Bunny, Mardi Gras, etc.) have become secular holidays, and they don't really think of the religious significance of those days. What makes me think of this is the teacher calling it a Christmas Tree Calendar, when of course we know it is an Advent Calendar, Advent being the period on the church calendar preceding Christmas. Similarly, an Easter Calendar would really be a Lenten Calendar.

BTW, I once had the unhappy task of advocating for a parent whose son was crushed when, during the pre-Christmas season and his teacher told the kids to draw Christmas angels, he asked her if he could draw Jewish angels, only to be told that there are no Jewish angels. The child and his mother were, of course, Jewish. The teacher obviously had little knowledge of scripture or she would have known there are definitely Jewish angels in scripture. It would be hard for the angels of the Old Testament to be otherwise.

Personally, I am offended by the secularization of what are religious holidays. I think it seriously detracts from the important messages and lessons of those periods and days. As I think watered down prayers detract from the meaning and importance of prayer.

You wouldn't see Ramadan in many schools, though I'm surprised there has been nothing about Hannukah. In Philly, at least, schools make a point of teaching about and celebrating Kwanza. At least partly because most public schools in Philadelphia have a large African American population.

Thanks for voicing your agreement. I debated long and hard with myself before deciding to write about my son at M2M and then on this board. But I decided to because of some comments I read about homosexuality, and because I know it is harder to be "against" something when the something becomes a someone, especially someone you know.

By Ginnyk on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 05:35 pm:

P.S. Maybe the teacher just needs to be reminded that Christmas and Easter are really religious holidays, not just part of the "American Calendar".

Also, don't be surprised if the teacher and principal are surprised by your questioning the pre-Christmas events and the pre-Easter Calendar. If there was a general school assembly, assuredly the principal is aware of and approves of it. You may want to be careful how far you go in your questioning, simply to avoid flack for your kids.

It's a real balancing act, personal principals versus potential problems for your kids. I walked that tightrope more than once and it is not a comfortable experience - for either the parent or the child.

By Jann on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 06:38 pm:

What I find more upsetting is the over compensating towards other religions that is going on in schools.
I am a Christian, but I don't want Christianity taught in schools because I don't want Kwanza, Muslim, Hindu or others taught in schools either, and I don't think it is right to choose one over the other. And like Ginny, the silent prayer to a nondenominational God is not who I want my children to pray to. Besides, my kids all know they can prayer whenever they want to, they don't need a special time.
What makes me crazy is that we can have the 8 days of Hannukah, the feast of Ramadan, the prayers of the Hindu done in our school, but if heaven forbid, the "winter" party accidentally gets called the "Christmas" party, the school board is in an uproar over the separation of church in state.
I don't think that is right. If we are going to ban one religion, then they all must be banned.

By Ginnyk on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 07:24 pm:

I agree, the "preaching" of any religion should not take place in public schools. However, I would like to see our schools teach about religion - all religions - bringing in a pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, buddhist monk, etc. to teach about them. Unless our children are taken to our particular place of worship and it has a religious school for the children, they know very little about the religion they are supposed to be following, and even less about the others. I can't tell you how many times I have had people ask me what bible the Jews use, and they are surprised to learn that Genesis through Deuteronomy is the keystone of Judaism. Even fewer know that Moslems also consider themselves "people of the book" and honor Moses and Jesus as prophets.

Religion plays such an important part in our lives, and has played such an important role in the history of our world, it is a shame that we don't make sure our children are taught not only what we believe, but also what others believe.

BTW, I suspect that Hannukah, Ramadan, etc. are presented in your schools as lessons - this is what other people believe and do. Which is not the same thing as preaching about religion. I also suspect that one reason schools don't teach about Christianity is that they assume the children already know about it. And another reason is they don't want to take the trouble to figure out a way to teach *about* Christianity without "teaching Christianity".

By Jujubee9752 on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 07:42 pm:

Ginny, no I'm not Catholic. I am a member of a non-denominational church. I maybe heir to the title, but I'm just worried about getting to the throne room :). I'm not against denominations, I just don't care to have one for myself. When people ask me what denomination I am, I say that I am a Christian, and for me that says it all.

As to the watered down prayers..I don't have enough room on this page to write about that.

As to the homosexuality..I agree that children should be taught to love everyone. But I think elementary age kids are too young to be learning about sexual relations. Last summer select PBS stations around the country aired a program called "It's Elementary". The purpose of the film is to promote respect and tolerance for gays and lesbians among elementary-age school children.
I whole-heartedly agree with this agenda. I just don't agree with the way they went about it.
The NEA endorses the film as a resource for teachers to use "in the very place where the discussion needs to be--in school, starting in the primary grades."
"It's Elementary" glorifies homosexuality and promotes a profound disrespect for the moral convictions of religious people who disapprove of homosexual behavior. The not-so-subtle message throughout the video is that people who oppose homosexuality--especially Christians--should be considered dangerous to children's mental health.
Case in point: at one point in the film, a young boy says that Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin. Then he adds, sarcastically, "So torture and kill them (as in homosexuals)."
How can they claim to fight prejudice when they leave this child's wildly mistaken characterization (sp?) of Christianity uncorrected?
I could type so much more, but I've made this too long already.
Mr. McLoud---well we haven't agreed on most points so far, why start now? :)

By Jann on Thursday, March 28, 2002 - 09:30 pm:

Ginny, no, the children were taught the whole lighting ceremony for the menorah, so it wasn't exactly in terms of 'cultural diversity'. Which frankly I think is great, I wish it could all be taught from the standpoint of history.
I do have a problem with the fact that ALL other religions can be SPOKEN of, not only taught, except for Christianity. And I don't buy the excuse that it's cause there is the assumption that people already know Christianity. You said yourself "Unless our children are taken to our particular place of worship and it has a religious school for the children, they know very little about the religion they are supposed to be following"
I grew up in a predomindately Jewish neighborhood, I can remember going to school as a child on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
and being one of two or three children in the class, so I know what it's like to be the "minority". We have quite a few Jewish families in our school, and they will be the first ones to complain that we are "teaching Christianity" if there is even a WREATH made at the "winter party", but if we were to complain about our children learning the lighting ceremony, WE are being close minded and ignorant.
That is the reason that I don't want to see any kind of religion taught in schools, even from an historical or informational one can agree on what information is historical and what is religious. I would frankly rather have the time my children spend in school be spent on the basic academics.

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