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Separation of Church and State

The debate over how a School Prayer Amendment conflicts with the Constitution goes back to our country’s initial intention to keep church and state separate. The United States Constitution maintains this separation through its "Establishment Clause" in the First Amendment. The First Amendment states that:

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peacefully to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (U.S. Const).
  • According to an Analysis of Supreme Court Cases provided by the Library of Congress, the Establishment Clause requires the government to remain neutral in all issues dealing with religion or non-religion, and encourages the courts to do so as well (970). Therefore, its purpose sought to prevent the persecution of people of a minority faith.

    The line "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." constitutes the Establishment Clause. This statement remains to be the "most specific statement in the Constitution about the powers of federal government over religion" according to Tom Peters, an advocate of separating of church and state. According to Peters this sentence is the "heart of determining what should be the relationship between church and state" (Case n.pag.). This particular clause has been very important in deciding the various cases that have come before the Supreme Court regarding the topic of School Prayer.

    James Madison also acknowledged such a separation when he preached how the inclusion of religion in our Constitution would only have a damaging effect on our young nation. Therefore, the courts have interpreted this sentence to mean that the founders of our constitution, which included Madison, desired a strict separation between church and state, and our courts have been cautious about crossing this line. Just as religion has provided spiritual comfort and inspiration to many, it can also divide societies through inclusion with government. Our founders knew this, and wisely adopted a "godless" Constitution, which gains most of it’s power from "We, the People," and our leaders, rather than claiming a religious authority.


    Introduction Separation of Church and State Supreme Court Cases Impact on Students Conclusion Bibliography Other Links