The Bill of Rights
"God in America"
The core of American religious
freedom is people are free to practice any religion, so long as they
do not limit any one else practicing their religion or
morals. For example, a pharmacist who because of conscience refuses
to fill any prescription interferes with the patient's rights. Is such a
pharmacist an inquisitor. Are those who limit what women and LGBT people can do inquisitors? The Founders believed we respect
one another and each other's religion — whatever their religion or their being agnostic or atheist.
Separation of church and
state is separation of two organizations or institutions that have very different functions.
But both church and state have core similarities:
a culture of dominance, attract power and control, they
grab turf. The
Founders recognized that both religious convictions and national patriotism
make ultimate demands on people, so the institutions must be separate. Is
that why Jefferson said the First Amendment religion clauses built a wall?
This separation is not between politics and religion. From early in
the Jewish Scriptures through
prophets from Amos and Micah to Isaiah and Jesus we are required
to do justice and love mercy, to feed neighbors and welcome
strangers. Those teachings require Jews and Christians to challenge states and politicians. Other religions and secular philosophers motivate challenges of states and politicians.
We will contrast
"Church and State" to "religion and politics." We will discuss implications
of these concepts and discuss the differences between preachers or laity
today advocating for issues, such as the civil rights struggles, compared
to what is portrayed in the first film Elizabeth (starring Cate Blanchett).
Books and readings about religious freedom.
We begin our study with recent
examples of the three types of relations between church and state and
discussion of the advantages and problems of each:
- Iran and Talliban are examples
of control by religious organizations, called theocracy contrast to democracy (theo = god while demos = common people);
- Nazi Germany and the Soviet
Union were examples of control by government; and
- United States separates
church and state, aiming to eliminate entanglements; is separation why American religions are so strong?
relations between churches and states and the effects of control: The
Roman Empire in the third century CE through the Holy Roman Empire was theocracy, sometimes
weak and sometimes dictatorial. Noteworthy examples are Popes Gregory
VII, Innocent III, Boniface VIII.
- For the German Reformation
to succeed Martin Luther had to depend on government help. That dependency
had effects through Nazism.
- Geneva under John Calvin,
the Catholic Inquisition, and the Reformation in England were control
by either churches or governments, and resulted in
dissidents, secret police, expulsion, prison, and death (often your
head on a post, as in the film A Man for All Seasons).
- In the Enlightenment
John Locke and others developed theories about religion and politics,
church and state, based on human reason; Locke and some others also
used Scripture. They suggested how to reduce problems and conflict
between churches and states. Some claim the Enlightenment philosophers
were too optimistic and trusting of people, but they wrote of "checks and balance."
- American experiences of
tyranny and persecutions by churches
and governments. Roger Williams built
in Rhode Island what John Locke envisioned . Why Maryland was the first
colony with religious freedom. The other eleven colonies had forms of state churches or
- Jefferson, Madison, and
most of the founders read Locke, and wrote about church and state and
about politics and religion. The background for Madison writing his
Memorial and Remonstrance and Madison led
the Legislature to enact Jefferson's Virginia
Statute; we study both.
- Establishments continued,
in one state until 1833; we explore essential differences between tolerance
and liberty, so
we recognize that tolerance is actually tyranny.
- The Constitutional Convention
and Madison's and Jefferson's influence.
- Background, conflicts,
and politics in drafting the Bill of Rights, and Jefferson's letter
that the first Amendment erects a "wall
- The practical conclusion:
a secular government and
churches that are free to do their thing in their own ways,
so long as they do not disturb others. The advantages and problems
that result from separation.
- Presidents' actions and
historic events influenced churches and states and their relationships.
The influence of churches through the 19th century that sometimes were
de facto establishments.
- Chaplains in the military,
in Congress, and in legislatures;
- Abortion, end-of-life choices,
sexual orientation: are these legislative issues or personal and private decisions based on an individual's morality
and religion as guaranteed by the first amendment?
- The variety of religions
that flourished the last fifty years in the U.S. as no where else — Christian,
Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, Wicca — and agnostics and atheists. Is this positive? a result of separation?
- Conscientious objectors
to war, and different ways they have been treated;
- Through the nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries much of the U.S. was de facto
established Christian but divided among widely differing groups; recently many coalesced into "evangelical" or "mainstream;" the
effects of these situations;
- Government funding of religious
groups to provide social services and necessary protections of how tax
money is used;
- Separation of Church and
State itself as an issue and recent arguments about it;
- Jefferson's influence on
- The Kennedy
campaign for President and the question, is what he said true in today's politics where some church leaders threaten anyone voting for abortion rights? and
- President Clinton's insightful
and accurately clarifying religion
in public schools.
Summary of issues
about which the Supreme Court made decisions:
- Prayer and Bible reading
in public schools
- School buses, books, computers,
and other assistance to non public schools
- Responsibility for the
deaths of children when their parents elect religious beliefs instead
of medical treatment
- Nativity & other religious
scenes on public property
- Teaching creationism and
its cousins in public schools
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© 2008 John F. Yeaman