It is one of the greatest misconceptions and it was the argument sent to me during a Facebook exchange.
“I brought up public prayer because people in OTHER states (not Missouri) have sued because Christians have prayed at school, people have sued to have the Pledge removed from school due to “One nation under God”…, people have sued to have God taken off of money.”
I asked for proof, but none was given. That in itself is not unusual for most who lean towards generalizations rather than specifics. However, when you are speaking of “The Law,” specifics are available. There are no good guys or bad guys. The ACLU is not made up of a bunch of Constitution-hating liberals and the various religious groups who support things like Creationism to be taught in school are not conservative neo-fascists.
The discussion turns to the interpretation of the first words of the Bill of Rights, the Establishment Clause. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
There is also language not found in the Clause, Jefferson’s “wall of separation,” that has become over and misused by both sides of the discussion. The “wall of Separation” is not a literal statement, but a metaphor used to explain the Establishment Clause to a Baptist association in Connecticut. The metaphor was used in calling for the protection of religious worship as one’s heart desires without interference from the government. The naysayers seem to forget the purpose of Jefferson’s letter.
The general pro-sectarian argument includes, 1)If someone wants to take references to God off all state and federal oaths, pledges, anthems and coinage, it must be a strike against both God and Christianity, and 2)People are filing law suits to keep people from praying to God in public places, therefore 3) there is a secular conspiracy against God and the Christian faith.
In my upcoming book, A Christian nation? An objective evaluation of objective evidence. I write about several cases where the state and school district law allowing certain benefits to religious school, like providing bus services, are discussed and found in favor of the religious organization. The argument that there is a secular conspiracy to keep God out of government is simply false.
The three court cases most proponents of a religion/government marriage are Church of the Holy Trinity v. US (1892), Peoples v. Ruggles, and United States v. Macintoch. Yet in all three, the first and last being U.S. Supreme Court cases and the second a New York State court, the argument was not about religion but concerned contract law, Freedom of Expression and the executorships of a will. That the cases happen to involve religious institutions and the Christian faith had no bearing on the outcomes.
While reviewing cases ranging from McCullum v. Board of Education, District 27 333 U.S. 203 (1948), to Newdow et.al. v. Roberts, 1:08-CV-02248-RBW (2011), we find the rulings concerning state or federal government sanctioning religion versus an “equal justice” interpretations of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, in more recent cases, the Supreme Court seems to side-step the question and rule on the petitioner’s standing to file such a suit.
The most important case concerning this issue was McCullum v. Board of Education, a case many either do not understand or are not aware of.
The bases of the law suit concerned the Champaign Council on Religious Education which, with the Board of Education’s approval, offered religious classes to public school students in grades four to nine, during school hours, as part of the overall education plan. Jewish, Catholic, other Protestant and non-Christian religious groups held their religious education outside of the public institution.
Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black ruled “that the Illinois program is barred by the First and Fourteenth… [N]ot only are the state’s tax supported public school buildings used for the dissemination of religious doctrines. The State also affords sectarian groups an invaluable aid in that it helps to provide pupils for their religious classes through use of the state’s compulsory public school machinery. This is not separation of Church and State.”
However, Justice Black brought another important point. “To hold that a state cannot [govern] consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments utilize its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals does not… manifest a governmental hostility to religion or religious teachings… For the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. … [T]he First Amendment had erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.”
I wholly agree with Justice Black, that law suits concerning the separation of religion and government are not meant as a hostile action against religion. Especially Christian sects. And though atheists are more likely to file such action, most atheists certainly understand the need of religious mythology and dogma by some. They also know that the standard for separation of religious and governmental laws was first prescribed Jesus in Matthew 22: 21. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” KJV