Separation of Church and State in the United States

Przemysław Larecki

Separation of Church and State in the United States
Early in their history, Americans rejected the concept of the established or government-favored religion. Separation of church and state was ordained by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....”
The author of the phrase “separation of church and state” was Thomas Jefferson. His statement has been quoted many times by the members of the U.S. Supreme Court over the last two centuries as they have tried to apply the religion clauses to concrete situations (McWhirter 3).
For Gaustad, deliberate, peaceful, voluntary separation of church and state was revolution enough to distinguish the modern from the medieval world. That separation was also revolution enough to close a long and bloody chapter of Christian history that had begun 1400 years before in the fourth century A.D. (5)
Although the meaning of the First Amendment language on reli­gious establishment and free exercise is ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is also debated in the public arena. There is evidence that the public cares about many of these issues (Jelen and Wilcox 20). Debates about religious symbols in public schools or at Christmas arouse strong emotions among many American citizens, as do issues involving the rights of religious minorities.
What is more, in recent decades some Americans have come to believe that separation of church and state has been interpreted in ways hostile to religion. Religious conservatives and fundamentalists have joined forces to become a powerful political movement known as the Christian right. Among their goals is to overturn, by law or constitutional amendment, Supreme Court decisions allowing abortion and banning prayer in public schools (Portrait of the USA).

Works Cited

Jefferson, Thomas. A letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. Jan. 1. 1802.
Jelen, Ted G., and Clyde Wilcox, Public Attitudes toward Church and State. M. E. Sharpe: Armonk, NY, 1995.
McWhirter, Darien A. The Separation of Church and State. Oryx: Phoenix, 1994.

Portrait of the USA

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

Wood, James, et al.,eds. Readings on Church and State. Baylor University: Texas.