Separation of Church and State

Reference: JSource Original

Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental principles upon which the United States of America was built. The original European settlers in New England made the voyage in order to escape religious persecution, and a century later, the Founding Fathers drafted a Constitution guaranteeing the right of all Americans to practice their faith. However, the actual words “wall of separation between church and state” do not appear in the Constitution; the phrase originates from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to the Danbury Baptists.

A small, strictly separationist group, the Danbury Baptists were concerned about their ability to practice freely in Connecticut, fearing that the state would establish its own religion and inhibit the rights of their small religious sect. Jefferson assured them that the intention of the First Amendment—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—was to build “a wall of separation between Church & State,” and that no state could legally establish an official religion, nor could it persecute anyone on religious grounds.

Because Jefferson was one of the men who drafted the US Constitution (as well as the Declaration of Independence), many Americans today take this 1802 correspondence as an illumination of the Constitution’s true meaning. Others, known as Constitutional Literalists, take the text at face-value, and a wide variety of interpretations arise as a result. Like many of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was a spiritual Christian, but rarely aligned himself with any particular denomination in his adulthood. However, many in the Founding generation were morally bound to their religious beliefs and did not agree that government ought to be “untainted by religion.” The question remains as to whether we should, as Americans, respect that intention or evolve beyond it.

Table of Contents

History of Religious Freedom in America

Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom

Religious Practices Restricted by Federal Law

The Lemon Test

Employment Division v. Smith

Religious Freedom in America and the Jews:

American Jewish Organizations and Separation of Church and State

“The American Jewish Committee” (American Jewish Desk Reference)

Anti-Defamation League (ADL)” (Encyclopedia Judaica)

“Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)” (Encyclopedia Judaica)

Religion in Publicly Funded Venues

Public Displays of Religious Symbols/ Texts

Schools

Prisons

Tax Exemptions for Religious Organizations

Pro Position

Con Position