The Separation of Church and State in the United States
The Pro-Life Movement demonstrates against abortion in the name of Christianity, Christians protest against same sex marriage, George W. Bush was told by god to invade Iraq – this list could be continued. However, the major part of this essay will analyze the separation of church and state in the USA on the basis of the three mentioned examples. First we need to find out where the separation of church and state is mentioned and how it is defined. The American constitution, the oldest constitution in use, has 27 amendments; among those, the very first one says: “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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (10b.) In other words, it is forbidden to make one religion the main religion in the state and it means also that everyone can believe in everything he or she wants to. The remarkable thing is that in the whole constitution the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ does not appear. Separation of church and state was later mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 where he explained the first part of the first amendment: they wanted to build “a wall of separation between Church & State”. (Letter T.J.)
If we have a closer look at the first amendment it becomes evident that ‘demonstration’ is the use of the freedom of speech. So demonstrating is not the problem – but does the US government have to act on these people’s believe? In 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Thomas Jefferson’s opinion "may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment." (allabouthistory.org). Therefore, the separation of church and state has also been supported by the U.S. Supreme Court for more than 100 years.
If we take a closer look at the Pro- Life Movement, the main arguments are based on the bible and its interpretation, other arguments seem to be more neutral and scientific. One example is the Population Research Institute (PRI). The institute investigates the problem of over-population and the results are that there is no over-population. At further inspection, we found out that the PRI was founded by a catholic priest and pro-life activist. It is hard to tell if their research is actually neutral or just made to fit to their opinion. Another example is the so called ‘Encyclopedia on abortion’ which consists of only 20 short paragraphs about why abortion is wrong. The website itself is made up by Abort73, another anti-abortion organization. It becomes obvious that the given information is just one-sided. Finally, they compare the Holocaust in Nazi Germany with abortion which is an argument entirely senseless.
It might seem to Christians as if homosexuals are attacking their belief by marrying. The arguments Christians hold against same sex marriage are just an interpretation of the bible. It is nowhere to be found that man and woman are the only ones who should be allowed to marry. The book of Genesis contains the story of Adam and Eve who were made man and woman. Christians interpret that passage in the way that god is both, and only in the union of man and woman the creative power of god will be expressed. In the end, a discussion about that topic seems to be senseless when the standard Christian answer is: ‘Because god says so’. There is no clear evidence, not even in the bible, that god ever mentioned something directly about same sex marriage. Moreover, the fact that it is not mentioned in the bible does not mean that there never was such a thing like same sex marriage in the past. In the year 390, the first concrete law against same sex partnerships was introduced by a roman emperor. The punishment was death penalty. In 438, the Codex of Theodosianus, a compilation of the laws of the Roman Empire, also mentioned punishment for same sex partnerships among men. So there must have been at least same sex partnerships in the past.
In June 2003, former US president George W. Bush had a meeting with Palestinian leaders. During that meeting, he told them that he has “a mission from god” (attp.org) to fight the terrorists in Afghanistan, to invade Iraq and end the tyranny, to get the Palestinians their state, “get the Israelis their security and get peace in the Middle East” (attp.org). This begs the question: How much is church really involved in the actions of former president Bush? First we have to define ‘church’. If we refer back to Thomas Jefferson’s letter, Jefferson mentioned the wall of separation between church and state. But what exactly did he mean by that? A definition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary tells us that church is “a building where Christians go to worship” (Oxford 263). At first glance it does not seem very informative for our topic but on a closer look, we see that only Christians are mentioned. It is obvious that Jefferson did not talk about the building so he had to mean the religion. But as we found out, the definition of church only mentions the Christians. So did he only think of Christianity when he wrote his letter? Or did he mean religion in general? In another passage of Jefferson’s letter we read “that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” (Letter T.J.). This means that religion is a private matter. What is also interesting is that he talks about “his God” (Letter T.J.) which leads us back to the first amendment where it is mentioned that everyone can believe in everything. So church does not mean Christianity alone, it means religion in general. Jefferson explains also the difference between church and state:“that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions” (Letter T.J.). So the own religious convictions has to be left out of political matters.
Considering these facts, Bush did act on his own religious belief instead of acting like a statesman. In 1947, the justice Hugo Black wrote: “In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state”(A Brief Outline 20). So even in modern times, the judicature refers back to Jefferson’s words. The question that remains is why the Supreme Court did not interfere when he heard about the US president’s reason.
Since 1973, after the case of Roe v. Wade, abortion has been legal in the whole US. Nowadays, every state has its own restrictions regarding abortion. A few want women to undergo an additional ultrasound beforehand. 37 states have legalized same sex marriage and 13 states have banned same sex marriage. The last state joined in February 2015. The movement follows a clear line and it is maybe only a matter of time until the other 13 states have to follow.George W. Bush left his position with a shocking end result. On the one hand, he decided on a war on religious beliefs which violated the first amendment and Thomas Jefferson’s explanation of the separation of church and state. On the other hand, the amount of poor people increased during his terms of office from 11.3 % to 12.5 %. So if he really wanted to act on religious beliefs, wouldn’t it have been better to help people? Instead, he started a war which cost 4775 soldiers their lives in his terms of office.
Finally, we can conclude that for the most part the first amendment and its meanings are fulfilled. Respecting the American Constitution and Thomas Jefferson, American people should know that they have a right to demonstrate but not the right to change laws on religious beliefs. There is no valid reason why same sex marriage should be prohibited and also abortion shall be discussed in a more scientific and modern ethical way. Last but not least, we have politicians deciding on religious beliefs. But how is it possible to avoid all of that? You grow up in a society or family and religion is part of your education, so how can one be sure not to act on religious beliefs? The only solution seems to be to prohibit religion to banish it from everyone’s thoughts.
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- Quote paper
- Julien Appler (Author), 2015, The separation of church and state in the United States, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/340732