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Separation of Church and State FAQ


What is the separation of church and state? Is it in the Constitution? Is it just a communist plot? What are some common myths about separation? What are some important court decisions about separation? What does the Constitution say about the separation of church and state?

The basic principle of church / state separation is widely misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misapplied - both by the courts and by the general public. Too few understand its role in American history and even fewer understand its importance in maintaining religious liberty in the United States. Here you will find extensive information about the history of the separation of church and state, the various positions people have on it, and what has happened to it in the courts.

Pledge of Allegiance, Under God - Recent News and Posts
Because of the words "under God," many regard the pledge not simply as an expression of patriotism, but also as an expression of religious piety. Furthermore, it has been used by many of these same people as evidence that this is a religious nation; not simply in the sense that most people are religious, but rather than the government itself is founded upon religious principles - specifically, Christianity.

Newdow v. U.S. Congress (2002)
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance back in 1954 was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of church and state. Read how and why they reached this decision and vote in the poll to register your opinion...

Locke v. Davey
The question before the court was: can a state withhold a general government benefit, like a merit-based scholarship, from those who would use that benefit to further religious goals? Can a state refuse to disburse a scholarship to students seeking to obtain divinity degrees for the purpose of a career in religious ministry but not refuse to give scholarships to students pursuing any other career?

Separation of Church and State 101
The separation of church and state is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned concepts in today's political, legal and religious debates. Learn more about what it means and what it means to you, personally.

• What is the separation of church and state?
• Church and State: Who's Who?
• Naked Public Square?

Church and State: Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings
When discussing the separation of church and state, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a lot of misinformation, misunderstandings, and myths floating around which distort people's perception of critical issues. It simply isn't possible to come to a reasonable understanding about the nature of how religion and government should interact when people do not have all of the fact - or, even worse, when what they think are facts turn out to simply be errors.

• "Separation of church and state" isn't in the Constitution.
• You have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion
• The United States is a Christian Nation

Secularism 101
Secularism is one of the most important movements of the modern West. Its influence and power serve to differentiate it not only from the Middle Ages and more ancient eras, but also to differentiate the West from other cultural regions around the world. The modern West is what it is largely because of secularism; for some, that is a reason to cheer secularism on, but for others it is a reason to mourn.

•  Defining Secularism
•  Religious Origins of Secularism
•  Critiques of Secularism

Religion in Public Schools
The presence and extent of religion in public schools is one of the most difficult and contentious issues when it comes to the separation of church and state. On the one hand are those who sincerely believe that a lack of religion in the schools "teaches" atheism or secular humanism, resulting in a decline in morality and performance. On the other hand are those who sincerely believe that state sanctioned religion and state supported religious observances infringe upon the religious liberties of all students.

• School Prayer
• School Vouchers: Arguments For
• School Vouchers: Arguments Against

Ten Commandments
Should displays of the Ten Commandments be allowed in public buildings, or would that be a violation of the separation of church and state? Should large monuments be erected on the grounds of courthouses or legislative buildings? Should there be posters of them in schools and other municipal buildings? Or do such displays all violate the separation of church and state?

• Catholics, Protestants and Jews
• Congressional Action
• Judge Roy Moore

Church, State, and Religious Holidays
Can the government take a religious holiday and make an official state holiday out of it? Is it an establishment of religion when a religious holy day becomes an official state holiday? Because the United States has historically been dominated by Christians, there are many Christian practices which have become part of American culture - among them, the official state recognition of particular Christian holidays.

• Christmas Symbols & Christmas Holidays
• Good Friday & Easter
• Sabbath Laws

Redefining Religious Freedom
Religious conservatives are anxious to expand the power of religious organizations in the United States, even if that means turning basic principles of religious freedom and liberty on its head. Instead of treating religious freedom as a type of general liberty and of freedom of conscience, they wish to treat religious freedom as a unique type of liberty, deserving of special treatment and privileges unavailable to people under any other circumstances.

• Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
• The Rise of the Theo-Libertarian State
• Religious Freedom Restoration Act

James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance
There is a lot of disagreement and debate in America over the meaning and value of the separation of church and state. Some hold it to be inviolate while others deny that it does or should exist. In the arguments over Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall of separation," however, the concerns of James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, tend to be lost. His Memorial and Remonstrance is a clear explanation of Madison's thoughts on religious freedom and the meaning of the First Amendment. He makes it clear that an 'establishment of religion' means much more than simply creating a national church or denomination.

• Memorial and Remonstrance: Background
• Memorial and Remonstrance: Text
• Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom

Supreme Court & Religious Liberty
Read about how the United States Supreme Court has ruled on a variety of issues important to religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Cases which are summarized and explained include those dealing with school prayer, religion in the workplace, and government support of religion.

• Atheists, Freethinkers and Religious Liberty
• Evolution & Creationism
• Government Support of Religion

International Religious Freedom
Government reports on the status of religious freedom for countries all over the world. Learn more about where repression and where tolerance can be found - and why.

• Africa
• East Asia
• Near East and North Africa

Further Reading

Recently Reviewed Books on Law
Reviews of recently published books dealing with legal issues. Included are books on laws, the legal system, the courts, key legal decisions and more.

Recently Reviewed Books on Church/State Separation
The issue of the separation of church and state has been at the center of a tremendous number of debates in the United States. Questions about prayer in pubic schools, government support of religious events, and more have created a great deal of controversy and quite a few court cases. The books here represent some of the best current works support church/state separation.

Reviewed Books on the Religious Right
The Religious Right has become a powerful force in American politics and society over the past 30 years. It has influenced presidential elections, sponsored constitutional amendments, and worked towards re-creating the United States along a more evangelical, fundamentalist Christian vision. Reviewed here are some recently published books about the movement and various groups and people involved.

Glossary: Religion & Philosophy
This extensive glossary provides detailed information on philosophical and religious concepts, from abandonment to Zeno of Elea! (over 2400 entries total)

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