Separation of Church and State: Politics, Religion, and Culture
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Redefining Religious Freedom - What is Religious Freedom?
Religious conservatives are anxious to expand the power of religious organizations in America, even if that means undermining basic principles of religious freedom. Instead of treating religious freedom as a type of general liberty and of freedom of conscience, they want religious freedom to become a unique type of liberty, deserving of special...
Religious Freedom Amendment - Does Religious Freedom Need Amending?
The Religious Freedom Amendment was defeated 224-203 in 1998, 61 votes short of the necessary 2/3 majority to change America's Constitution. The RFA was a dangerous manifestation of religious bigotry and authoritarianism. It was nothing more than an attempt by the Christian Right to impose their religion on society. We haven't heard much about...
Religious Freedom Restoration Act - RFRAs Redefine Religious Freedom
Does everyone remember the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Enacted by the US Congress in 1993 and quickly signed into law by President Clinton it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Boerne v. Flores. This didn't end the matter because several states enacted their own versions of the RFRA, all attempting to give religious...
RLUIPA - Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
Have you heard of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)? Not many are familiar with the RLUIPA, but everyone who cares about church/state separation needs to be familiar with what it says and what effects it can have on local zoning and land-use regulations. Under the guise of protecting religious liberty, Congress...
Origins of the RLUIPA
Why was the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) passed? A number of justifications have been offered, but none of them ring very true. Although the stated motivations behind the RLUIPA sound positive, at best it was a solution to a problem that didn't exist. At worst, it's just an attempt to get around the Supreme...
Problems with the RLUIPA
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is a bad law, through-and-through. Preventing government regulation from creating undue burdens on religious exercise is good, but not, a valid purpose for this law. First, there is little evidence that local governments are engaging in any widespread discrimination against or...
Effects of the RLUIPA
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) creates major changes in how the rule of law is balanced against religious liberty. Because of the RLUIPA, local governments may be prevented from enforcing local zoning ordinances against religious institutions in the same way as against secular organizations. Understanding what...
Do Christians Really Want to Make Religion an Election/Political Issue?
Christians act like they want to make religion a public issue for elections and political purposes. Everything in their rhetoric points in this direction: they complain that atheists try to drive them out of the public square or to suppress religious beliefs, they claim that religion is necessary for public values, and they won't vote for...
Top 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. The books here represent some of the best current work supporting church/state separation.
Why Should Atheists Care About Establishment Clause Cases?
The First Amendment to the Constitution reads "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." the phrase "respecting an establishment of religion" is the Establishment Clause and prohibits the government from establishing any religion as an official religion in America. Read...
Piety Doesn't Belong in Politics: Meaninglessness of Religious Talk
Republicans have apparently gotten so much political traction out of linking their policies to what God wants that it's become conventional wisdom that Democrats must do the same. There is a perceived "god gap" between the two parties, with Democrats' failures in the elections due to their failure to effectively link their positions to the demands of religion and piety.
Church, State, and Religion
It's common for people to argue that a strict separation of church and state, under which the government is not permitted to endorse and support religion, is actually a form of hostility towards religion. Not only is this completely false, the consequences of strict separation are exactly the opposite...
American Government Founded on Human Reason, not Christianity
A standard argument used by Christian Nationalists who want to transform America into a Christian state and American government into a Christian government is that all they seek was what was intended by the Founding Fathers.
Religious Pluralism: Antidote to Religious Oppression?
Religious oppression, which can occur in a variety of ways, is something which justifiably concerns many people. There are both laws and constitutional provisions designed to prevent or at least inhibit the development of religious oppression. The best tool against oppression may be social rather than legal: oppression does not easily grow where power is spread most widely.
Supreme Court Justices: Arbiters of Religious Tradition?
Many conservatives criticize Supreme Court decisions which they regard as being insufficiently based upon the 'plain text' of the Constitution - decisions which, for example, draw upon sociology, international law, or modern social developments. Rarely do we here conservatives complain about those who argue that decisions should ignore the text of the Constitution and rely upon religious law.
What is Freedom From Religion? Freedom of Religion Requires Freedom From...
Conservatives insist that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion, and argue against strict separation of church and state. Too often, though, conservatives seem to have a flawed understanding of what freedom from religion really entails and fail to realize that freedom from religion is crucial to religious...
Religious Conscience vs. Public Duties
It's getting more and more common for people to insist that when their religious conscience conflicts with their duties, then their religious conscience should take over and their duties should suffer - even if that means that others must also suffer in some fashion. It wasn't always this way. There was a time when Christians thought so highly of both that they would resign first.
Many have probably heard that, according to a scientific study, prisoners who go through Charles Colson's InnerChange program have a lower recidivism rate. This is a religious program consisting of intensive prayer, counseling, and religious evangelization. Conservative Christians have seized upon this as proof that the government should fund religious programs because "they work." Or do they?
Public Recognition of God and Jesus
It's common - far too common - for public officials to introduce god-talk into their public statements or speeches. This is often defended on the basis of most Americans believing in God and, therefore, it's appropriate to integrate that belief into public acts of government. Well, most Americans believe in Jesus, too - so why not put 'Jesus' in the places where they say 'God'?
Should Politicians Swear to Uphold the Bible?
Democratically elected representatives are typically expected to swear to uphold the laws and the Constitution. Some, though, act like part of their job is to uphold their particular interpretation of their favored religious scriptures - as if being an elected representative were somehow the same as being a religious leader.
Developments in America's Civil Religion
America has something known as 'civil religion,' which is an amalgamation of religion or religious ritual with civic rituals, public government, and other civil functions. Traditionally, the 'religion' portion has been exclusively or almost exclusively Christian - and generally Protestant at that. This has been changing to become more pluralistic, but will Christians accept the changes?
One Nation Under Religious Freedom
Is this one nation under God or one nation under religious freedom? The two aren't compatible: whereas the latter requires that all religious beliefs be accorded the same legal status, the former implies that we all have specific theological duties or obligations which arise out of our citizenship.
Should Religious Groups Endorse Political Candidates?
Some people believe that the separation of church and state prevents churches from being politically active, but that's not true. Churches can participate in political campaigns all they want - they just can't do so while being tax exempt. This doesn't mean that such political activity is a wise choice, of course, but it isn't prohibited.
Religious Divisions and Political Divisions
It's common in America for people to try to base political policies on religious beliefs - something you don't often find in the more secular Europe. Unfortunately, too many Americans simply don't realize what's wrong with this - they don't realize that their religious beliefs cannot be imposed on others.
Public Reason vs. Religious Reasons
Many Christians lament the fact that their religion and their religious beliefs no longer dominate culture and politics in America. The fact of the matter is, though, that no other outcome should be expected in a free democracy. Pluarlism is inevitable and with pluralism comes ideological competition. Are Christians afraid of a little competition?
The Bible as Bush's Guidebook
Should an American president govern according to the secular standards and laws which define the office, or according to person religious beliefs and traditions? One would imagine that the former is correct, but at least in the case of President George W. Bush, the latter takes precedence. It's as if he's a minister and the American public is his own personal congregation.
Using the Bible as Proof-Text for Law and Policy
It's becoming more common for politicians to explain and justifying their votes on proposed laws by arguing that the laws are authorized by the Bible. The problems started with Republicans beholden to the Christian Right, but even Democrats are getting in on the act. This represents a political failure and an inability of politicians to do their job properly.
Religious Institutions as Havens for Pedophiles
The single biggest issue facing the Catholic Church in recent years has been the revelations of decades of priestly sexual abuse of children - and the subsequent cover-ups by bishops as well as some secular authorities. Other churches and religious organizations have had to contend with this as well, so is there anything inherent in religious institutions that makes them susceptible?
Back-Door Establishments of Religion
If a majority of citizens want or approve of some government action, does that action automatically become 'secular'? Some seem to think so and use this to argue that state preferences for Christianity over other religions don't qualify as establishments of religion. Why? Because most people are Christian and therefore state aid to Christianity is secular, not religious.
Defining True Religion: A Job for the Government?
Those who support the idea of the government becoming more entangled with religion tend to overlook a critical issue: what sorts of religion should the government endorse, support, or encourage? It's impossible to do this equally with all religions and those who do the most to push such things wouldn't want that anyway. How can the government pick and choose, though?
Secularism 101: Religion, Society, and Politics
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, but for others it is a reason to mourn.
Religious Symbols, Religious Holidays
Can the government take a religious holiday and make it an official state holiday? 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 - including, the state recognition of Christian holidays.
Should the government try to keep certain businesses and activities "off limits" on the sabbath of any particular religion? Is there a "secular purpose" to mandating one particular day off which just "happens" to be the sabbath of the country's dominant religion?
Church & State Polls: Register Your Opinion on Church/State Issues
The separation of church and state is an important issue many different societies. Should the government actively support and endorse any particular religions or religion generally? Should the government suppress religion in public so as to prevent sectarian strife? Or should the government remain generally neutral, neither helping nor hindering any religions?
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...
Supreme Court Decisions on 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.
Religious Freedom Report: International Index
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.
Defining True Religion Government
Those who support the idea of the government becoming more entangled with religion tend to overlook a critical issue: what sorts of religion should the government endorse, support, or encourage?