The Separation of Church and State in America– Then and Now

Huff Post: A public high school in Muldrow, Oklahoma, recently decided to remove plaques of the Ten Commandments from its classrooms after an atheist student urged the Freedom From Religion Foundation to threaten a lawsuit. The removal of the Decalogue displays offended numerous community members, thereby evoking a prior controversy regarding a Ten Commandments monument placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building by its Chief Justice, Roy Moore, who claims that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of American law. A federal court predictably found the monument unconstitutional. Another legal dispute will soon lead the Supreme Court to decide whether it is constitutional to conduct Christian prayers at an official town meeting.

In the recurrent clash over the separation of church and state, both the religious right and the secular left invoke the Founding Fathers’ original intent to justify their positions. Simply put, the religious right believes that America was intended to be a Christian country, whereas the secular left believes it was intended to be a secular one. In reality, neither side is completely correct on the historical dimension of the issue.

Historians generally agree that the Founding Fathers were not bent on creating a Christian theocracy. The Constitution merely states that it was made “in the year of our Lord [1787].” Neither God nor Christianity are otherwise alluded to. Rather, the Constitution explicitly precludes a religious test for office. The 1776 Declaration of Independence mentions God but it is not a constitutional or statutory text, and was written by Thomas Jefferson, a deist, secularist, and anti-clerical who undoubtedly would have been repulsed by the idea that his writing would be used to defend Christian theocratic ideas as late as the 21st century.

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Categories: Americas

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