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Essay/Term paper: Separation of church and state

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Separation Of Church and State

Presently in America there are serious concern about issues dealing with
the church and the state. The main issue is the separation of church and state
within the United States, dealing with predominantly with the First Amendment
and how Americans respond to this amendment. Throughout history, there have
been many court cases dealing with the separation of church and state. The
Engel vs. Vitale court case also deals with the First Amendment and, the on,
that I will address the case of Engel versus Vitale. The First Amendment is of
a great importance to the American people because it describes there freedom
that they have.
The court case of Engel versus Vitale went all the way to the Supreme Court
whose verdict came to be an overruling of the district court. This case dealt
with the public school district of New Hyde Park, New York. The problem in this
case was that school officials were allowing a school prayer at the beginning of
the day. A main political issue within public schools involves the First
Amendment, how the school system enforces certain things and how schools can get
around the separation between church and state. The First Amendment is being
violated by allowing public officials(teachers) to direct prayer in schools.
The reason that this is a violation is because prayer, bible readings and
moments of silence are prohibited in public school systems.
The First Amendment has many different interpretations that people are
attaching to it. People took this amendment to mean that the government was not
intended to be banned from assisting religion or was intended to be erased from
public or government officials.
The Supreme Court case off 1962, Engel versus Vitale, was a case about
whether prayer should or should not be allowed in public schools. The argument
is drawn from the First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment. The Board of
Directors of the school district of New Hyde, New York held firm to the prayer
they wanted to say at the beginning of school which follows: "Almighty God, we
acknowledge our dependence upon thee, and we beg thy blessing upon us, our
parents, our teachers and our country(370 U.S. Sec. 421)."
This brief prayer is known as the Regent Prayer.
Ten pupils of the public school asked if this prayer was against their
beliefs, and those that their parents instilled in them. Their parents felt the
prayer was a violation of the First Amendment statement "Congress shall make no
law respecting on establishment of religion." The courts of appeal ordered that
New York had a right to say the Regent Prayer because it did not compel students
to join in on the prayer, and because the prayer was completely optional. This
ruling was protected by the rights of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth
The parents of those pupils believe that the Regent Prayer is a violation
of the establishment clause. This prayer is seen by government officials as
trying to further religious beliefs. The Regent Prayer is viewed by the parents
as breaching the constitutional will of separation of church and state. The
state is bringing up the point that what is happening now is miner compared to
what happen 200 years ago. In every court hearing and every Senate or House
meeting there seems to be a small prayer said. The state is trying to compare a
teacher saying a short nondenominational prayer to the prayer that courts and
government meetings have. Parents are saying that everyone in the presence of
prayer is a captive audience. "Church and religion shall live both and upon
that freedom. There cannot be freedom of religion, safeguard by the state, and
intervention by the church or its agencies in the state's domain or dependency
on its largesse(370 U.S. sec. 421)."
Mr. Justice Stewart overturned the ruling of the previous court which let
the public schools in New York continue to say this brief prayer. He thought
the district courts had made a wrong decision. The court is stating that a
teacher cannot promote the saying of a prayer, but anyone wanting to pray in a
public school has a right to do so. The government today cannot force a group
of Americans to take part in any subject dealing with religion. Examples of
this are the Star-Spangled Banner, pledge of allegiance, and prayer.
The ruling of the Supreme Court was fair because it followed what the
constitution said, despite the fact that the Regent Prayer is completely
optional for the students to say or not. But the point being made is that
school is a public place. These students should not have to be subjected to
anything dealing with religion. That is why there are Catholic and other
religious schools for students to go and learn about religion. Government
officials are supposed to be impartial to religion or, rather, the public is not
supposed to know where officials stand on this issue. Teachers are government
officials because they are paid on a public payroll by the taxpayers of
America(370 U.S. Sec. 421).
Catholics were outraged about the Supreme Court ruling and Congress
considered a constitutional amendment on the prayer "Almighty God, we
acknowledge our dependence on Thee, and we beg they blessings upon us, our
parents, our teachers and our country(Whitfield 132)." They thought this
decision was a slap in the face to the history of United States. William
Buckley Jr. added that the First Amendment "was not designed to secularize
American life.
Within a year a 8-1 majority vote of the Supreme Court the reading of
bibles in public schools was outlawed. This was done because the United States
has a wide span of religious denominations. Not everyone attending school
believes in God. Why should these people have to listen to what the bible has
to say or preach? Along with the law against reading bibles in schools also
banned is the saying of prayers before people sit down to eat.
In the City of London, religion is also an important issue. A member of
Parliament was refused a seat because he insisted on taking the oath on the Old
Testament instead of the New testament(Whitfield 133).
The separation of church and state has been a debated topic in the public
school realm, as the court case of Engel and Vitale has already presented. Even
back when James Madison was president, he had to deal with the problems of
church and state. He had to veto a land grant where Congress surveyed the land
for a Federal Building and mistakenly gave it to a Baptist Church. President
Madison was afraid that the people would think that the government was giving
Federal funded property to a church.
In the Everson Case in 1947, Justice Hugo L. Black held for the majority
that "neither a state nor the Federal Government… can pass laws which aid one
religion, aid all religion, or prefer one religion over another… No tray in any
amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or
institutions(Whitfield 139)."
Today's Supreme Courts they differ from what Justice Black discusses in
stating that Congress must remain neutral on matters of religion. These
representatives have to refrain from exercising their freedom of speech in
dealing with religion, since they are interacting with Congress. Examples of
this are witnesses swearing on the bible, the President taking an oath, and the
National Anthem having the word "God' in it, although it does not depict a
certain denomination.
With certain laws being strict, some schools are trying to present courses
of study to the government by omitting or mentioning God or religion. The
government discerned, however, that the school districts were trying to achieve
a religious purpose in the course and put a end to it.
President Regan protested that "the good Lord who has given our country so
much should never have been expelled from our nation's classrooms(Whitfield
If one was asked to identify an issue of great importance, religion
prevails. Yet, a group that is more diverse than churches in all denominations
and varieties of religions would have to be the public school system. That is
why there should be a separation of church and state. The United States has an
overlap of these two groups, but there is just one belief among the public
school system and the churches. There is too much diversification between the
people of the church and people of the state(Hughson 23). That is why the
United States permits private schools of a religious distinction, so that
religious followers can learn about their own religion in schools.


Bodehamer, David j., and James W. Ely Jr., eds. The Bill of Rights in Modern
America: After 200 years. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Bork, Robert. "What to do about the First Amendment." Commentary 99(F1995):

Dawson, Joseph Martin. Americas Way in Church, State, and Society. New York:
MacMillian, 1953. Engel v. Vitale. 370 U.S. 421. (1962).

Hughson, Thomas. "From James Madison to William lee Miller: John Courtney
Murray Baptist theory of the First Amendment." Journal of Church and State
37(W1995): 15-37.

Whitfield, Stephen. "Separation Anxiety(From Founders to Fundamentalist)."
Judaism 43(S1995) 131-145.


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