Church and State FAQ

Book cover showing words Church and State FAQ

Since this blog focuses on supporting strict government secularism in the United States I thought I would present on this page a brief overview of what I mean by the separation of church and state and offer links to resources about the issue and to groups and blogs that support the issue. The links provided are recommended by this blog and replace the blogroll that use to appear on every page.

What do you mean by “strict government secularism”?

I am a fan of what Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Hugo Black (who served 1935-1971) had to say about government secularism:

To hold that a state cannot, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, utilize its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals does not, as counsel urge, manifest a governmental hostility to religion or religious teachings. A manifestation of such hostility would be at war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment’s guaranty of the free exercise of religion. For the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. Or, as we said in the Everson case, the First Amendment has erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.

Writing for the court, McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948)

What do you mean by separation of church and state?

It started with a letter President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist association in 1801:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

This concept then was used to interpret the First Amendment as applying to states in such cases as Everson v. Board of Education(1947), McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963).

But isn’t keeping church and state separate being anti-religious and/or hostile toward religion by removing it from the public square?

Separation of church and state is neither anti-religious or an attempt to remove public expressions of religion. For example students are free to pray in school whenever they want as long as teachers or staff don’t lead it and as long as the student doesn’t disrupt class. Elected officials are free to practice any religion (or not) they want as long as they don’t give special treatment to that belief system while doing their official duties. They also can’t tell the people they work for to pray or how to pray.

Separation of church and state sets a boundary around how much religion and state should mix. Too much and we end up no better than a place like Iran. I personally, and through this blog, support complete separation – no pre-meeting prayers, no tax exemptions for religious groups, no money for sectarian schools, and no special treatment for religion from government – federal, state, or local.

Issue Information Resources

The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State Page – this site has been around since 1998 and is my goto place when researching issues related to church and state.

Wikipedia: Separation of church and state – A good start for general information about what separation of church and state means and how it is applied in other countries. Just be sure not use Wikipedia as your only source for this information.

Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy – religionists trying to force creationism into public schools is one major fight in church and state battle. It is important to know the actual facts about it.

Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents’ Legal Rights – a print and electronic book, that can be downloaded, examines what the courts have said about many religion-in-school controversies and provides clear, concise answers to common questions. Published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Religion Clause – a no frills objective coverage of church-state and religious liberty developments, with extensive links to primary sources.

National Groups Supporting Separation of Church & State

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – looks for and defends violations of the civil rights of US citizens including church and state issues.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State – one of the oldest and leading groups that support separation of church and state.

Freedom From Religion Foundation – promotes the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Secular Coalition for America – a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization whose purpose is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States.

Secular Student Alliance – national organization that supports secular student groups on college and high school campuses. Has participated in some church and state lawsuits through friend of the court briefs.

American Atheists – fights for the civil rights of atheists including issues involving separation of church and state.

American Humanist Association – national organization that promotes and supports Humanism. Humanism supports separation of church and state.

National Center for Science Education – an advocate and clearing house supporting factual science education in the country. It keeps track of efforts by creationists who try to force their beliefs into a science classroom and unmasks the climate change deniers.

Other Recommended Blogs and Websites

May or may not have anything to do with church and state issues.

Wall of Separation – The official blog of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Atheist Revolution
Encyclopedia of American Loons
Restore our Pledge of Allegiance
State of Belief Radio Show – a radio show trying to portray religion in a positive light while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Greta Christina’s Blog
Laughing in Purgatory
Skepchick Network
Liberal Values