Notes on Separation of Church and State:
Introduction and Disclaimer:
I wrote these “notes” from some research and reading that I have done on the “church and state” argument not normally addressed in our course, or in your textbook. Due to the nature and constraints of our survey course, we really cannot spend too much time delving into this material, though we will discuss some of the events and topics contained herein as they apply to our course. The purpose of creating this document is simply for your reading and enrichment, a way to enhance our study of United States History. It is not an authoritative source and should not be cited as such.
Any material below that I have gained from an outside source is cited appropriately. If there is an error, please inform me immediately.
Philip Hamburger, Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 514 pp.
Steven Mansfield, Ten Tortured Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007), 246 pp.
The Religious Freedom Page at the University of Virginia: http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/home.html
· The concept of separation and church and state prior to the 1800s “appealed only to a tiny fraction of Europeans and Americans – a small number who not only distrusted the clergy but also hoped to purify the church beyond what was ordinarily considered possible” (Hamburger 21).
· Roger Williams – often cited as promoting separation of church and state. His argument was against state regulation of religious practices and beliefs. He did not advocate separating religion from government
· John Locke – advocated separation, but only as a means for religious toleration. Reference: 1689 Letter Concerning Toleration. (Hamburger, 53)
· Minority religious groups in colonial America supported anti-establishment so as to allow their denominations to flourish (addressed by Thomas Paine in his 1794 Age of Reason). (Hamburger, 60).
o The actual demands for “separation remains quite elusive” when studying the writings of these groups (Hamburger, 63).
· As the new United States constitutional government was formed, “government and especially republican government seemed inescapably dependent upon religion” (Hamburger, 66).
o Civil leaders must rely on religion for moral guidance
o Religion provides social stability
o When studying the founding era, religion and civic duty seem inseparable (Mansfield, 14). For example, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 included the following: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged” (Mansfield, 14).
· Formation of state constitutions:
o “Dissenters” condemned establishments, but did not advocate complete separation
§ Found in the Declaration of Independence, “Nature’s God”? What did Jefferson mean by this?
o Many debates regarding establishment in the states were centered on taxes and tax exemptions
o Some states passed exclusions on clergy serving as civil leaders, mostly from an argument that civil responsibilities would interfere with religious responsibilities (Hamburger, 81).
· Debates on the First Amendment
o From Hamburger, 107: “The religious dissenters who participated in the campaign against establishments and whose claims seem to have affected the wording of the constitutional guarantees against establishments made demands for a religious liberty that limited civil government, especially civil legislation, rather than for a religious liberty conceived as a separation of church and state.”
o On the same day that the Congress approved the final wording, they petitioned President Washington for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.
o The first amendment, as the other amendments, were only intended to apply to the federal government. (Remember that including a bill of rights was demanded by those that thought the new federal government would be too strong and centralized)
o For further reading, Mansfield’s short first chapter clearly accounts the debates on the First Amendment truly illustrating how the final language was laboriously decided by the Congress.
· Election of 1800 – debates on religion and separation played a monumental role
o Jefferson was accused of not being a Christian (Hamburger, 112)
· Connecticut became an example of why establishments should be disbanded.
· The “big block of cheese” and Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802)
o This gave the metaphor of a “wall of separation”
o See Hamburger 156à (Danbury letter on p. 158)
o Jefferson’s argument was not for a complete separation of religion from government, but simply a declaration of anti-establishment.
o Though some have used this letter as a basis of Jefferson’s authority on the First Amendment, he was not present during the debates on the amendment.
o After this letter, Jefferson was frequently in attendance at a church service held in the Capitol building and provided it support, such as the Marine Corps band.
· Though the idea of separation in the 1820s and 1830s found a following with the “political successors of the Republicans” (including Jacksonians), it was still not a widely supported concept (Hamburger, 189).
· The notion of separation of church and state became stronger in the mid-1800s as a nativist argument based on a surge of Catholic immigrants and their “popish” allegiance.
o By the 1830s, establishments no longer existed (Hamburger, 233).
o Nativist groups formed to oppose Catholic immigrants and promote “American” ideals.
o Mobs of nativists frequently attacked Catholics
§ Examples from Hamburger, 216-217:
· 1834 destruction of an Ursuline convent in Charlestown, MA
· 1844 battle (including military and cannons) against Catholics in Philadelphia, PA
· Mid-1850s, Catholic churches blown up in Sidney, OH and Dorchester, MA
o The widespread support of church and state was a reaction to Catholic schools formed in the 1830s & 1840s and the debates on school funding, educational guidelines, etc.
o Protestants used the principle of separation to prevent Catholic participation in politics (Hamburger, 234).
o Separation arguments increased after the Civil War
o From Hamburger, 251: “With these dire visions of the Catholic Church and its threat to the political and metal freedom of individuals, many Protestants found satisfaction in conceiving of their religious liberty, especially their freedom from establishments, as a separation of church and state. In so doing, they took for granted that separation was a principle of government with historical foundations vaguely evident in American constitutions.”
· Other mid-1800s support for separation:
o Southerners supported separation as a means to prevent demands against slavery (Hamburger, 265).
o Some supported separation to prevent the allocation of tax money to certain needs, such as support of the poor (New York in 1859; cited in Hamburger, 265).
· In the late 1800s, Protestant ministers feared the principle of separation of church and state as it might amount “to a separation of religion and government” (Hamburger, 268).
· “In the 1870s and 1880s anti-Christian secularists (including Liberals) organized a national campaign to obtain a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a separation of church and state” (Hamburger, 287).
o A unique “Liberal” movement, as they called themselves, developed in the 1870s (Hamburger, 288-296). This movement proposed specific amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee full separation. This movement was not successful.
o The Liberal argument was a much wider argument of separation as it sought to constrain all expressions of religion (Hamburger, 302).
o The Liberal League took aim at President Grant’s Fourth of July invitation for Americans to celebrate with “religious observances” (Hamburger, 309).
o The Liberal League and movement eventually declined over the argument of obscenity (i.e. Comstock Law of 1873). (Hamburger, 321-334).
· Paradox in the early 20th century: Some supported separation as a means of preventing Catholic influence in public life; however, some opposed separation as morality was needed to combat social problems (i.e. social gospel movement). (Hamburger, 378)
· Post-World War I era, Baptists and others argued against separation and for the upholding of moral and religious values in education (Hamburger, 383, 384 à)
o Issue of teaching evolution in public schools (i.e. Scopes Monkey Trial)
o Baptists and others established religious schools, even though they had previously condemned Catholic Schools (Hamburger, 385)
o Ku Klux Klan influence grew in the 1920s, not only as racist but anti-immigrant. The Klan actively advocated separation
o Story of Hugo Black (Hamburger, 422-434)
· Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, New Jersey (1947)
o Though other similar cases would follow, this is the most important Supreme Court case in re-defining the role of separation in our modern society
o In Hamburger, 454-478
o Justice Hugo Black wrote the majority opinion introducing Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor as law.
o EFFECT OF THIS DECISION:
§ Even though the decision allowed New Jersey’s practice of reimbursing taxpayers for transportation to Catholic schools and stated that this practice did not violate the First Amendment, it made the argument that there was a complete wall of separation between church and state and that the First Amendment applied to all of the states by means of the Fourteenth Amendment.
§ Critics argue that Justice Black’s opinion represents “bad history.” That in fact, the First Amendment was never intended to apply to the states, only that it prevented the federal government from “establishing” a religion or “preventing the free exercise thereof.”
§ Everson and other cases have been used to dismantle any religious connections to government activities (i.e. nativity scenes on public property, etc.)
o To fully understand this case and the aftermath, I recommend the following sources:
§ Stephen Mansfield’s Ten Tortured Words
§ Case information from Cornell: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0330_0001_ZS.html
§ Wikipedia does have some neatly organized information (though it should not be used solely as an authoritative source): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everson_v._Board_of_Education
§ Basic Summary from Prentice Hall’s site:
§ Criticism of the Everson decision: http://www.heritage.org/Research/PoliticalPhilosophy/fp6.cfm
Page created 7/30/2008, Michael Broach