These are uncertain times, tumultuous in many ways, with financial insecurity and anxieties galore. Man has often sought solace and comfort in a faith in a higher power to assuage the fear that comes with insecurity. America is seeing such a time as the voices of many who would seek the right of a state in our union of fifty states, the establishment of a religion. It would be helpful to recall the history of why the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits such action in what is called the Establishment Clause.
Justice Hugo Black , a strong proponent of freedom of speech and freedom of religion gave the majority opinion in a key case, Engel v. Vitale. It was about how a School Board in the State of New York directed that a prayer be read aloud each day at school. Justice Black stated that the prayer violated the wall of separation between church and state. Besides the decision, which struck down the prayer, what is important for all of us is the history lesson Justice Black provides for all of us, as to why the Establishment Clause is
In a historic irony many sects that had been discriminated against by the Church of England passed laws in the colonies that made their own religion the official religion of that colony that they dominated. At the time of our Revolution from England eight colonies of the thirteen had established churches and the other five had established religions.
After the Revolution, Virginia for example, led by the non-Episcopalian faiths such as Lutherans, Quakers, Presbyterians and Baptists decided to pass the Virginia Bill of Religious Liberty. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped lead the effort, whereby, it was held that religious establishment laws should be abolished thereby putting each denomination on equal footing. Other states followed suit, and recognized from their colonial experience that for the sake of religious liberty for all a wall was necessary to separate church and state.
James Madison, who has been referred to as the Father of the Constitution, wrote in the Federalist Papers about the importance of not having a state religion. To paraphrase Madison, he thought that if a state named a religion as the state religion it would not be long before a sect of that particular religious institution would claim that they were the ones with the answer.
To quote Justice Hugo Black in his above referenced decision, ” By the time of the adoption of the Constitution our history shows us that there was a widespread awareness among many Americans of the dangers of a union of Church and State. These people knew, some of them from bitter personal experience, that one of the great dangers to the freedom of the individual to worship in his own way lay in the Government’s placing its official stamp of approval upon one particular kind of prayer or one particular form of religious services.” Later, he stated that, under the Amendment’s prohibition against governmental establishment of religion, as reinforced by the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, government in this country, be it state or federal, is without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying out on any program of governmental religious activity.”
In essence the people’s practice of religion is not to be under the auspices or pressures of any government, in a persons right to freely exercise their right to religious freedom.
If you even allow the idea of the possibility of some state putting forth the idea of having a state religion, for example Christianity, can you imagine the struggle for one sect to have a superior position in advocating that their sect should be the one? Let each person have the right to practice their faith without any governmental influence or pressure.
These type of pressures were so great in colonial times that the founders of our Constitution felt it necessary to place the Establishment Clause as the first of our Bill of Rights. Let us keep faith with our founders and maintain a wall of separation between Church and State. This right has served us well and helps to distinguish us from many other countries.