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Seperation 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 Amendments.

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 141)."

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): 23-29.

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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